The book ‘Muslims and the Media Images: News versus Views’ edited by Ather Farouqui, has some interesting observation made by the leading Indian journalist that needs to be brought out in popular discourse.
This book is divided into four parts: English Media: Image and Depiction; Transcending Boundaries; Muslim Journalism: A Phenomenal Dichotomy; and Popular Images and the Story of Stereotypes. There is an inevitable overlapping of themes between articles so all those that are thematically interlinked follow each other in succession.
Outlook editor, Vinod Mehta’s essay entitled ‘Muslims and Media Images: Where Things went Wrong’ has two main points. One with regard to Muslim’s expectations from the so called mainstream media and they expect all unbiased non-Muslims to promote the Muslim cause. He says that the expectations of the Muslim community are misplaced because Indian media faces may compulsions and challenges in their depiction.
According to Mehta there is a lack of understanding between Muslims and the Indian media. The media gives space to ether Muslim socialites that dominate the public space or to fringe Muslim voices no one knows. He warns that the situation is unlikely to change unless the common Muslim makes efforts to be heard. The onus is really on the Muslims themselves.
Academic Rajni Kothari’s article asserts that the role of the media in independent India has been negative as far as Muslim representation is concerned. The media has not provided enough space for minority opinions and has portrayed them negatively. He appeals the Muslim leadership to work hand in hand with secular Hindu elements towards a realignment of forces that can rebuild India’s democratic secularism. He is optimistic and believes that once this happens the press will have a very positive role in building constructive cooperative relationships.
Noted journalist, Kuldip Nayar’s article states that strained post- Partition Hindu–Muslim relations have affected journalism as a whole. He agrees that there do exist irresponsible journalists but emphasizes that these are in a minority. As far as the role of the English language press is concerned he feels, it’s more balanced, albeit subtly biased towards majority concerns. He believes that the national press is, on the whole, balanced and fair.
He do not agree that national press is a puppet controlled by majoritarian communal forces and dismisses such claims by Muslims as a product of fear psychosis. He urges the Muslim community to encourage their youth to come forward and represent the community in the national press.
The well known Hindi journalist, Mrinal Pande provides a gender-centric viewpoint on the issue. She points out that the press often fails in its role of a powerful social watchdog as far as women and minorities are concerned. Minorities and women lose out in a situation as male members of the majority community control media coverage and its institutions. A male preserve and its chauvinism are evident in the quick politicization of issues concerning women belonging to the minority community, she says.
The Pioneer editor, Chandan Mitra in his contribution, ‘The Print Media and Minority Images’, says that the generalization that the media is biased against Muslims is not true.
He points that in the English media two polarities exist, one patronizing and the other antagonistic. The former tends to understand the issues concerning Muslims and the latter believes that Muslims are prisoners of their own image.
As a BJP-backed MP, Mitra for long has espoused the RSS viewpoint and reiterates that the Urdu media is also not interested in projecting a positive image of the community or in raising awareness among Muslims about social changes and developments that are affecting the rest of India.
He concedes the point that there are biases existing in the media, but makes this up saying there are also dedicated people who go to great lengths to rectify such distortions.
Siddharth Varadarajan of the The Hindu argues that though the mainstream media after Independence did not openly support communal forces, the press, in common with the ruling Congress, arguably gave undeserved prominence to the views of the mullahs, portraying them as the leaders of the Muslim community. With the emergence of more virulent communal politics from the 1970s onwards, the communal biases of a section of the print media became more pronounced, and this came into stark relief every time a major incident of communal violence occurred.
He then provides an insider’s insight on riot reporting in the mainstream press and its invariable bias against Muslims, though veiled under a garb of impartiality. He bewails the fact that the compulsions of the market dictate that trivialities concerning celebrities get much more prominence than serious national issues.
Varadarajan notes that he has the liberty to bluntly speak the truth about communalism in the media because he is a Hindu, and a Muslim journalist or an intellectual might not find this so easy to say so.
The author while addressing the issue of the Indian Muslims and the media images raises the point why Muslims have been misunderstood not just by Hindus but also by other religious as well. It’s a matter of fact that wherever Muslims have a sizeable presence, certain misunderstandings about them persist in the non- Muslim mind.
Such attitudes or positions that have led to this general distrust should be studied and identified very carefully and placed in perspective and needs to be tackled with greater sensitivity and understanding. In such efforts, Muslims need to come forward ad address them, as they are the victims of this mindset.
The author also feels that Muslim studies have often received marginal and shabby treatment globally, and India is no exception. Since India is home to about 200 million Muslims, Muslim studies should be a serious academic pursuit, but the available writings on Indian Muslim society, culture, psyche, and problems in India rarely reflect the complexities of issues involved.
‘Muslims and the Media Images: News versus Views’ edited by Ather Farouqui, is published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi, November 2010.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected]