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UB organizes first Buffalo ‘Muslimedia’ panel

By CHARLES ANZALONE and ELIN HAWKINSON

Published April 4, 2017

“I realized there was a big gap between their perception of what they’re covering and reality.”
Jody Biehl, director
Journalism Certificate Program

A panel of faith leaders, Muslim community representatives and journalists will discuss concerns over how Muslims and people of other faiths are represented in the media at a “Muslimedia” panel from 1:30-4:30 p.m. April 23 at The Islamic Center, 745 Heim Road, Getzville.

Veteran Buffalo journalists Lee Coppola and Rich Kellman will headline the panel that will examine such questions as: Is the phrase “Islamic terrorism” accurate or offensive? When should reporters mention the faith of a suspect or a source? How well did the local media cover recent bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in Buffalo?

President Trump’s election, his travel bans targeting Muslim-majority nations, and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups who kill in the name of religion have made this dialogue urgent, according to panel organizer Jody K. Biehl, director of UB’s Journalism Certificate Program. Journalists should have firsthand knowledge about topics they cover, yet Biehl sees her UB journalism students writing about Islam without knowing much about it, and she fears this problem extends to the local and national media as well.

“When I asked the staff of our student newspaper, ‘How many of you have been inside a mosque?’ no one but our copy editor, who is Muslim, raised his hand,” Biehl says. “I realized there was a big gap between their perception of what they’re covering and reality.”

To address this concern, Biehl applied for a grant from the Society of Professional Journalists to host a Muslimedia panel. Muslimedia grants are available nationwide to professional journalists wishing to provide a platform for blunt discussions among members of the press and leaders of the Islamic faith. Biehl accepts that the misconceptions often go both ways, with Muslims questioning why more positive news stories rarely make it to the front page.

“You can argue that yes, there are positive stories that should be shared,” Biehl says. “But there must also be recognition that a journalist’s job is not to portray a community in any particular agreed-upon way. The job is to report what happens. Part of the Muslimedia discussion will revolve around this relationship between the community and the press, as well as opportunities for Muslim stories to have a larger presence in the Buffalo and national news.”

The Muslimedia panel event and reception are free and open to the public.

Biehl hopes to connect with local news outlets, service organizations, members of other religious communities and individuals who could either benefit from or contribute to the discussion. During the event, audience members will be invited to ask questions about Islam and current journalism practices, as well as witness and talk about an Islamic prayer session. A light halal meal will be served.

“It’s my hope that by seeing and experiencing Islamic faith and Muslim culture, demystification will occur,” Biehl says. “Many people only know what they read, and often what they read about Muslims only relates to terrorism. Muslimedia will serve as a looking glass into the ‘other,’ which doesn’t happen often.

“I also hope it will inspire professionals to deepen their knowledge of any faith before reporting on it. For my students, I’m confident this practice will result in savvier, more empathetic citizens and — ultimately — better journalists.”

Muslimedia will begin at 1:30 p.m. with a welcome and a brief interactive prayer session. The panel discussion will start at 2:30 p.m. Learn more:

Panelists include:

  • Lee Coppola, award-winning print and television reporter, former assistant U.S. attorney and former dean of the St. Bonaventure Journalism School.
  • Rich Kellman, a 40-year veteran broadcast journalist, TV news anchor, filmmaker, and winner of two Emmys and the Edward R. Murrow Award.
  • Gamileh Jamil, executive director of ACCESS Buffalo who serves on the Erie County Advisory Committee on the Status of Women. She holds a master’s degree in health administration.
  • Khalid J. Qazi, clinical professor of medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB; past president and chair of the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier; founding president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York; and recipient of numerous regional and national awards.
  • Rabbi Jonathan Freirich, a native New Yorker who will begin in July his 18th year in the rabbinate as one of three clergy serving Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo.
  • Rev. Thomas Yorty, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo. He leads a congregation committed to multi-faith understanding and collaboration, social justice and progressive values.    
  • Imam Syed Khalilullah Qadri, spiritual leader and resident imam of the Islamic Center, which is owned and operated by the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier. He holds degrees in Islamic studies.

The panel is sponsored by The Society of Professional Journalists, the UB journalism program, the Islamic Society of Niagara Frontier, Congregation Havura, ACCESS of WNY, Muslim Public Affairs Council of WNY, Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church of Buffalo.