On 26th August 2020, exactly at 1800 hrs, a slickly produced documentary was premiered on YouTube. 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.
Using 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, 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.
Both the organisations have channels on YouTube, but the subscriber base for them also embarrasses one. 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.
A 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 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 4 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 new entrants.
Secondly, 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 into profitable ventures, due to the quality of the content, their persistence and support of the community.
Thirdly, as I have opined before also, it would be in the larger interest of the community if we are able to start a monitoring and research unit, 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 state should further present this common narrative.
Before starting any Muslim-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, and voice the concerns of the community effectively. When it is heard in the corridors of power, 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.
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 issue, without dissent. First, we should have our house in order, to stand united.