Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Most of us watching the 2022 World Cup are not ignorant of the global discussion over host country Qatar’s human rights violations. Many concerns, such as that of poor labor conditions, are rightfully being highlighted by media platforms. However, much of this coverage is riddled with orientalist and Islamophobic rhetoric.
It’s hypocritical how overplayed the coverage of indiscretions in Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, has been compared with how we tend to dismiss the human rights violations of Western countries.
American and Western media need to take active steps in providing fair coverage of global human rights violations and reversing biased rhetoric. Ultimately, this media coverage paints Islamic countries as “backward” because of religion rather than the governments and actors responsible for such actions. Such ideas fuel Islamophobia and hate crimes in the United States, including Maryland, and globally.
For journalists and media platforms, there needs to be a mindful ethical and moral shift in becoming more open-minded to differences in other cultures for the sake of fair and unbiased reporting. Western media needs to reassess the perspectives portrayed in reporting and the prevailing biases that determine how much attention certain issues are given.
When we see coverage of the 2022 World Cup, it seems like Western media is adamant in acting as moral champions over the Middle East. To view ourselves as culturally superior only seems to be a function of orientalism, as if solely by virtue of not molding to Western culture, Qatar is stuck in another century. For example, I see uproars over bans of alcohol in stadiums as just showing a continual unwillingness to accommodate for — or accept — Islamic cultures.
Criticisms need to be made of the poor labor conditions faced by the workers building the World Cup’s facilities. Human rights violations are human rights violations no matter who commits them. But when we make these criticisms, they should not come from orientalist bias that keeps our society stuck in this idea of Western and European supremacy.
The unprecedented attention being placed on Qatar, just indicates a double standard and selective activism in how we discuss morality. For example, both the BBC and ITV (a British broadcaster) refused to broadcast this World Cup’s opening ceremony. Yet, I didn’t see these media platforms do the same for the Russian World Cup in 2018, despite Russia actively arming and supporting the Assad regime’s attacks on Syrian civilians.
There is an unmistakable gap in our media coverage. Our journalists seem less concerned about human rights, and more about maintaining a moral high horse in trying to prove that an Arab or Muslim country is behaving improperly.
News platforms need to be the first to ensure the accuracy of statements being made on religion and Muslim countries within these discussions. There needs to be an expansion in the perspectives being reported on, and active scrutiny and study of tropes that hinder the coverage quality of non-white ethnic and cultural groups.
These perspectives cause real harm in our communities. Exposure to global media portrayals of Muslims contributes significantly to Islamophobic attitudes in the United States. We just saw a Maryland teen attacked in her high school bathroom for wearing her hijab. By not actively working to fight against Islamophobia, the media allows those around us to be harmed by it.
Thankfully, there is already some active work being done to combat media bias. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding is among one of many organizations that have created initiatives to combat Islamophobic sentiments in the media. Its guide outlines the importance of being factual in combating orientalist language. Consulting such resources needs to be a priority for major news and media outlets.
Beyond just checking the reported facts, accuracy in reporting should also include making sure the amount of coverage doesn’t lead people to inaccurate assumptions.
For individual news outlets, it’s important to be able to track historical coverage of Muslim and Arab countries to ensure journalists give the same attention to abuses committed by different actors. If journalists find that it’s important for the public to receive a bombardment of information of Qatar’s human rights abuses, we should see the same amount of coverage of abuses done by Western countries, whether in Europe, the United States or Australia.
Making these reforms for the whole profession will both improve the quality of the journalism that is produced out of the Western world while recommitting our journalists to the journalists’ code of ethics to minimize harm.
Imaan Shikoh is a sophomore public policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.