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Muslims in the media the topic in Amherst

WBFO's Mike Desmond

Islam and Muslims often don't get a fair shot in the media and there are a lot of reasons for it, according to to panelists who gathered Sunday for a discussion in Amherst.

The panel on "Journalism & Islam: Food for Thought" was held at Masjid An Noor. Presenters were from a mix of religions and media backgrounds.

Speakers said the issue is even more complicated this year with the presidential election allowing issues to surface that have not been very public in a long time, especially through social media. Dr. Khalid Qazi, a past president and chair of the mosque's parent Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier, said there have been serious problems with reporting about Islam.

"It is our responsibility to hold them accountable," Qazi said. "Number two. We can't pass the buck all the time. We've got to do our part. We've got to write to the paper. We've got to write the editorials. We've got to write opinions. We've got to make sure that we make their life miserable when they aren't reporting the right thing."

Former St. Bonaventure Journalism Dean Lee Coppola said more Muslims have to go into the various forms of media as a career so they can not only represent Islam in the array of individuals on the job, but also be there as sources of information for those working on stories that involve Islam.

Coppola said it is analgous to his university's relations with the Seneca Nation, which actively fought Senecas studying journalism.

"They could report more accurately what's going on in your community, yet you refuse to allow your children to study journalism so they can accurately portray what a Native American community is about," Coppola said. "And I think the same thing is needed in the Muslim community. You need young students who understand their culture and their community to study journalism and become journalists."

Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth Zion said many media people deal with Jews and develop understandings of the differences in his community, while Islam gets treatment that is monolithic.

Westminster Presbyterian Church Pastor Thomas Yorty said there are a lot of badly informed people out there, recounting a conversation last week with someone he knew.

"Gave me a website to go to that would explain to me that Islam is not a religion, that it's a political ideology," Yorty said. "And, at that point, I said thank you very much, that we are at opposite ends of the spectrum here and I don't agree with that."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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