On Saturday 13 June the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) played host to a media panel discussion and Q&A. 

This special event was organized due to the concern that reporting of issues that have a direct impact on Muslims has increased dramatically in the past 12 months.

Most vividly still in our minds are the Sydney siege and the Melbourne shooting of Numan Haider,  as well as the police raids of terror suspects and of course international events such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the on-going conflict in Syria.

This has really put Islam front and centre and with addition of some inflammatory comments from politicians and some redneck reclaim Australia rallies, the anti-Islamic climate has become as bad as it was in the months after 11 September  2001.

That’s why ICV decided to have a discussion with the “media”.  After all, its through the media that we hear, see and feel the issues, and the pinch.  What do the media know about Islam and the Muslim community?

Five senior journalists were invited to meet the community; Hamish Fitzsimmons from ABC Lateline, Gay Alcorn from the Guardian, Michael Bachelard from the Age, James Dowling from the Herald Sun and Karen Percy from the ABC.

The event started off with panelists speaking to various topics given to them by the moderator; hijab, extremism, refugees, Islamaphobia and social cohesion.

What was very telling was the lack of understanding about Islam and a general lack of empathy with women and the concept of jihad.  It did feel like the typical white person’s view of the world once again.  Its not surprising given that Australia is predominantly a European society.

The discussion was quite tense and heated at times.  A young woman in the audience brought up the issue of The Age’s feature article about people who had gone to Syria to fight including Sydney-based Sheikh Mustapha al-Majzoub, who she felt was depicted in a negative light, when it was well known that he was a humanitarian worker and well respected by the community.  The young woman was visibly angry and questioned Michael Bachelard about the article which he authored.  Astonishingly, Bachelard offered to write an article correcting the wrongful insinuations about Sheikh Mazjoub.

More heat came from an HIYC elder who was very disturbed about the way that radicalisation was being linked to the Centre when none of Sheikh Omran’s students were engaged in fighting abroad. He challenged James Dowling and reiterated that HIYC had in fact condemned the atrocities of IS and also taught their students that they should not go overseas to join IS.

The heat was turned up when another community member raised the issue of the raids and the shooting of Numan Haider and how the Herald Sun reported the issue.  It was agreed even by the panelists that the Herald Sun’s reporting of the Numan Haider killing was dreadful and really below the standard expected.

Of course, James Dowling defended the paper and said that it was important to report the way the police handled the raids to bring it to the attention of the public.

All in all, it was a great discussion and the beginning of a journey of dialogue and hopefully to understand and develop a friendship.

The important issue was not so much about holding the media to task for the way issues are reported but an opportunity to hear what the media had to say, to learn more about their perspective and to give them an insight to the complexities of the Muslim community.