Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MEDIA: Stephen Crittenden's Religion report - some reflections ...

I get the feeling that Stephen Crittenden just cannot discuss anything to do with Muslims without sounding negative. Of course, he's not as prejudiced as, say, Andrew Bolt or Piersed Akumen or Tim Blair. He's also more nuanced than a certain female columnist who sits on the Board of his employer.

Yet for some reason, Crittenden always always makes sure his listeners are left with a sour taste on their tongues when discussing Islam.

Which is a real shame. The ABC prides itself on its relative neutrality, on allowing all sides of the argument to be heard. But it seems when it comes to Islam, objectivity at the Religion Report is more the exception than the rule.

I understand religion is a sensitive topic. People are entitled to their views when discussing it. And naturally, there will be times when followers of one faith will feel their most precious beliefs are being trampled on just because the broadcast does not treat their religious symbols with what they regard as a sufficient degree of reverence.

However, the Religion Report goes well beyond this. Some time back, at a conference on The Journalist and Islam, author and journalism guru Peter Manning delivered a paper on systemic bias in the ABC's religion department. The paper received very little coverage outside the conference. I guess it was the kind of bias shared by those who are always harping on about ABC bias.

Manning studied some of the interviewing techniques employed by Crittenden. He concluded that Crittenden's interviewing style bordered on sycophancy with even the most jaundiced interviewees on Islam. But when interviewing Muslims, Crittenden reverted in the other direction, almost verballing the interviewees.

I put Manning's allegations to Crittenden in a private exchange of e-mails. As it was a private exchange, it would be inappropriate for me to publish its details. Suffice it to say that Crittenden wasn't exactly a happy chappy.

He also wasn't happy when I claimed that the only time his program ever mentioned the persecution off Christians was when this was being allegedly carried out by Muslims. For instance, we never heard about the perilous situation facing Catholics and Catholic institutions in India at the hands of Hindu extremists. Nor do we ever hear about what Palestinian Christians are experiencing at the hands of the Israelis.

Now it seems that even when he has some spare space, Crittenden cannot help but make someone associated with Islam look bad. His episode of 6 February 2008 talks about Cat Stevens, and includes soundbites from an ABC documentary about Stevens. But Crittenden then decided to play what he described as:

... another side of Cat Stevens from the archives when ABC reporter Mark Tamhane spoke to him on AM in 1995.

What we heard was a tough interview that dealt with Stevens' remarks concerning Salman Rushdie. The interview concludes with this interesting exchange:

Mark Tamhane: You say that for every person who stands up and speaks there's a challenger. Is it fair to put a death sentence on that challenger?

Cat Stevens: Well I think you'll remember I wrote a song once called 'I'm going to get me a gun'. And now you know who that gun is for. It's for people like you who keep on asking provocative questions like that!
One might assume this was a light-hearted remark. Perhaps it was. Yet Stevens had already explained in the documentary what he actually said concerning Khomeini's outrageous fatwa against Rushdie. Why bring it up again?

In this week's episode, Crittenden deals with the recent speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. And who does he interview? The Archbishop himself? Another Anglican bishop? A Sydney Anglican? Nope. Crittenden chats with tablouid columnist and chronic Muslim-hater Melanie Phillips. No doubt he will be asking some grovelling questions.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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