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Response of Indian Muslims to Media Initiatives

The abysmal response of the Muslims across India, to some new media initiatives, forces one to question the sagacity of starting a Muslim media house

Sunday August 30, 2020 6:31 PM, Asad Mirza, ummid.com

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[Representative image.]

The abysmal response of the Muslims across India, to some new media initiatives, forces one to question the sagacity of starting a Muslim media house.

On 26th August 2020, exactly at 18:00 hrs, a slickly produced documentary was premiered on YouTube. This Jamat-e Islami Hind’s commissioned documentary tried to explain the origin, development and work of the premier organisation of educated Muslims across India during the last 72 years.

Earlier in May 2020, another leading Muslim organisation, Jamiat Ulema-e Hind had also premiered a documentary on the genesis, history and contribution of the organisation, marking its centenary.

Importance of Social Media Tools

Using the social media tools, in order to reach a large audience, both endeavours are to be appreciated. In fact, it is through a judicious use of social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter etc that minorities can try to challenge the fake narrative being aired by various TV channels and vernacular press of the country, and reject the fake national discourse, besides voicing their concerns and reactions to various political and social developments in the country.

But on the other hand, the cause of concern was the utter lack of response from the community members. Though the teasers of the Jamaat’s documentary and invitation messages to watch the premiere on 26th August were being shared on various social media tools from last fortnight, what surprised were the actual numbers. In all, 151 people attended the premiere. Out of a community of 14 million individuals, only 151 had the time and will to watch the premiere. Further, so far only 13.5K individuals have watched the Jamiat documentary, which was released 4 months back.

Also Read | Exploring the Idea of Muslim-Centric News Channel in India

Both the organisations have channels on YouTube, but their subscriber base is literally embarrassing. Jamiat’s channel has 64.6K subscribers and Jamaat’s channel has 35.3K subscribers. If this is happening to the initiatives of the two largest Muslim organisations of the country, which claim a member base running into lakhs, one can very well hazard a guess as to the reaction of any new initiative by a new entity. This is the response, at a time, when Muslims claim that they are being pushed into a corner in the country. So, one can assume what may happen to such initiatives when everything is hunky dory for the community.

Muslim Media House

During the lockdown period, when the TV channels and vernacular press were creating a false narrative against the Muslims in India, numerous appeals to start a Muslim media house were shared on various social media platforms. Both politicians and businessmen of the community were eager to start a Muslim media house. Politicians wanted to further their own political line and the businessmen wanted to start a profitable venture, and both wanted to be seen as messiah for the community. These plans sparked a huge debate in the Urdu newspapers across the country, by journalists and writers of every hue.

Out of the many plans aired, one plan saw the light of the day on 15th August, when it launched a YouTube channel, with promise of a new website soon, all funded through community contribution. In the last 11 days, the channel has been able to air four interviews of two politicians and currently enjoys a subscriber base of 2.43 thousand.

Perhaps these low figures of subscribers for various media initiatives by the Muslim community would make you realise the futility of any such initiative when the community itself does not seem bothered. However, before arriving at the above decision, it would be better to analyse some facts and related explanations, both for and against the decision to be made.

First, we have to make a conscientious decision on whether we want to start a media house owned by Muslims only or for all the minorities of the country? Secondly, we should decide whether we want it to be a commercial venture or a philanthropic one? Thirdly, we should decide on the route to take, whether it should be through social media platforms or through web portals? At present to start a new TV channel owned by Muslims, may not be an easy task, and may daunt and dampen the spirit of the new entrants.

Further, the entrepreneurs should realise that any such enterprise should not be focussed on making a quick profit. In fact, they should learn by the endeavours of our elders who started many newspapers during the freedom struggle of the country facing various adversities but they were able to stand the vagaries of time and fate and turn them into profitable ventures, due to the quality of the content, their perseverance and support of the community.

Furthermore, it would be in the larger interest of the community, if we are able to start a monitoring and research unit first, which could monitor media across India, to counter the false narratives based on research and reality. Community spokespersons who are trained in the art of media handling and proficient in English, Hindi and the respective languages of their respective states should be entrusted to present this common narrative to the media in a cohesive and cogent style. This unit should also try to counter the false narratives on various social media platforms, besides providing the Muslims’ stance on various issues. This unit would be of immense help to those secular and committed news portals and channels, which still try to portray the correct picture, as they’ll be able to get the authenticated Muslim, stand on issues being discussed through a single source. They’ll also be of much help to the news portals, which are being run by various Muslim journalists across India with limited resources.

Before starting any Muslim’s owned media house, the community can test the waters. We all should resolve to promote Urdu, a language that has been labelled as a Muslim language. If we resolve to subscribe and increase the circulation and readership of Urdu newspapers, then very shortly, these newspapers will be able to attract more advertisers, which in turn would help them to improve their content and quality, besides airing the concerns of the community more effectively. Ultimately they will be acknowledged and heard in the corridors of power, as the powers that be, will have to bow down to the numbers and power of the Urdu media. If we are successful in increasing the power and influence of the Urdu newspapers, then they may ultimately be galvanised to start a TV channel for the community, which would be more sustainable.

Two examples in this regard are Urdu newspapers published from Kashmir and Hyderabad, they are commercially viable and are heard in the corridors of power because they carry weight due to their substantial circulation and readership courtesy the committed readers. Hope same could be copied throughout the country.

More importantly, as a community we have to start building the community’s common consciousness or psyche, which the other minorities in India possess. At present, Indian Muslims are divided into many groups and can’t take a uniform stand on any issue, without dissent. Therefore the first and foremost thing that we need to do is to have our house in order and stand united.

[The writer, Asad Mirza is a commentator based in New Delhi. Earlier, he was associated with BBC Urdu Service and Khaleej Times of Dubai. He writes on Muslims, educational, interfaith, international and current affairs. Email: asad.mirza.nd@gmail.com.]

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