Muslim Media: our role and expectations

By M Ghazali Khan

Ashraf Ali Bastavi

His comments on these networks on the issues and challenges being faced by Indian Muslims and his contribution and active participation in educational work and his efforts in trying to keep Indian Muslim news portals and publications alive is a testimony to his sincerity and his genuine desire for the Indian Muslims to have their own media that can compete with the mainstream national media.

What he has written is not impossible to achieve. However, in the light of ground realities and past experiences this is an extremely uphill task. Sadly, what many members have said about Indian Muslim news outlets is also true about Muslim media in Britain and the experience of the publishers of Muslim magazines is not different from their brethren in India.

Echoing almost similar sentiments as expressed by Kawaja Saheb, Razi Raziuddin Saheb [he moderates a yahoogroup], whose pragmatic and practical approach and positive activism is known to all of us, has suggested the launch of a “Modern Secular Professional Muslim Media”.

The discussion on the failure/future of Muslim publications was triggered by an announcement by Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, editor and publisher of The Milli Gazette, that the esteemed fortnightly may have to be stopped.

Needless to say that to bring out a publication with meagre resources and continue it regularly without interruption, without the backing of any organisation must have been a big challenge and therefore The Milli Gazette’s editor MUST be congratulated for this selfless and valuable service to the community.

Except some very childish and immature comments posted on Facebook, majority of the writers on Indian Muslim internet forums have acknowledged and praised the efforts of Dr Zafarul Islam Khan Saheb.

In criticising or evaluating the success or failure of Indian Muslim English newspapers most of the contributors have ignored an important aspect, the debilitating impact of internet on print media.

The mushrooming and availability of free online news services and news portals has made the survival difficult for print editions of big and well-known publications like the Newsweek let alone a financially starving and under resourced publication like The Milli Gazette.

However, the positive impact of internet should also be acknowledged.  It is simply due to the internet today that, Masha Allah, we have several Indian Muslim news portals. And it was due to the internet that at one time the rating of The Milli Gazette’s website, in 2002, was higher than many Indian news regimes and that was the right time when The Milli Gazette’s publishers should have paid more attention to its website even if it meant closure of the print edition.

As for Razi Saheb’s suggestion to launch a “Modern Secular Professional Muslim Media,” I am not sure how can a balance between religious ethos and the demands of secularism be maintained? Believing in a secular system of government is one thing but practicing secularism in every aspect of life is another. One wonders how a “Modern Secular Professional Muslim Media” will reconcile with the pressure of recognising the so-called “gay rights” and the issue of interfaith marriages etc. If secular outlook means a rather milder approach on Muslim issues then in Syed Hamid Saheb’s Nation and the World, we have a good example of such an attempt that, sadly, also did not succeed.

Let’s hope and pray that the efforts to save this valuable organ succeed and The Milli Gazette continues to serve the community. However, without substantial subscriptions and advertisements no newspaper or magazine can survive for long and when it comes to subscriptions our community does not have a good history of supporting its publications. There is an unexpressed and undeclared demand that anything published in the name of Islam and Muslims should be available for free.

I also think it necessary to deal with some of the uncharitable comments and criticism on Indian Muslim newspapers expressed by some of the contributors.

If the complaint is about the style and quality of journalism and getup of these publications, I would like to mention that in early 1980s Arabia The Islamic World Review was published by the Islamic Press Agency, owned by the Saudi businessman Salahuddin, Afkar Inquiry financed by Iran and the independent magazine Impact International. All were well produced and published from London but failed to attract subscribers and advertisements. The Muslim News, presently the only Muslim publication that is somehow surviving, has a very poor support from the community. In order to save printing cost last year it reduced its pages from 20 to 12. If one wants to see how a community publication is supported he/she will need to see the print edition of Jewish News that has more than 25 percent of its print space covered with advertisements.

“Following sensational style of Urdu Press”

Only the publishers would know how hurtful such sweeping remarks are but as a neutral reader and observer of Urdu press and English language publications of Indian Muslims, to say the least, I find such expressions farfetched allegations without any substance whatsoever. One fails to understand what is meant by “sensationalism”. I have never seen anything in Radiance, MG or any other publication that could fall in the category of sensationalism. I would be grateful if these allegations are substantiated with any proof.

“Poor contents and bad quality of journalism”

In expecting these poorly-financed and poorly-staffed publications to compete with mainstream publications, we should not forget the fact that a community magazine/newspaper is different from a commercial publication. A commercial publication is market- and profit-focussed while the mission of a community publication is to present issues and views and more so the values of a community.

A commercial magazine according to its nature tends to have a team of well-paid and well-trained in-house and freelance writers who specialise in politics, international affairs, social issues, science and technology, environment, finance, sports, literature/culture/films etc.

To some extent this problem can be easily tackled though, provided Muslim professionals in various fields-science, health, education, agriculture, environment, history, banking, technology etc.-volunteer to come forward and take the responsibility of contributing on these issues.

There are a number of professional Muslim journalists who are active on these networks and are based almost in every part of the world but hardly anyone of them has bothered to help a Muslim publication. Dispatching a story on a weekly/fortnightly basis is not such a difficult thing. From their contributions posted on these networks some members appear to be avid readers. They can help a Muslim publication by reviewing new books.

The maximum number of staff in a community publication is hardly more than 4-5 who edit, write, rewrite on each and every issue, look after even the administrative aspects (subscription and running of the office etc.) and also cover events if invited.

 An editor having to design the pages (newspaper/magazine designing requires special training) of a newspaper is the most painful wastage of his time. How can an editor, under such conditions, be expected to produce well-laid-out pages with illustrations, attractive headings and sub-headings, illustrations and properly edited photographs?

“Why always lament and not publish positive reports?”

The community has to ask itself if it wants Muslim newspapers to close their eyes and ignore ground realities. Along with economic miseries and growing threat to physical existence the impact of Gujarat riots lingers on, Muzaffarnagar riot victims are still in relief camps and continue to face intimidation while small-scale riots continue to go unabated. And now “Love Jihad” has added a new dimension to the community’s juxtaposed problems. Obviously, articles on these issues do not make a pleasant reading. So what should Muslim publications do? Ignore these realities and fill pages with “feel good” items?

As for positive news and success stories, let every member of these networks honestly answer this question: how many of us have ever bothered to feed these publications with what we call positive news and success stories? As for Muslim celebrities, I am not sure how many of them would oblige a Muslim newspaper with an interview.

Along with a drive for subscriptions if Muslim journalists and other professionals who are active on these networks, and majority of whom write well, commit to use their skills for milli cause and contribute to The Milli Gazette together we can make it a very successful milli organ.

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