Pointing the Finger: book review

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An occasional book review by John Forrest.

John Forrest is Insight’s Festival Director, a position he has held since the Festival’s inception.

Pointing the Finger: Islam and Muslims in the British Media


Edited by: Julian Petley and Robin Richardson
Published byOneworld Publications
Country: UK (1 April 2011)
Format: Paperback, 353 pages
ISBNs: 10-digit: 1851688129; 13-digit: 978-1851688128

Book review

The Insight Film Festival is all about encouraging people serious about filmmaking to consider ‘faith’ as a worthwhile topic for their work. You don’t have to be religious to get involved, although you might well be. Insight has become a global competition: we’re delighted to have received an ever increasing number of entries from all over the world since the Festival was established. Through our blog, we also hope to become a community of people interested in how faith is portrayed and what the consequences of that portrayal might be.

Pointing the Finger – published in April 2011 – looks at a specific area of interest. It reviews the representation of Muslims by the British media, which will interest anyone who shares our focus on the portrayal of faith and its effects. It’s a well-researched, clearly argued account of a type invaluable to media students, but the book is equally accessible to anyone interested in the crafts of journalism and story telling, especially is the ways these disciplines impact on our understanding of culture and community. The book provides a detailed examination of how the British media treats Muslims

Much of the book makes challenging reading for executives that run the UK media but it also has valuable insights and relevance for everyone around the globe. It chronicles some of the major ‘shock-horror’ stories published, broadcast or portrayed in recent years, drilling down to present a disturbing picture of latent Islamophobia in UK media. This assessment is based, unsurprisingly, on the UK media’s lack of solid contact with faith communities in British society and general ignorance of reputable religious sources.

Of particular interest to our filmmaking community may be the chapter in which working Muslim journalists share some of their experience of ‘life in the newsroom’ and document some of prejudice they have encountered. Pointing the Finger‘s chapter’s title – ’Keeping your integrity – and your job’ – sums up the dilemma these journalists face. One reporter tells how their publication became ‘fixated on the Asian community’ following the 9/11 attacks, but the coverage mainly comprised examining arranged marriages, rapes, suicides and domestic abuse. Eventually this reporter, in his own words, ‘just snapped and blew up’.

The interview questions posed to the Muslim journalists by the authors of Pointing the Finger include:

➤ ‘Did you believe the news media’s portrayal of Muslims and Islam was fair before you entered journalism’;

➤ ‘Was part of your motivation to become a journalist wanting to address the media’s portrayal of Muslims and Islam?’;

➤ ‘Have you ever been unable to sell a story to the newsdesk or your commissioning editors on Muslim issues or Islam that you felt was important?’

These are interesting questions and reveal on-the-job realities in journalism. Read the questions and their answers by substituting the word ‘Muslim’ with whatever faith position you hold. Then transpose the words ‘journalism’ and ‘newsdesk’ for the world of filmmaking, whether or not you are already engaged professionally if film, and consider what your answers might be to these questions.

Theses are important questions that I hope keep getting asked. I recommend Pointing the Finger highly.

Product links: Pointing the Finger (UK only)

Book: Julian Petley and Robin Richardson, Pointing the Finger: Islam and Muslims in the British Media (2011), Oneworld Publications, paperback

Note: This links leads to a product page at Amazon.co.uk. Six per cent of any sales made via this link is paid to the Insight Film Festival.

If you prefer to buy titles from UK independent bookshops, please use the My Local Bookshop search engine hosted online by The Booksellers Association.

Programme link

Epilogue, PressTV, reviews Pointing the Finger (running time: 24:52)

“Pointing the Finger: Islam & Muslims in the… by presstv