Radio 4's 'Woman’s Hour' accused of ‘hostile’ interview with leading female Muslim

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Emma Barnett during the #March4Women 2020 at  on March 08, 2020 in London, England. The event is to mark International Women's Day. (Photo by Lia Toby/Getty Images)
Emma Barnett is the new presenter of Woman's Hour. (Getty Images)

A Radio 4 Woman’s Hour interview with a leading female Muslim was “strikingly hostile” and perpetuated “damaging and prejudicial tropes” about Islam, according to an open letter signed by more than 100 prominent figures.

Zara Mohammed, the first woman to lead the Muslim Council of Britain, appeared on the BBC show earlier this month and was quizzed by presenter Emma Barnett.

In the interview, Mohammed was repeatedly asked about the number of female imams in Britain.

Read more: Muslim Council of Britain elects Zara Mohammed as first female leader

The letter, whose signatories include Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi and Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Naz Shah, states: “Despite Mohammed’s repeated claims that religious adjudication was not within the parameters of her role leading a civil society organisation, Barnett asked the question about female imams four times, each time interrupting Mohammed’s answer.

“The framing of the interview and clipping up of the ‘female imam’ segment for social media mirrored the style and tone of an accountability interview with a politician, rather than authentically recognising and engaging in what this represented for British Muslim women.”

According to the letter, which was also signed by journalist Afua Hirsch and pop star Jordan Stephens, “numerous complaints online and in private” to the BBC led to the broadcaster removing a clip of the interview from social media.

It added: “Whilst the removal of the clip is welcome, this response is insufficient. The tone and framing of the entire interview must be seriously assessed. There is an important difference between a style of questioning that undermines a woman’s voice and one that holds her to account.”

General view of the Broadcasting House, BBC headquarters in Central London. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The letter also criticised a “lack of representation” within the BBC. (SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

The letter also criticised a “lack of representation” within the BBC.

It called for the broadcaster to release a public statement “recommitting to engaging with Muslim women” and recruit Muslims in leadership positions.

Barnett took over the presenting slot on Woman’s Hour last month.

Read more: Emma Barnett responds after actor pulls out of interview

In her first week, actor Kelechi Okafor pulled out of an appearance after alleging she heard Barnett talking about her to producers before the show went on air.

Barnett said she was discussing issues surrounding the interview.

Reporting by PA

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