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Centre for Faith and Media Responds

Submitted by Canadian blogger, Apr 3, 2009 18:58


On the vapour trails of rumour

April 2nd, 2009 | Published in Religion and Politics

Over the past few weeks, three journalists took action against the Centre for Faith and the Media based on allegations and assertions which lack truth and are closer to rumour-mongering than anything resembling journalism. None of these journalists called me or anyone at the Centre to verify their facts before writing these articles and blogs, which are potentially damaging to the good work of this organization.

It seems that the basis of good journalistic practice - checking facts with original and multiple credible sources – has gone the way of the typewriter.

At issue is the fact that the Centre for Faith and the Media has received a contribution agreement from the federal ministry of multiculturalism to provide media relations training to Muslim communities in Canada. This includes convening discussion panels where local journalists, journalism professors, and local Muslim spokespersons, leaders, and students, can engage in open dialogue about how Muslims are treated in Canadian media, and how that treatment can be improved.

In each of the eight cities where the project is (or was) taking place, the makeup of the panels has been varied. We have endeavored to involve people from many different Muslim traditions, and points of view within Islam. We have seen the participation of women wearing hijabs, women without hijabs, Sunnis, Ismailis, representatives of the Islamic Society of Nova Scotia; the Muslim Students Association of Concordia University; the Canadian Council of Muslim Women; the Muslim Council of Calgary; Islamic Social Services Association Winnipeg; the Muslim Social Services Network Toronto; and CAIR-CAN. In Ottawa, we hosted Maher Arar and his wife Monia, who spoke about the role of the media during their ordeal. In our final events in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, we will engage Shia, Ahmaddiya and Muslims from other groups and organizations.

We have had excellent journalists participate on our panels: in Winnipeg, Terry McLeod of CBC and Greg Lockert from the Winnipeg Free Press; in Toronto, Jonathan Kay of the National Post, Stuart Laidlaw from the Toronto Star, and Peter Kavanagh from CBC National Radio. In Halifax, Rob Gordon of CBC and Dan Leger from the Halifax Chronicle Herald. In Montreal, Jeff Heinrich from the Montreal Gazette, and Laurie Julie Perreault from La Presse. In Ottawa, Graham Green, editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen, and Evan Dyer of CBC Radio. In Calgary, Graeme Morton from the Calgary Herald, and Faiz Jamil from CBC Calgary. In Edmonton and Vancouver, we will involve equally terrific journalists from local major media outlets.

The Centre has come under fire for having several members of CAIR-CAN on our panels. Because CAIR-CAN exists primarily to interact with the media on behalf of Muslims in Canada, it was logical to find that its members are articulate when it comes to media issues and not simply complainers about poor coverage. They are interested in helping the media pursue fair, balanced and accurate stories to reflect the diversity of Islam in Canada. At no time have they had work subcontracted to them by the Centre. They have simply been panelists contributing their own points of view.

Our original Journalist's Guide to Islam has been removed from our website and will be replaced by a full Media Directory of Islam in Canada which is part of the what The Muslim Project will deliver. A wide range of Muslim groups are being polled and asked to submit information, contacts, and links to make this resource much better than our previous directory.

Allegations that CAIR-CAN had links to terror arose in 2004 with a comment made on an Ottawa radio station by Mr. David Harris, who was subsequently sued by CAIR-CAN. David Frum, writing in the National Post, also linked CAIR-CAN to terrorist activities, and the newspaper was also sued by CAIR-CAN. The suit against Harris was dropped in favour of continuing to press the National Post to settle, which it did finally by printing an editor's note of apology from Mr. Frum, stating that CAIR-CAN was not linked to terror. This was published in the National Post on Sept. 17, 2005.

The pertinent text of that apology is as follows.

"David Frum and the National Post acknowledge that neither Sheema Khan nor the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada advocates or promotes terrorism."

Despite the stringent vigilance of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which is watchful of many Muslim individuals and groups, CAIR-CAN has never been found to have ties to terrorist organizations, either by CSIS or the RCMP. Still, rumours persist that CAIR-CAN has links to terror. Thus, the Centre, by having people from CAIR-CAN on panels with journalists to discuss how reporters do their job, is now accused of being in bed with terrorists. This borders on defamation and puts good people, board members, and reputations at risk. It also smacks of the McCarthyism of the 1950's, when if you knew someone who knew someone who might be a communist, then you were a communist too.

The Centre, along with other organizations seeking to engage Muslims across the country, will no doubt encounter some Muslims deemed "questionable" or illegitimate by other Muslims. This is similar in the Christian community, in which Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are regarded as cults and not true Christians. But this does not change the need to engage a wide range of people in discussion and dialogue, to persuade and educate, to expose and challenge views, to do what a democratic society does: Let a range of ideas and views be expressed, challenged, asserted, debated, and put through the rough and tumble of public scrutiny.

There are an estimated 1-million Muslims in this country. Those of us working in the public sphere need to find ways of communicating to all of them, and not write off some because they may hold some views and opinions the rest of us do not share. We do not endorse the full range of views and theological or political positions held by some who have taken part in our panels. That goes for the journalists as well as the Muslims.

Finally, let me say that so far, the Muslim Project has highlighted to me that some people are bent on pursuing division and alienation. The Centre chooses a more open approach. We do not promote terror or jihad or Islamist ideology, but good journalism. We promote dialogue. Ironically, we have been victims of religious stereotyping - one of the very things the Centre was founded to combat.

All the more reason the Centre for Faith and the Media, and many other groups reaching across religious and ideological lines, need to continue to dialogue, and take the heat in pursuit of the light.


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