Lynching by Media

The News Diary of Sheik Taj al-din al-Hilali 26 October – 4 November 2006 A 25,458 word survey of the media frenzy that followed the reporting of al-Hilali's Ramadan sermon.

“Gradually, all the old political and moral reality had melted like a Dalí watch. Nobody but a fanatic, it seemed, could really say all that he believed.” 
Arthur Miller

Richard Kerbaj’s front page story in The Australian on 26 October 2006 unleashed a media frenzy in which, in a few days, hundreds of thousands of words were published in Australia and round the world. Kerbaj quoted from Sheik Taj al-din al-Hilali’s Ramadan sermon given at some time during the month of September to a mosque inSydney’s inner city suburb of Lakemba. The Australianpublished the complete text of the  sermon some days later.

Just what caused the media storm remains a matter of contention.  After my recent analysis of the Murdoch press in Australia and my knowledge of how The Australian works I spent some time recovering every word I could that had been written on al-Hilali over the next few days. I wanted to understand the dynamics of the al-Halili incident. In what follows summaries of most of the published articles and transcripts in the Australian and international mainstream press on the incident are listed. This amounts to a summary of over 250,000 words of coverage of the al-Halili sermon.

My view, after studying the media torrent in detail, is that no matter how reprehensible al-Hilali’s remarks, the Sheik was lynched by media mob. Kebaj’s article spread through the media world like wildfire. It reinforced the world’s current anxieties and fears and al-Halili became linked to the worst perpetrators of terrorism. The Australian continued to fuel the story publishing the most tenuous links between al-Hilali and Osama bin-Laden and unearthing completely unrelated people and events to push the story onwards. News agencies and sources that should have known better got onto the media wagon and continued to push the story.

(25,458 words)

The complete text of this survey is available to the unemployed, students and pensioners at no charge. Simply send an email to noting your employment status.