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Are Muslim Journalists Cut-off from mainstream Media?

Friday June 29, 2012 07:11:26 PM, Kaleem Kawaja

Reading India's mainstream English language newspapers and magazines, and viewing the electronic media one realizes that news reports and columns by Muslim journalists are rare. If we go by our population, the authors of about 10 percent or more of reports and columns should be Muslims. But in reality only about 1 % of reports and columns are authored by Muslims. At the national level there are just about half a dozen English language Muslim journalists whose reports appear in the national dailies.

In the whole of India, 65 years after independence there are only two small English language biweekly newspaper (Milli Gazette, Madhyam) and two or three online electronic websites (Two Circles News, Indian Muslim Observer, that are operated by the Muslim community.

There are quite a few Urdu language newspapers that are operated by the Muslim community. But their readership is limited entirely to Muslims and generally they confine themselves to happenings in the Muslim community. Thus whatever is published in Urdu newspapers has hardly any chance of reaching mainstream India that comprises of a large number of secular Hindus.

That brings us to the question as to why there are so few English language Muslim journalists in India and why Muslim journalists are not writing for mainstream Indian media (Times of India, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Hindu, India Today, Sunday etc).

A review of the few English language Muslim outlets that exist, indicates that these outlets spend most of their space in writing about Muslim community's complaints of injustice from the Indian government authorities, complaints against injustice to Muslims from Western governments, the rabid pronouncements of the extremist Hindu groups and coverage of personalities in other Muslim countries. Thus their readability for secular Hindus who may want to feel the pulse of India's Muslims, is very small; and there is very little material of national significance there that non-Muslims want to read in a newspaper, whether print or electronic.

The Urdu media aside from being in a language that Hindus can not read is also full of the internal politics of Muslim groups and individuals and the internecine conflicts of various Muslim religious leaders and sects. All in all their utility in communicating the community's issues to mainstream India is almost non-existent.

The Indian mainstream media writes about the Muslim community only when major events happen, eg the recent UP and west Bengal elections where Muslim votes swung the election, or if a major Hindu-Muslim congflagration takes place. That news too lasts just a few days. The coverage of the Muslim community's recent vociferous demands for implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations has received only infrequent coverage in the mainstream media. The reports on the Batla House conflagration lasted a few days and then disappeared.

A few Indian Muslim journalists write in some Arab newspapers like Arab News, Khaleej Times etc. But those reports almost always appear to be either about the pronouncements of rulers of those countries or about the past glory of Muslim nations in the centuries gone by, or writeups of global Muslim politics.

The question remains that if the Indian Muslim community has to bring improvement in its very backward condition, it has to influence the large number of secular Hindus and together with them the major political parties and the government. Journalists and media - print and electronic - are some of the major weapons in today's public relations war to change the policies of the Indian state. If Muslims remain cutoff from mainstream Indian media, and remain preoccupied in our narrow world of complaints, internal politics, mutual appreciation and personalities; and if Muslim journalists' reports about the community are not being published in adequate numbers in mainstream media, then we are missing a golden opportunity. We simply can not be happy talking about the past glory of Muslims, or the glory of oil-rich Muslim countries or complaining that the world is against us. Because communicating with and influencing India’s secular Hindus in a democracy and a country where Hindus are 80% of the population, is an essential need of our community’s national strategy. Indian Muslim journalists can fill this essential need of the community.

Thus it is incumbent for Muslim journalists in India to redouble their efforts to find a place in the mainstream English media. Only a handful of successful mainstream Muslim journalists like MJ Akbar, Saeed Naqvi, Seema Mustafa can not do the job. Of course there is a big need for quality English language Indian Muslim journalists who are in very short supply.



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