Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
14 February 2017
It is rather astounding that Indian
Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in the world, does not have a
single mainstream media outlet which can adequately represent them. Over the
years, this need has been specifically felt but hardly anything has been done
in this direction. Of course there are a couple of news websites which tell us
stories about Muslim lives which the mainstream media ignores. They do a
commendable job and more is expected from them. But the question remains as to
why there is not a single mainstream Muslim newspaper or television channel?
Muslims certainly are not short of funds and if they want they can certainly
come up with a viable working solution to this problem.
It is a legitimate question to ask why we
need such a channel at all. After all there are mainstream news organizations
who tell us stories about Muslim lives too. So why should the Muslims have
their own newspaper or television channel. What purpose is it going to serve? These
are valid questions but then there are deeper reasons as to why there should be
Muslim presence within the Indian media. For one, most media outlets report
Muslim stories from two very different angles. One is if there is a national
Thus report about arrested youth from
Muslim community in terror related activities will be prominently flashed in
the media. But there are hardly any tough questions asked. The police version
is taken as ‘interim truth’ and perhaps our media houses do not think that
there is any further cross questioning required. Thus it is an oft repeated
pattern that Muslim convictions are over reported but there is hardly any
reportage when an accused is let off after decades of incarceration which
completely devastates their lives.
Muslims are also reported in the mainstream
media through their ‘peculiarities’, particularly in terms of their religion.
Thus stories on triple Talaq, polygamy and such issues gain wide prominence
within the mainstream media. A bit of research would tell us that polygamy is
more among Hindu castes than Muslims, but when there is a discourse of relating
a community to the practice of its religion, and then all facts and figures are
given a go by. The problem is compounded by the well-entrenched belief among
the media establishment that Muslims are best represented by the Ulema.
And thus we have in television studios
Muslim religious clerics who through their ignorance and trying to reduce
everything to religion, end up giving a bad name to Muslims. In fact they end
up reproducing the dominant stereotypes about Muslims as an essentially
backward community with a regressive faith. All these factors point towards the
need that Indian Muslims must have representation of their own.
It is not that Muslims do not have their
own newspapers. The problem is that most of them are in Urdu and are thus
inaccessible to vast majority of people in this country including Muslims.
Moreover these newspapers do not raise everyday Muslim concerns but are
focussed on issues related to Muslim identity and religion. In a way they
complement the efforts of mainstream Indian newspapers.
English language newspaper, which has now ceased production, the Milli Gazette,
also suffered from the same problem. It was so ideological in its content that
anything remotely critical of the Muslim community did not find space in its
pages. Its editor rued the fact that despite the capacity, Muslims did not save
the newspaper from getting into oblivion.
The bigger problem was not finance but a
liberal ethos which was lacking from the pages of this newspaper. I remember
that the newspaper ran a campaign for nearly two weeks over the Imrana issue.
But the whole point of this campaign was to belittle this problem within Muslim
society by pointing to lacunae in Imrana’s version. The whole issue, according
to this newspaper, was created to malign the image of Islam and Muslims. If a
newspaper is run through such a sectarian lens, then it is better that it has
closed down. Muslims are better off without this newspaper.
It is interesting to note that one
newspaper controlled by Muslims has broken the shell of this religious
communitarian myopia. Madhyamam, the newspaper controlled by Jamaat e Islami,
Kerala is one the largest circulating dailies available in a language
accessible to all. The paper is run by a professional staff which means that
most of those who run the show are not Muslims themselves. And yet, today it
has a decisive say in Kerala on how Muslims are to be represented and what needs
to be discussed. Such a state of affairs has only happened due to the
‘liberalism’ of an Islamist organization which is sadly missing in other parts
Arshad Alam is a columnist with NewAgeIslam.com
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