Objectionable Content on TV9

Biju Abdul Qadir Editor of Bangalore-based Young Muslim Digest, sent this letter to TV 9 Channel:

I would like to, hereby, bring to your notice that a particularly objectionable documentary was aired on TV 9 on Saturday, 24th December 2011, at around 10.30 AM. The programme, with a header that read ‘Terror Starts at School’, was a roughly 20-minute documentary on the application of Shariah law in some countries around the world like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.

In a global atmosphere so vitiated by negative Muslim stereotyping accentuated by an often deliberately undiscerning media, and where the very word ‘Shariah’ conjures up images of beheadings, death-by-stoning and amputations, it is the bounden duty of all media houses, in keeping with true journalistic ethics, to not further aggravate the stereotype without, at the very least, providing objective data available on the topic and placing the debate within the correct context and perspective. If not for any other reason, then simply because the members of the community you are dealing with amount to more than one-fifth of the global population today.

In the absence of a proper context in discussions on so dangerously misunderstood a subject, it is a foregone conclusion that such a presentation - even when no adverse effects are intended - will do more harm than good to the interests of the Muslim community in India and elsewhere. This is a matter easily understood today, not just by responsible media houses themselves, but also by all well-informed individuals who make up our society’s core intelligentsia.

It may be argued that what was aired on TV9 was but events as they happened around the Muslim world, and that the channel was doing nothing but reporting on those very events. However, in the face of such argumentation, it must be immediately pointed out that to showcase, with explicit video footage, issues of such gravity in a shady and selective manner, as was so unfortunately done at TV9, is far worse in implication than not showing it at all.

This is definitely not to say that freedom of expression must be disallowed. On the contrary, every individual’s right to freedom of expression must be honoured, but with the simple, undeniable and natural condition that the exercise of this right does not impinge upon the other, equally valid, rights of other individuals living in the same society, indeed anywhere in the world. Granted this context, it is not difficult to see that the documentary aired by TV9 quite easily trespassed into the sacred space - within and without - of millions of Muslim believers throughout the country, leave alone the negative ramifications for the already battered-beyond-recognition Muslim image.

Displaying selected Iranian movie clips - of offenders being executed - to drive home the point that the documentary was intended to make, is a cheap journalistic gimmick in the wholesale demonisation effort against the Muslim community. Regrettably, this is exactly what TV9 did. Another remarkable display of ‘Islamic’ justice was the other video clip in the same programme showing the fingers of a boy being run over by a vehicle as a punishment for his having stolen a loaf of bread! This is while, in a historically well-documented incident, the second Caliph of Islam, Umar bin al-Khattab - in a similar case where two young boys were caught stealing bread - first enquired of the reasons for their having done so. When he was told that the boys were forced into stealing because of hunger and because their employer was not paying them their wages properly, the Caliph had the boys released and their employer whipped instead! Such is the legacy of Islamic law gleaned from its original sources, and as exemplified in the life of a civilization and culture that held aloft the light of knowledge, justice and compassion to a Europe then sunk in the night of the Dark Ages.

To be sure, a selective display of videos of wayward implementation of the Shariah - if at all they were true - is as sufficient a pretext for the wholesale rejection of Islamic Law as the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay excesses are pretexts for the rejection of Democracy and Christianity as viable philosophies. Nor, for that matter, can the post-Godhra massacre of hundreds of innocent Muslims in our own Gujarat become a pretext for the wholesale dumping of the Sanatana Dharma as a viable message of peace and harmony: the same Dharma as professed and practiced by that remarkable son of Gujarat - no, not Modi, but Gandhi! But let us leave aside the tragic ironies of history for the moment.

However, and quite irrespective of what any religion teaches, in a secular democracy such as the one that India is, no citizen can be allowed to trample upon the religious beliefs of other citizens. If that be so, then it is an even heavier responsibility of every media enterprise in general, and the visual media in particular, to exercise still greater caution in the views, images and stereotypes that it puts out for public consumption. For, if an individual prejudice can create sufficiently alarming discord and disharmony in society, a prejudiced media can, sooner or later, destroy that society completely.

Given this very realistic scenario, it is our earnest request that TV9 abstain from such wanton, irresponsible acts of sensationalism, withdraw such offending content from public view, engage the numerous other social issues with which India is seized at the moment and contribute constructively and harmoniously to the making of this nation.

Else, I am afraid that the losers will be none but our own citizenry, of which each of us are ourselves members; and none will be the losers other than our very own flesh and blood.

And it will be a loss for which our combined complacency, indifference and irresponsibility, both as individual and media house, will have to be held accountable.

This is even as the experience of our recent history teaches us time and again. A lesson which we can ill-afford to ignore. And that lesson is this: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2012 on page no. 2

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