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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 25, June 6, 2009

Varied Muslim Projections in the Media

Saturday 6 June 2009, by Amna Mirza

BOOK REVIEW

Muslims and Media Images: News Versus Views edited by Ather Farouqui; Oxford Universiity Press, New Delhi; pages 354; price Rs 695.

The debates on minority and majority, inclusion and exclusion are a fact of life in a plural multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society. The fear of majoritarian overflow often haunts the spectre of existential realm of the minority. The media has been dubbed as the fourth estate of democracy, as a mirror of a liberal society which puts the onus on freedom of the individual, irrespective of caste, religion, and creed. This homogenised lot is often in stark opposition to the instinct on part of the minorities to preserve their distinct identity via their customs, religion, beliefs.

The era of the nineties witnessed the dotcom boom, which proved healthy for the proliferation of the media. The rise of fundamentalism, terrorism, unearthed in the post-9/11 attack, rent asunder the true secular fabric of society, with the media constantly trying to portray Muslims as the ‘other’ in the us-versus-them blame-game. In this context, this book deliberates upon the projection of Muslims in the media.

Vinod Mehta argues out that Muslims themselves are responsible for their deplorable projection in the media, but the task is to move beyond mere introspection and search for ways to redress this imbalance. In his immensely commendable scholastic tenor, Rajni Kothari points that the fear of majoritarian backlash is not exclusive to Muslims but Dalits, tribals are also included. We have to insist that the media has ‘to strive for pluralisation within each community while dealing with inter-community affairs’.

Kuldip Nayar debunks the argument of a majoritarian controlled national press, and puts the onus on the need for the Muslim youth participation in it. In a similar tone, Chandan Mitra, editor, Pioneer, points out that to generalise the media as being biased towards Muslims is untrue. He questions as to why Urdu newspapers like Pratap, Milap, Hind Samachar do not come forward to rectify Muslim stereotypical images. Why only blame the media and point no finger at the ulemas who issue fatwas that question the liberal aspects of a society? Mrinal Pande points to the lingual device that segregates the press, where English newspapers seem to be away from the grassroot reality. There is a need to drive away the sectarian and commercial instincts in carving out the ethos of good journalism.

SIDDARTH VARADARAJAN avers that rise of the media in India has been associated with nation building where there were no communal overtones. Today the media is known for neglecting important issues in its chase of celebrities, lifestyle; and yet he opines that the need of the hour is to have an optimistic outlook even though the path may not be easy.

K.M.A. Munim chalks out an international trajectory where the Muslins were isolated after the Second World War due to socio-economic causes. It is imperative on the part of the Muslims to regain their lost pride, self-confidence with the spread of journalistic education, awareness.

It is Urdu that is identified as the lingua franca of Muslim community, and an engaging analysis comes up for the same in Part III of the book. Robin Jeffrey expostulates that circulation of Urdu newspapers is limited to a minuscule minority. Ather Farouqui adds to the analysis of the malaise that it is the Urdu press that has reinforced the sectarian, weak, vulnerable outlook amongst the community. Wahiduddin Khan states that lack of professional credibility, absence of enthusiasm on the part of the Muslim journalist are to blame as factors for the deplorable Muslim images in the media.

In a nutshell, a good compilation of papers which pertain to the issues concerning projection of Muslims in the media from different angles. This is enlightening as one gets to hear varied voices. However on a personal note, belonging to that community itself, I dispute the entire connotation of Muslim community—who are we referring to: the rich educated class or the ones who are less than their better-off brothers and sisters or the ‘minority within the minority’?

The author is a Ph.D student, and University Teaching Assistant, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.

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