Portrayals of religious activism and politicisation on British television
Portrayals of religious activism andpoliticisation on British television Ruth A. Deller (@ruthdeller)
Outline• Looking at how British TV – with a particular focus on documentary and current affairs – portrays religiously motivated activism/politics.• Considering how this presentation contributes to a sense of ‘moral panic’ within British media about the role of (particular forms of) faith within public life – particularly Islam and Christianity.• Part of wider media representations of ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ forms of religion/spirituality.
Background• Part of wider public debates about secularisation, fundamentalisms and the role of faith in public life.• In a (recent) British context: ‘Veiling’, faith schools, religious protests against arts/culture, embryo debates, debates over marriage equality, Islam4UK and Wootton Bassett, the bus debates, Occupy at St Paul’s… to name a few examples.• Drawing on previous research into representations of religion and fundamentalisms (e.g. Poole 2002, Plant 2006, Hoover and Kaneva 2009).
Background • My focus on factual programmes broadcast on UK channels with a public service remit (primarily BBC and Channel 4) – but similar discourses can be found in the press and in fictional TV (e.g. Britz, C4 2007).
Background• PSB guidelines and remits include: – Representing diversity – Concerns over audience vulnerabilities and susceptibilities (especially children) – Not being abusive to religion or its ahderents – Not allowing ‘recruitment’ by faith groups – Everything should be justifiable editorially and by the context (Independent Producer Handbook 2008: 4.45)
Moral panic?• Moral panics characterised by media stereotyping/demonisation of the threatening group, and re-articulation of the threat by prominent social figures or groups (see Cohen 1973)• Often concerned with ‘threat’ to ‘vulnerable’ groups.• ‘The developments after September 11 have shown that the so-called world religions are also increasingly regarded as the source of social problems’ (Hjelm 2006: 63)
‘Them’ and ‘us’• ‘Othering’ discourse (e.g. Said 1978) prominent throughout. ‘They’ are always described as different to ‘us’ – liberal, tolerant Britain.• ‘They’ are often influenced by ‘other’ countries (e.g. the USA, Saudi Arabia).• ‘I believe many are possessed of views which are at odds with mainstream, liberal Britain about freedom of speech, education and homosexuality’. (Dispatches: ‘The New Fundamentalists’ C4 2006)
Abnormal adherents of faiths?• ‘They are coming to what they see as their promised land… making Aliyah is a spiritual homecoming, fulfilling political and religious desires… Zionism… the citizenship and rights of these people have raised questions amongst some of British Jews’ (Aliyah – The Journey Home, BBC One 2008)
‘Them’ and ‘us’• ‘Media representations [of Islam] are underpinned by a renewed accent on an imagined clash of cultures (Huntington 1996) and by complacency about the benign qualities of Britishness’(Macdonald 2011: 128)• This fundamentalist interpretation of Islam is being taught in Britains most important, and supposedly moderate, mosque (Dispatches: ‘Undercover Mosque: The Return’, C4 2008).
What lies beneath…• The Muslim Council of Britain [is] generally regarded as the moderate face of Islam speaking for the Muslim community. On its website the MCB emphasises [that] its working for better community relations and for the good of society as a whole…. [but] Several MCB affiliates do have links to anti-Western ideologies from abroad. (Panorama: ‘A Question of Leadership’, BBC One 2005)
What lies beneath…• ‘London Central Mosque… is the most recognisable symbol of moderate, mainstream Muslim life in Britain…the UK Islamic Mission *is+ a major organisation dedicated to interfaith work’. (Dispatches ‘Undercover Mosque’ C4 2007)• ‘As soon as the interfaith group leaves, the same preachers tone changes. She now says Christian teachings are vile’. (‘Undercover Mosque: The Return’)• Mosques as separate and secret (see Macdonald 2011)
‘Holy Offensive’?• ‘Some are campaigning to stop you watching things that might offend them’ (Dispatches – ‘Holy Offensive’ C4 2005)• Programme about Behzti and Jerry Springer: the Opera protests in UK along with murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Described as being about religious fervour versus the freedom to express yourself’ that came with a pre-show warning that it contains religious references some viewers might well find offensive.’
‘Holy Offensive’?• ‘In a post-9/11 world, who decides what is more sacred, religious belief or freedom of speech? At first we thought Rushdie was a one-off Islamic affair [but now] others are entering the fray… is this now a crisis for democracy?’• Sikh protesters shown as non-English speaking. English-speaking Sikhs shown as being in favour of the play.• Christians against JSTO seen in opposition to mainstream, liberal CofE who hosted event with actors.• Sense that Muslims ‘got there first’ with protest - and now they murder filmmakers.
Politically dangerous…• ‘Governments celebrated these differences and called it multiculturalism’ (Panorama: ‘True Brits’, BBC One 2008)• ‘They’ve secured access to the heart of Westminster’. (‘In God’s Name’)• ‘These are evangelical Christians worshipping in a church in London. A happy, colourful branch of our established church. But a rapidly growing branch, too, and one which now commands real political clout.’ (‘The New Fundamentalists’)
Politically dangerous…• ‘The human fertilisation and embryology bill will also improve the rights of gay parents and help embryo research. Things Andrea believes are evil.’ (‘In God’s Name’)• ‘The danger that some evangelicals pose to freedom of speech, sexual health and homosexuals in Britain today is worrying enough, I suppose, but theres worse to come when we investigate exactly what other evangelicals are saying - to pupils in state schools… Of course, parents who want their children to receive this kind of education can pay… *but this+ is a state school, and if you live within the catchment area, tough.’ (‘The New Fundamentalists’)
The nature of the perceived threat• The exploitation of those deemed ‘vulnerable’: women, children, gay people, the sick, the poor.• Denial of ‘freedom of speech’ (to artists; does not seem to apply to the protestors).• Recurring themes include: – Abortion – Sex education (e.g. abstinence) – Gay rights – Evolution – Women’s rights – Disaffected young men (esp re: Islam) – The alleged ‘failure’ of interfaith/multiculturalism
The terminology of moral panic• ‘Religious hardliners’• ‘Fundamentalist’• ‘Clash’• ‘Violent confrontation’• ‘Angry’• ‘Extremist’• ‘Radical’• ‘Militant’• See Karim (2002), Macdonald (2003/2011), Abbas (2001) etc.
The imagery of moral panic• Protests and placards• Burning of artefacts• Shouting• ‘Religious’ dress• Eccentric / ‘extreme’ voices• Charismatic worship• Subtitles• Police clashes• Children• Contrasts with ‘ordinary’ Britons• When overseas: poverty, war etc.• The 7/7 bus
Appropriation and response• YouTube/video clips – not from BBC or C4 sources• Atheist use of documentaries (e.g. via Richard Dawkins Foundation site and atheist blogs, forums, YT channels)• Politically: appropriated both by the far right and the left (!) as tools for arguing their agenda and criticising the left/right.• Religious groups: use as tool for criticism/rebuke of media, use to distance their practices from those featured, or one faith group criticising another, but also recirculated by religious groups to get their message across.
Conclusion• Certain types of religious politicisation (e.g. protests, anti— something campaigns) receive more publicity than others (e.g. debt relief, charitable campaigns).• (The wrong kind of) religious influence on government, education etc seen as problematic and even dangerous.• Political activism is aligned with fundamentalism, and with ‘other’ countries. This is then contrasted with ‘normal’ British ideas/values.• Representation is anchored by repeated phrases/words (e.g. militant, fundamentalist, hardline), and certain imagery (e.g. niqabs, charismatic worship) becomes conflated with these problematic ideas.• In refuting the ‘moral panics’ circulating within some faith movements, new ones are created.• These programmes as texts with contested ‘ownership’ –
References• Abbas, T. (2001), ‘Media capital and the representation of South Asian Muslims in the British Press: an ideological analysis’, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 21 (2), 245- 257.• Channel 4/Five (2008), Independent Producer Handbook, available at http://www.independentproducerhandbook.co.uk, accessed Aug 2011.• Cohen, S. (1973), Folk Devils and Moral Panics, London: Routledge.• Hjelm, T. (2006), ‘News of the Unholy: Constructing Religion as a Social Problem in the News Media’ in Sumiala-Seppänen, J., Lundby, K. and Raimo Salokangas, S. (eds.), Implications of the Sacred in (Post) Modern Media, Gothenburg: Nordicom, 63-76.
References• Hoover, S.M. and Kaneva, N. (eds.) (2009), Fundamentalisms and the Media, London: Continuum.• Macdonald, M. (2003), Exploring Media Discourse, London: Arnold.• Macdonald, M. (2011), Discourses of Separation: News and Documentary Representations of Muslims in Britain in Brunt, R. and Cere, R. (eds) (2011), Postcolonial Media Culture in Britain, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 127-141• Plant, R. (2006), Liberalism, Religion and the Public Sphere in Garnett, J., Grimley, M., Harris, A., Whyte, W. and Williams, S. (eds.) (2006), Redefining Christian Britain: Post 1945 Perspectives, Canterbury: SCM Press, 254-266.• Poole, E. (2002), Reporting Islam: Media Representations of British Muslims, London: I.B. Tauris.• Said, E. W. (1978/1995), Orientalism, London: Penguin