The Perils and Possibilities Of A Muslim-Centric News Channel In India
By Rehan Ansari
(Special to India Tomorrow)
MUMBAI, AUGUST 8—Ravish Kumar, famous and Magsaysay award-winning journalist from NDTV, calling Muslims to form their own media house or a news channel to counter anti-Muslim propaganda went viral on social media. Although, he denied issuing any such audio which has generated a lot of debate among Muslims for and against the need for Muslim-owned news channels.
No doubt that media specifically most of the News Channels are spewing venom against Muslims but it will be naïve to assume as “Complete Truth”. The media today, in totality, has lost its objectivity, sacred to the news, has become a tool and spokesperson of the ruling party. It is also guilty of suppressing the facts and adverse news stories, even to the extent that dissent with the government is criminalized, demonized and even abused on a live show. They question the opposition and also the military when an anchor of a famous news channel reportedly said, “It is the responsibility of the Army to stop the infiltration at the border” when people denounce government inaction after China entering our territory in Ladakh. Poor farmers’ suicide is also misreported. Even conspiracy theory is created about the new farm suicide numbers as noted by Rukmini S, a data journalist. Oxfam India and Newslaundry, in August 2019, released a report, "Who Tells Our Stories Matter: Representatives of marginalized caste group in Indian Newsrooms", finding the under-representation of Dalits and dominance of the upper cast in the newsrooms.
Has media turned anti-people?
Thus, the Indian media, the fourth state of democracy, has turned hostile to the very people, it has traditionally served.
Media behaviour did not change overnight but followed a process. Readers and viewers and in other words, the Indians are termed and treated as consumers. It has turned from Nehruvian’s socialist conduct to the hardcore capitalist, and now the political party in power, with their corporate friends, is setting the agenda and the narratives in the country through news channels and their blue-eyed anchors.
Some brave hearts, brilliant minds, and committed journalists are trying to intervene and stop this anti-people approach. They are trying hard to distinguish fake news from the real ones, trying to write news and stories in the public interest, exposing the corruptions and double standards not only of the politicians but also of their fellow journalists.
News channel broadcasting in India requires government scrutiny and approvals for uplinking and downlinking, clearances from Ministry of Home Affairs for the directors of the company, formation of a company from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, etc... Establishment Cost, Operating Cost and after the government clearance, the most important part is the distribution of TV channels which determines its visibility for the viewers and generates “the TRP”, a prerequisite for the advertisers.
News channels can't survive without government support It is a fact that any newspaper or news channel cannot survive on its own or the advertisement revenue only. Starting a group of channels in a different genre, like General Entertainment Channel-GEC, which gets most of the eyeball, Sports, and Film Channels, that have more TRPs than a News channel, is one of the business strategies followed today. Companies provide enhanced visibility to the advertisers in this competitive market with the channels in a different genre. Another strategy is to own the distribution network i.e. the DTH network like Zee owned Dish TV, to neutralize the distribution cost. More so, the governments both at the Centre and the States support, in the form of advertisement for their social and welfare schemes and subsidies or allotment of lands for the operating cost to maintain their sovereignty and independence. Thus, no news organization can survive on its own without government support or other revenue models for the operating cost, which is huge and recurring.
Pro-people approach of Madhyamam and Media One TV channel
Some prominent organizations and Muslim activists are also trying but with few exceptions, most of them are struggling not to fail. Madhyamam, a Malayalam daily with 18 editions, 9 in India and 9 in the Gulf region and Media One TV channel in Kerala, could lead the list of successful media ventures by Muslims both in terms of their approach and commercial viability. Their coverage is not limited to Muslim Only news, but their success is attributed to their mainstream news coverage with the pro-people approach and team of the secular journalist.
The digital revolution has unlocked the world. It has made the world without borders and we are the Global Citizen now. This globalization has empowered common people and given them the platform to express their views. It can be understood by an example that although, an Indian can't elect the American President but can surely influence Americans in favor of or against Donald Trump. Digitization has created an opportunity to reach the people directly or to the target audience through Web portals and Web channels. This area still has less government and legal interference and has increased the audience base. The cost of establishment is also limited and viewership is not dependent on highly professional distribution companies.
In the digital world, Content is the King. Dhuruv Rathi can get millions of subscribers and followers on YouTube, Saket Gokhale can expose the corruption on Twitter, Rana Ayub’s article in New York Times and Swati Chaturvedi’s piece in the Gulf News can be read in India, Rohini Singh can break the stories on the Wire, a news portal. Arfa Khanam can debate on any given issue on the Wire. Barkha Dutt can travel all over India and cover the plight of poor and migrant laborers during lockdown due to pandemic in her Mojo Story. The operating cost requires mainly for hiring good journalists, digital marketing team and some technical knowhow.
Understanding the liberty and freedom in this field, some individuals, activists, journalists and organizations have tried for news portals mostly focusing on Muslims or established by Muslims. TwoCircles.net, MuslimMirror.com, Beyondheadlines.in, IndiaTomorrow.net, Ummid.com, Maeeshat.in and now ClarionIndia.net are some prominent news portals. Although they have served and are aiding more than their capacity and brought many stories that influenced the mainstream media, sadly, every portal has its painful struggle and a tragic story related to raising capital, donations and crowdfunding. It is the subject of research and documentaries which is a prerequisite for any 'Muslim Only Media' venture in India. Most of their editors and owners are known to me personally since I was and am one of the freelance associates. Each one of these portals requires a separate and detailed article.
The situation, today, demands more pro-people news portals and channels established for justice and peace and to counter the communal and divisive narratives of the mainstream media.
There is also the space for Muslim-centric news portals like BlackNewsChannel.com based in Florida, USA, launched in 2020. In About Us, the blacknewschannel.com explains its mission is, "to provide intelligent programming that is informative, educational, entertaining, inspiring and empowering to its African-American audience.”
The fact of the matter is that we are living at a time in India, where even Mr. Kapil Sibal, former Cabinet Minister of India and leader of Indian National Congress, could not run a news channel, Tiranga TV. Raghav Bahel, the father figure in the news channel industry at par with Prannoy Roy had to sell his TV18 group and he is still struggling to get the license for the news channel. He has also turned to the web world and started the Quint.
At a time when Barkha Dutt, Karan Thapar, Punya Prasun Bajpai, Abhisar Sharma, the leading names in news channels, who question the government are cast aside, Web Portals are the only viable option left till we see any regulations curbing the freedom of the digital world.
(Rehan Ansari is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist)