Muslims in Ireland encouraged to ‘get engaged, get involved’

Press Ombudsman says he has not received a single complaint about press coverage

Muslims in Ireland have been strongly encouraged to remember that they are not "guests, or visitors" in Ireland, but here by right and they should engage more with Irish society

"You are not guests or visitors. You are here by right and are the same as any other citizen," Press Ombudsman Peter Feeney told a conference on Muslims' representation in the media.

Saying that he had not received a single complaint from a Muslim in the last two years, Mr Feeney said he had “a very simple message for Muslims living in Ireland: get engaged, get involved. If you feel something is inaccurate, get involved.”

As Press Ombudsman, he could not “do anything about it unless I receive a complaint from the public,” he said.

Mr Feeney was speaking in Dublin at a seminar organised by the Immigrant Council of Ireland on Muslims in the Media: Challenging Misconceptions.

He pointed out, however, that when it came to commentary there was “less right to complain”. As there was “no right not to be offended”, the better option in such a context was “to seek a right of reply”.

Noting that journalists “must not give undue offence”, with an emphasis on “undue”, he said he could understand sensitivity [among Muslims] concerning images of Muhammad.

“But you live in a society where it is not seen as offensive,” he said. “If you bring cultural values to a new society you cannot necessarily expect these to be respected in that new society,” he said.

There was “no absolute right to freedom of expression”, he added, also pointing out that images of Muhammad had not been used in Irish newspapers or shown by broadcasters in Ireland. This, he said, was “out of fear of the consequences”.

It was also the case that the Press Council was "not a regulator". Unlike broadcasting in Ireland, which was controlled by laws, the print media's participation with the Press Council was voluntary. "The only sanction is that they must publish my decisions in full," he said.

Challenging racism

Agreeing that “there is racism in every society which must be challenged”, it was also, he said, “a lightly held belief which can be overcome but won’t be eliminated”.

That said, every Irish person should challenge a wrongdoing - and racism was a wrongdoing, he said.

Neil O’Brien of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) also encouraged Muslims to engage more with Irish society.

“Please do get involved,” he said, while outlining the role of the BAI.

He suggested Muslims “take part in local community radio stations” particularly. He also noted “there is no requirement for fairness in news”, even as “it needs to be factually accurate”.

The Egyptian ambassador to Ireland, Soha Gendi, called for both the Press Ombudsman’s Office and the BAI to be more “pro-active” where portrayals of Muslims in media were concerned.

There should be more seminars on how Muslims were stereotyped by the media in Ireland and the world, she said.

“Some portrayals of Muslims in the media verge on hate crimes. How can we wait for something to happen?” she asked.

Dr Amanullah De Sondy of UCC, who grew up in Glasgow of Pakistani parentage, noted how "the Scots Muslim experience is very different from the English Muslim experience".

On the role of the media in a time “of continuing Islamophobia”, he asked “who is standing up and speaking in the name of Islam?”

Islam was “not a monolith, it is varied.Who represents Muslims? It is problematic,” he said, emphasising that “the media is not and cannot be a platform for the imams”.

He also pointed out that now “the narrative is about home-grown Muslims, who grew up in these islands”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times