I first came across Fox News in 2006 during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah whilst in a state of panic I was seeking news about my family who live in Beirut.
I had been awake for 24 hours watching where the bombs were going off and beside myself with fear as I saw a helicopter fly over my dad’s building.
I had become more than marginally obsessed with all the news channels, flicking from channel to channel trying to frantically guess the locations of the Israeli aircraft.
It was during this adrenaline-fuelled channel surfing that with heavy eyelids I became infatuated with switching from the BBC to Fox News back and forth, back and forth (I have done this before when I am on TV, but it is more to marvel at my wrinkles on HDTV and delight at a 10-year younger version of myself on normal telly).
But back to Fox…. Glossy, coiffured, and as far as I could tell a satirical entertainment show. Surely this can’t be the news? You can’t say that? Is this a joke?
Now I am not saying the BBC are perfect, Let’s face it all forms of media have their faults.
In fact I always wonder why our newsreaders in general have to be so stiff and non-human. When they say something funny or remotely out of the ‘newsreader’ box they look at one another, indulgently shuffle their papers and curl their lips awkwardly into a macabre smile as if one of them had secretly passed wind.
But at least I suppose, there is an attitude of gravitas and implied impartiality that isn’t about grabbing big audience ratings and sensationalising public information to the ‘nth’ degree. Which as we have seen this week seems to the general public consensus of Fox ‘News’.
When terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson went on as a guest and described Birmingham as ‘totally Muslim’ and ‘non-Muslims did not enter’ … Sigh. The world finally sat up and said ‘What?!’
The hashtag #foxnewsfacts took off and started trending on twitter, as people thought up the most ridiculous things they could to demonstrate the ridiculousness of a news channel broadcasting (not for the first time) laughable and bafflingly inaccurate statements.
Here are a few of my favourite tweets…
A Muslim lady offers her protection for non-muslims considering a trip to Birmingham:
— Rabeb Othmani (@Rabeb_Othmani) January 11, 2015
and Mr Sarfraz Manzoor:
By the 1970s there were only a handful of white men left living in Birmingham. They were dubbed The Birmingham 6. #FoxNewsFacts
— Sarfraz Manzoor (@sarfrazmanzoor) January 11, 2015
In fact I spent most of the evening doffing my hat to the brilliant hashtags on Twitter. It was actually a real credit to the Britain I think we all are proud of, multicultural, tolerant and of course highly sarcastic.
But on a more serious level, how on earth is this shaping American society?
We may laugh it off in the UK but this is a news channel. Inconceivable isn’t it? And actually, in my opinion, a real worry.
I spent six weeks working in America last month filming for ‘A Place in the Sun‘ for Channel Four and I experienced isolated events of Islamophobia to the point I was actually a bit scared to say half my family were Arabic and Muslim in case I got a negative reaction, which is something I have never experienced to such a degree here in the UK .
Whilst there, a local barman in Orlando told the production crew: “You guys have a big problem with all those Muslims in England”. They promptly tried to explain they had no such problem and they loved the multiculturalism in the UK. They were met with bemused looks and silence.
I was told whilst having a lovely chat about travelling with an American man in his twenties that he ‘wouldn’t go back to Amsterdam as it was full of mosques and Turkish people’. I didn’t know what to say, so simply moved my chair and started a conversation about the weather with the cameraman.
An estate agent who hailed from India, lived in the UK and had grown up around all types of different religions, told me that it was so bad that she had given up arguing at dinner parties about the difference between fundamentalists and Muslims as it became too heated and awkward so she chose to remain silent. She said the media were to blame.
I think the worst experience I had was in 2011 when I was in Cambodia chatting to a lovely American lady in her 30s who came out with a clanger almost out of nowhere: “we just need to kill all the Muslims”. Yikes. Is it legal to say that?
I obviously need to make it crystal clear it is obviously not all Americans that think in this way, the vast majority were wonderful, kind, welcoming and far friendlier than us Londoners who gaze passively at the floor when on the tube to avoid eye contact or god forbid a conversation with a stranger. In fact, whilst doing a Yoga class in Siesta Keys in Florida I had a lovely chat with the teacher of the class about evolution and solutions to cultural problems and the like and she in fact brought up Fox News as a distributor of what she termed ‘biased information’.
But I don’t in fact blame the people who think in this way actually. Despite their views, some of them were actually quite nice, The question is: If this is their public information service how else can they think after, being bombarded with information like as the great ‘terror expert’ Steven Emerson told Fox News?
“in parts of London”, “Muslim religious police” beat “anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire”?! Crikey!