chapter  5
21 Pages

The performance of tolerance in European television news. Responses to the ‘Islamic threat’: Russia, Britain, France

Focusing particularly on Russia, this chapter compares how ‘establishment’ television channels have treated Islamic extremism’s impact on key European values. The other two countries selected for analysis – Britain and France – share with Russia substantial Muslim contingents within post-imperial, multicultural populations, broad formal adherence to Enlightenment notions of tolerance and varying ‘contributions’ to the ‘War on Terror’. They also exhibit signifi cant differences of media culture and policy towards minorities. The research is based on recordings from news bulletins on Russia’s Channel 1, BBC One and France 2, the principle ‘establishment’ channels in the three countries. The recordings cover the period from November 2006 to July 2008. 1

Edward Said’s analysis of media coverage of Islam has long been the benchmark for the fi eld. 2 However, scholarship has expanded rapidly since 9/11, with research focusing mainly either on treatments of terrorism or negative representations of Islam and Muslims. 3 Given the diffi culties of archiving and analysing television news, most work deals with print media. 4

Equally, few studies give attention to the other side of the representational picture: how the media refract the values of their own societies when covering Islam. This is a signifi cant omission for a Europe in which purportedly tolerant societies are struggling to come to terms with multiple perceived ‘threats’ posed to security and national selfhood by growing Muslim populations – indigenous or immigrant – and the emergence of a nascent European super-state. Work on media representations of Islam tends to be nationally undifferentiated; to be oriented towards identifying the nature and impact of perceived bias against Muslims; or still to be tainted by Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis. 5 To date there has been very little comparative analysis of television news representations of Islam in its European cultural context, and none involving Russia.