The media that’s helping to cut off the head of prejudice

Without fear or favour, Richard J. Hillgrove VI tips the tables up on world leaders, brands and countries who all often think they can hide behind the smoke and mirrors via their communications professionals. Bang On takes a full throttle, punk approach to dissecting and analysing modern PR and marketing. It's not for the faint hearted....

It’s ironic when you witness how traditional western media continues to vengefully vilify otherness generally and Islam in particular, but diversity has never been more fashionable.

Ghanaian-born Edward Enninful's appointment as editor-in-chief of British Vogue was a bold statement that fully embodies today’s diversity zeitgeist.

Talent and qualifications apart, Enninful was also the organiser behind February’s powerful viral video where 81 leading fashion figures declared “I am an immigrant” in protest at president Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. Clever Condé Nast.

Other independent-minded smart brands have stood up to declare their new-found diversity drive since president Trump took to the world leadership stage.

Last month Nike made inroads into the lucrative Islamic clothing market by announcing the launch of its light, stretchy hijab for female athletes. It goes on sale in 2018 after a year in development and testing by sportswomen including the figure skater Zahra Lari.

Starbucks, Exxon, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia were all quick and strong to condemn Trump’s racist anti-Muslim measures when he announced his Muslim travel ban.

Brands, digitally savvy brands particularly, seem to be creating their own dual diversity reality that side steps the starkly white and misogynist Trump worldview, a worldview that many would argue is out of step and out of date.

They’re not cancelling out the Trump circus act though. Instead, the two distinctly different heads of fear politics and diversity-led product sales are feeding off the same body.

Google is another brand voting with its wallet and leading the diversity agenda. It set up a $4m crisis fund to help people affected by the president’s Muslim travel ban.

Traditional media, desperately fighting for survival, is hell-bent on perpetuating a biased, stereotypical post-9/11 Trumpised worldview of Muslims as downright dangerous – largely to bash progressive and diverse digital media such as Google which hauled $12bn of advertising revenue in the UK market alone last year.

The mainstream was pretty quick off the block to bash Google-owned YouTube for allegedly running ads alongside extremist material. They loved reporting that advertisers such as the UK government, Sainsbury's, McDonald's, Audi, HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland and L’Oréal had abandoned Google.

The reality was purely algorithmic and nothing about the people down at Google being secret terrorist sympathisers. The hoo-ha was more about whether digital media is a platform for DIY content (400 hours uploaded every minute to YouTube) or a publisher.

The notion that people at Google used ad revenues to fund extremism was a red herring, wishful thinking on the traditional media’s part. A quick fix to the algorithms at Google looks like solving the problem and increased video policing measures are being stepped up.

Far from being the harbingers of social decay, Google is leading the way in changing the stale, unhelpful racial stereotypes perpetuated by a largely biased and out of date traditional media. In a strange way, Trump has played the media at their own game. And, bizarrely, the media got what they wished for with Trump.

Google recently hosted a gathering of 150 influential Muslim communicators, digital entrepreneurs and content creators at its HQ in London, called ‘Imams Online Digital Summit 2017’.

All were there to explore new media’s role in creating new, progressive content that is a true reflection of modern Muslims. It’s a view as far from the apocalyptic Muslim world painted since 9/11 and the 16 years of terrorism smears launched by George W. Bush.

Young people would never guess that Islam is rooted in the Arabic word for peace and that Muslim culture created algebra as well as some of the world’s most astounding architecture. Many of the medieval Muslim world’s breakthroughs still inform our lives today.

With 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, Google is convinced they are not all violent, dangerous and threatening as Hollywood has long portrayed them. The Ben Affleck flick Argo, which won the Best Picture Oscar, and The Seige which portrays a Muslim-led terrorist attack on New York, paint this picture. Even the Disney film Aladdin has helped demonise Muslims.

A new vision is now rising.

The gargantuan release of Fast and Furious 8 broke global box office records, beating Star Wars The Force Awakens, but two thirds of ticket sales came from foreign territories. Sales in America were relatively weak.

Peddling lies and out-of-date generalisations about Islam isn’t going to wash for much longer, particularly in global, digital markets that will be hugely important to Hollywood film sales from this point forward.

In the forefront of creating a positive mark is Bradford-born Zayn Malik, the One Direction singer whose father is British Pakistani. Malik is just one star in a firmament of Pakistani talent that’s ushering in the new dawn from the East.

Another is Mehwish Hayat, a singer and model now carving out a successful career in films with three back to back cinema hits to her name in her home country.

As major film makers court her talents, she’s a hot tip for world stardom. Hayat would be the first woman from Pakistan to achieve international star status, but with more than one million Instagram followers already, she could become Pakistan’s best ambassador yet. I can see her as a Bond girl.

Hayat came into the public eye through the Pakistani TV show Coke Studio, a hugely successful format that breaks new talent and is sponsored by Coca-Cola Pakistan – one of the big brands with its finger already on the Muslim pulse.

Others leading the charge include Getty Images which has teamed up with MuslimGirl.com to promote positive pictures of Muslim women online. Last year it launched its subsidiary Verbatim, dedicated to ‘impactful and authentic storytelling’.

In Australia, where 2.2% of the population are Muslim, Sydney-based OnePath Network is emerging as a key player in the global Islamic-themed sector with more than 110m views since its launch in 2014. It develops value-based content and distributes it through different channels making it an increasingly important route to reach Muslim consumers.

Concerns about a global lurch to a Trump-style far right may turn out to be a mere glitch in history. There’s no evidence it will last. In France, the far right seem to have lost ground and centrist Emmanuel Macron’s chances look good in the French presidential election.

Importantly, there’s no oil on the wheels of commerce, nor is there any digital media space, to allow xenophobic racism any lasting traction.

The only potentially devastating danger to the world is the US president’s finger lingering on the nuclear button. They’d better impeach him quick.

See Richard Hillgrove speak at Like Minds, Mayfair Business Breakfast on Thursday 11 May. Until then, you can find him on Twitter and email

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