Muslim world need to be media-savvy to counter propaganda
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(Paper read by Salim Bokhari at an international conference organised by the Secretariat of Group of Strategic Vision Russia-Islamic World in St Petersburg)
Good morning everyone!
First of all, I thank the Secretariat of Group of Strategic Vision Russia-Islamic World for affording me this opportunity to represent my county at such a prestigious forum and present my views on the subject of this conference.
We all have gathered here to share our thoughts on some very pressing issues matters that affect us more than they appear on their face.
The few topics that were suggested in the invitation letter for this conference are all inter-connected and equally important. And, I, being a Muslim, feel more compelled to touch upon these issues from a Muslim perspective. For long we have been complaining the world of being prejudiced, biased and discriminating against us, of not listening to us, not understanding us.
It's true things are not as bad today as they were in post 9/11 days. The Western media has made some conscious efforts to show a relatively truer image of Muslims, but it's still far from where it needs to be.
But, I want to ask my Muslim fellows: what did we ourselves do about it?
The media representing a community serves as its mouth.
How could we expect others to even hear our voice if we don't have a mouth?
And, even if we do have a mouth, is it fully functional?
How could we suppose others to get it right whatever muttering, murmuring and mumbling comes out of a paralyzed mouth?
Despite being roughly one-fourth of the total world population, we have failed to establish even a single international news agency. Correct me if I am wrong. Do we have any news agency that is even half of what the agencies like AFP, AP, or Reuters are?
Do we have any TV or Radio channel, other than Al-Jazeera, which has a global outreach like the BBC, CNN, Deutsche Welle, or France 24?
Do we have even one such publication as New York Times, Guardian, or Le Parisien?
The answer is No.
All Muslim states do have their public and private TV and Radio channels, newspapers and magazines, and local news agencies. But all these outlets are largely confined to their geographic and political constituencies.
And, we did experiment with an international news agency 47 years from the platform of the OIC. Headquartered in Jeddah, the International Islamic News Agency (IINA) was founded in 1972 with the objective of serving as the vanguard of Islamic information and media, and an instrument that could rally Muslims, defend their vital causes and convey their views and perspectives in the international arena.
But IINA failed to make its mark and ultimately closed down. In fact, it could never have delivered primarily because it depended on OIC member states for its finances, and it was impossible to report all such truths as could offend its financiers. The parochialism among the OIC members was another major hurdle.
The IINA has now been revived and renamed as the Union of OIC News Agencies (UNA) with the aim of serving as an umbrella organisation for the state news agencies of the OIC members. The success of this old-wine-in-new-bottle can be gauged by the fact that even most of us don't know that it exists.
The occupation of Iraq, the presence of Ethiopian forces in Somalia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Afghan crisis and the issue of independence for Kashmir and Chechnya were nearly untouchable for the IINA, and such issues remain third rail for the UNA.
What is happening in Kashmir now is not reaching to the world, and whatever credible news has come out of that area have largely been through some Western newspapers and news agencies.
The scenic valley of Kashmir has been under curfew for past one and a half month, where occupation forces of India are ruthlessly killing and maiming innocent citizens, and blinding the protesting pro-independence youth with pellet-guns.
The international political and human rights forums did have noticed the alarming situation but this human tragedy has not shaken the collective conscience of the world citizenry the way it should have been.
There's no international Muslim media mouthpiece for the stateless Rohingya Muslims, who have been suffering unimaginable brutalities for last several years.
The Bangladeshi Muslims who migrated to Indian state of Assam almost three generations ago have been declared "foreigners". Thousands of them are being held in jails or intermittent centres under inhuman conditions. Others face the threat of genocide at the hands of the Hindu extremists, who are being propped up by the radical BJP-led government.
As for Palestine, the perennial example of power's precedence over respect for human life and dignity, it seems like Western media has lost interest in the plight of the brutalised inhabitants of that holy land. And, Muslim media is not capable enough to fill the gap.
In fact, we should not expect the western media to highlight the predicaments of Palestinians in the first place. This is our duty, and we must perform it.
My Muslim brothers and sisters, there could be many reasons for our muteness on the global stage; and, there could be many culprits.
We can blame our political leaders for their lack of vision and initiative. After all, we have no dearth of financial or human resources, why then we are lagging behind in this arena.
We can point the finger at Muslim businessmen, who have enough resources to establish and run global media concerns but have chosen to remain unconcerned.
But the biggest failure of all, my friends, is on our part.
It is we the journalists who were supposed to make our leaders realize that vibrant global media organizations can serve our collective interests even better than organizations like OIC.
It was us who must have convinced our billionaires that international media industry is worth their investment.
A well-functioning global Muslim media would present a closer, more real picture of Muslims to the world, and present their views and sentiments in an articulated manner. It will make others understand us better, and make them more tolerant and accommodating to us. Otherwise, we are just a noisy crowd, and no one pays attention to noise and rabble-rousing.
The increased understanding of Muslims would improve their image and help them better co-exist with different other communities and religious groups. The positive image of Muslims among other groups would also increase their influence in the global agenda-setting.
As for the issue of fake news, I believe, credible global Muslim media organizations have an important part to play here also. The truth is that in most of the Muslim countries, local media are controlled by the state with iron hands. Then how could people take anything from them without even a grain of salt?
The lack of credibility of local media heavily constraints their ability to help stop the spread of fake news. A big part of this problem can be solved by having credible global Muslim channels.
So, my fellows, we must do our duty of making this possible. Whenever we get a chance to interact with political and business leaders in our respective countries, we must try to make them realize how badly we need our own global media platforms.
I wish and I hope that next time when I attend some gathering of Muslim journalists, it would be covered by some global Muslim news agency and transmitted to the world by international Muslim TV and Radio channels - in a way that people watch it, hear it, listen to it.
Have a wonderful day!