|Muslims and Media Relations: Proactive or Reactive|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
The relations between American Muslims and the American media are somewhat uneasy, as most people in television and print media are non-Muslims. They cover many stories about Islam and Muslims related to events in the Middle East as well as American events. Most American Muslims and their organizations consider the American media (print and television) their
foe because of its occasional negative presentation of Islam and Muslims. That causes American Muslims to react unfavorably toward the media. American Muslims must accept the fact that they are new players in this 200-year-old American political scene, and must create their true place with hard work and wisdom.
Media people are also human and have human weaknesses, knowing that the public thrives on sensational and negative news more than on the factual news. However, they will listen to the voices if they can recognize them. Muslims must let their presence be known.
American Muslims should befriend the American media on a personal level through contacts, as well as just helping the media with the correct information about Islam. They must show by example that Islam is a religion of love and peace, and Muslims are also God-fearing, law-abiding citizens with a high moral code and will support all that is good for American society.
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE MEDIA RELATIONS
We should realize that the news business is a bottomless hole which can never be filled. The media constantly look for news and will actually thank you for being a source of accurate information. Some reporters even expect you do their work by providing accurate information. If you provide the needed information about Ramadan, then you are likely to see an editorial as if a Muslim had written it.
He who controls the flow of information, controls the story. You must provide the data. Most Muslims read neither the daily newspaper nor magazines with detailed information. Thus when they hear or read one story, they just jump in out of reaction.
As a news resource person, you should always be truthful and accurate and always be available. Get to know the media personnel, offer them have your phone numbers at work and at home, including your pager number, so they can page you in an emergency. You should be willing to do some of their legwork and should also be willing to give worthwhile information even if of an opposing view. If you have a legitimate title or position in your mosque or Muslim organization, mention it for authentication of your information.
If interviewed on television or by the press, remember who is in control of the interview. If you are uncomfortable with a question, ask that it be restated. Make your point very clear and short. After giving a concise answer, wait for another question.
Many Muslims interviewed become very emotional or excited if faced with provocative questions and lose their tempers. This does not favor you. Never accuse the media of being your enemy or being agents of Zionism, etc., unless you want to totally destroy the Muslim-media relationship.
The reporter's best interest is to make you and the interview look good. Summarize your points in no more than 20 seconds, and speak in short sentences. You should have a command of the English language and use stories to make your points. Neverinsert your blatant self-interests in the story. Do not complain about the coverage unless there is actual evidence of malice in it. Most reporters ask many questions but only include about five answers in the actual story.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Most Muslims write in negative rather than positive reaction to a story, another letter or a good editorial. The letters to the editor should be short ( less than 150 words), with full name, address and phone number, for the editors to call back, if they have a question or seek more information. Start the letter with a positive sentence, appreciating a previous column or editorial letter, and then come to your point. Be factual in nature and to the point. If your letter is not published in the next few days, you can call the editor or have another person to call to ask if your letter was received and if a decision on publishing it has been made.
A news release, like a letter, should be concise, up to date, and to the point and should be written about a topic or event, not about an individual. It should be on one page, have a summary headline, and be written in AP style so that it can be used as is, without modification. It should contain useful information for the community and, if possible, be tied in with the news of the day, if possible. Give your or your or your organization's phone number for those seeking more information on the subject.
The best time to hold a media event for a news release or a press conference is before 2 p.m., so that it will be on the 6:00 news, or after 7 p.m. in emergency situations, for the late-night news. You should understand that television journalists and newspaper reporters have busy schedules, trying to catch the news for the day, and therefore, they are not usually available after 2 p.m. because they have to prepare the news for that evening. They also arrive late in the morning, having worked during the night. Therefore, trying to reach them before 10 a.m. is useless.
Finally, you must have a media handbook of city, as well as of the national television stations, and you must develop a personal friendship with some of the key media people, inviting them to your community dinners and sending them free tickets for such, and after you have developed an acquaintance with them, taking them out for lunch. Once they do publish your story, feel free to send them a thank-you card, and do not forget to mention that their story was well received by your friends and neighbors.
If you enjoy good news for yourself and your faith, please remember that people in the media are also human, and they are also looking for good news and appreciation for themselves as well.Presented on April 7, 1996, at the North American Association of Muslim Professionals and Scholars, Second Annual Convention, Chicago.