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Published in the 16-31 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Indian Muslims and media
After playing a vital role during the freedom movement why Muslims and Muslim media  are so isolated from Indian media scenario, Md. Shahid Rafique finds out

"The press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy" — Mahatma Gandhi.

It is the duty of the media in both the developing and developed countries to rescue peace, democracy and human rights from the clutches of the evil forces; to expose the failure, the shortcomings and the weaknesses of the present system. It has to educate, motivate, persuade and entertain. Internationally Muslims and media have gone from being a virtual non-issue to becoming the subject of books, conferences, articles, meetings and so on. In these three decades, this relationship has undergone constant strain, and more recently, positive change. But the picture in India is quite different. All major media houses (both print & electronic) are owned by high caste Hindus. That is how they control and manipulate Muslims brains.

After fifty years of independence, the mainstream media ignore things of interest to Muslims, gatherings, processions, debate, cultural programmes etc. "The bias in the mainstream media is one major reason for this. As far as Muslims are concerned only sensational items are picked up for reporting." Expressed Mumbai-based Ram Puniyani, social activist and writer. Even Muslims representation in media is meager. This further alienates Muslims from the mainstream. It is not true that Indian Muslims are not educated or well trained. They are now more competent than ever before what they lack is the right opportunity.

The state of the Muslim media is worse and this is despite the fact that Muslims constitute about one sixth of India’s population. What Indian Muslims lack is propaganda, not false one. Even to make the truth known to themselves, Muslims have no strong media. In this the Muslims are really backward. They are still living in the India of British days. Sections of Hindu chauvinists fear Muslims participation in journalism. They know the power of the press particularly the power of the printed word. Upper castes Hindus want to continue to have a monopoly of this control. "There is nothing wrong to have Muslim media but there is lack of big industrialist in our community to back this media. There are few but they don’t have this vision." Exclaimed Asghar Ali Engineer, noted journalist and social activist.

It is good to have new Muslim media but it would be much better if the existing media would be taken good care of. Existing Muslim media (print) fails to reach the target of estimated readership. " Mainstream media cannot address all the issues for all communities equally.’ Says Mr. Engineer. "Therefore each one has to have its own vehicle to make sure that those issues and those ideals that are important to them are always presented in this proper context." Some feels that the solution to the problem of Indian Muslims and media is by having more Muslims enter the fields of journalism and communication. Ram Puniyani, social activist, Mumbai, opined that proper education and right training for journalists might bridge the gap between media and Muslims in India.

For the existing Muslim media he feels that the community should form media cells to liaison with media in particular. "Having separate Muslim media is secondary factor. Primarily Muslims presence in the mainstream secular media will be more rewarding." Expressed Mr. Puniyani.

It is true that existing Muslim media is lagging behind in the country. The focus of the activities of Muslim groups is one of the reasons for this. They have not given due importance to this major vehicle of social opinion making. Resources may be another reason. Basic problem is poor, backward and illiterate Muslim population. Newspaper readership is very low in the community and due to different regional languages, English knowing people among them are very few. "Due to poor content and dipping circulation most of the Muslim media is in a pathetic condition. And some of them are on the verge of closure." Said Kolkata-based Zaheer Anwar, playwright and critic. He further adds that whole journalistic set up should be changed and the infrastructure should be strong and competitive and this could be done only when rich Indian Muslims support it financially, and give moral support as well. Our media is normally absent from events and issues that really matter and largely depends on the non-Muslim media or news agency for both news and ideas. 

The powerful Indian media fails to grab real Muslim issues, problems and triumphs out of sheer ignorance or misplaced notions or biases. Only aggressive or capitulative Muslim voices and trivial issues, that somehow malign the community at home and abroad, seem to capture the attention of this myopic media. But Mr. Engineer has a different voice when he says, " you cannot make sweeping generalization that all mainstream media is biased. Most of the papers stand by secularism and fully condemn communal violence and its creator." 

But even with the presence of Muslims media and Muslims in mainstream media, stereotypes and prejudice persist. It is the duty of each Muslim to support Muslim media and there are many ways to do this. Some of them are mentioned below.

  • Subscription or group subscription.

  • Giving feedback, to get one’s problem heard.

  • Distribution of copies to promote the media.

  • Donating to this Muslim cause.

  • Encourage libraries and institutions to subscribe.

  • Muslims businesses should give ads in them.

The need for having a common Muslim controlled news agency is a must to bring forth the truth about the community in different regions of India. 
The days of Muslims bashing and doing nothing about media bias and prejudice against Islam and Muslims are still there, but more Muslims all over the world are willing to challenge these perceptions then why not we—Indian Muslims. Muslims today , though, are not just fighting stereotypes, from the outside looking in. They are increasingly taking the media into their own hands, knowing full well that sitting on the sidelines is ineffective but sad to say that Indian Muslims are still thinking about their own self not the community as a whole.

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