Report “Innocent Mistakes”: How Media Failure Inspires Hate

Published: 16 May 2013

Region: Worldwide

innocent mistakes photoThe Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) launched a report that gets to the heart of the ethical crisis facing journalists and media who struggle to maintain standards in the online age. The report Innocent Mistakes highlights the influence on media of deeply-embedded stereotypes and how the rush to publish is squeezing editorial standards, says Aidan White, the editor of the report.

The Media Diversity Institute (MDI) has contributed to the report by providing the analysis of media in the UK and the United States. MDI team members are amongst the authors of the report, as well as the designers of a publication.

The EJN report reviews coverage by major media in Britain, the United States, Turkey and Pakistan of the controversy over the Innocence of Muslims , a short video which came to prominence in September last year when it was uploaded to YouTube with anti-Islamic content.


It generated an internet buzz and on the back of some widespread, flawed and shoddy reporting it became a global media sensation, provoking angry demonstrations and violence around the world that led to 75 deaths.


Aidan White wrote that the report reveals how:

·         Journalists were duped by a small-time criminal and Christian bigot who lied about the origins of the film, claiming that he was  a Jew and that the film had million-dollar backing from 100 Jewish investors,

·         Media in both the US and Pakistan gave undue prominence to extremist religious opinions at the expense of moderate and mainstream voices,

·         Media in all countries generally failed to explain the origins of violence, who was behind it and their political intentions,

·         Media gave the impression with little justification that the film had provoked widespread resentment and anger within the global Islamic community,

·         Governments in Pakistan and Turkey exploited the confrontational mood generated by the film to strengthen calls for a blasphemy law at international level.

“The Innocence of Muslims affair is just the latest incident in which media have been at the centre of attempts by political groups to manipulate public opinion to foment religious and cultural divisions between communities. This tendency has its origins in the development of the so-called war on terror following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington”, says the editor of “Innocent Mistakes” report Aidan White.

The EJN report highlights major editorial mistakes including failure to establish the truth about the film’s origins; the uncorrected circulation of false information about the film; a lamentable lack of reporting of voices calling for peaceful and non-violent protest; and a general failure to provide context which explained the reasons for violence and who was behind it.

Many responsible media sought balance in their reporting and tried to correct their errors, but many more did not.

Although the report is not exhaustive it highlights failings in media coverage that should be troubling for journalists everywhere and illustrates how journalism must be alert to the dangers of hate speech and the casual manipulation of media by unscrupulous political groups. Among the recommendations in the report are calls for more awareness-raising in media circles about the threats posed by media-savvy militants who seek to use media to stir up violent confrontation and a proposal for an annual report that monitors incidents of media and journalism being used by hate-mongers, says Aidan White.

Innocence of Muslims Report 2013.pdf