This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of September, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date of publication: 14 September 2019
Media Outlet: The Times, British daily national newspaper
Author: David Brown
Title: “RNLI funding burkinis for Africans while cutting jobs”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: This article by The Times journalist David Brown seeks to ‘expose’ the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) for funding overseas initiatives. The article mainly focuses on burkini swimsuits, and how some of the RNLI’s funds go towards teaching Muslim women in Tanzania how to swim. It is clear from the start of the article that the author finds this outrageous, claiming that the RNLI “has been accused of diverting donations to give burkinis to Muslim women in Africa while laying off staff in the UK.” There is a strong accusatory tone here; as if to say that because women in Africa are getting burkini’s, people in the UK are losing their jobs. Further on in the article, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen is quoted on the matter as saying: “While these causes are no doubt worthy they are more suitable for support from our international aid budget than the RNLI.” He goes on to say that the RNLI “should be sticking to its core values.” Again, it is clear here that Bridgen, Brown and The Times do not see teaching Muslim women how to swim as fitting with the ‘core values’ of this organisation. The story was later picked up by the Mail on Sunday, using virtually the same narrative.
Initially, in response to the article, people expressed their intention (through platforms like Twitter) of pulling their donations from the RNLI because they felt that their ‘values’ were not being embodied by the organisation. However, also in response to this, many people showed their support for the RNLI and their work, and donations to the organisation increased massively. There was much discussion around The Times’ article and subsequent response on Twitter, with one user explaining: “Just made a donation to the @RNLI because all lives matter. And deliberately hateful journalism designed to divide can't win.”
Myth debunked: The main issue with this piece is framing. Firstly, it claims to ‘expose’ the RNLI's work abroad, which is laughable, as the RNLI clearly states and explains its project work overseas on their website for all to read. The RNLI has always been transparent about their international work, which seeks to address the silent epidemic of drowning. The two focus countries of this work are Bangladesh and Tanzania, which are both heavily affected by deaths by drowning. One of the projects funded in Tanzania is the ‘Panje Project’, which in part works with local women to help them be more confident in the water. As some of these women are Muslim, they are provided with burkinis in order to take part in the activities. This is the focal point of The Times’ article: Muslim women in Tanzania learning how to swim and doing so in a religious garment. The message of the article is clear: it is unacceptable for a British organisation like the RNLI to use funds to buy burkini’s, especially when jobs in the UK are being cut. However, there is no correlation between the two: they are completely separate areas of RNLI’s work. It is a far-reaching claim to base a whole article on, and begs the question: what was Brown’s real aim with this piece?
This is not the first time The Times has published a piece with anti-Muslim undertones. A recent report looked at The Times’ history with anti-Muslim reporting, detailing numerous examples over the past years. The report concluded that “The errors described in this report are in our view breaches of journalistic standards that require full and formal investigation with the possibility of disciplinary action.” It is clear that The Times needs to properly analyse its editorial policy and tackle the problems at hand. An article like this shows a lack of journalistic values and is on the brink of sensationalist reporting.
More to read: