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Old Monday, August 19, 2013
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An Islamic perspective
In practice today there is no journalistic code of ethics based on the principles of Islam, and few scholars have attempted to define an Islamic framework for mass media ethics. However, their thinking did not go
beyond academic discussions. That is why the Muslim Ummah of more than one billion has no control over sources of information and the way it want to disseminate news despite having more than 600 daily newspapers, about 1500 weeklies, 1200 monthly news and views magazines, and about 500 miscellaneous Muslim publications. It is difficult for a researcher to find a well defined Islamic code of journalistic ethics. One can find press codes in Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, maybe in Iran, and a few more Muslim countries, but most of these reflect, to a great extent, the same secular bias that is part of the existing code of ethics in most other countries. The first Asian Islamic Conference organized by the Mecca-based World Muslim League
in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1978 decided that co-ordination should be developed between Muslim journalists to offset and counter the Western monopoly of the mass media and its anti Islamic propaganda The first International Islamic News Agency (IINA) was established by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1979 with its headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but as Schleifer has noted, 'The most poorly served IINA objectives is its very first one - to consolidate and safeguard the rich cultural heritage of Islam... A more significant limitation to IINA coverage, from a Muslim perspective, is the relatively low amount of intrinsically Islamic news content. The first International Conference of Muslim Journalists held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1981 endorsed a covenant for Muslim media professionals emphasizing that: Islamic rules of conduct should form the basis for all Muslim media ractitioners in their journalistic endeavors, and Muslim media should work towards achieving integration of the Muslim individual's personality. It was stated that the consolidation of faith of the Muslim individual in Islamic values and ethical principles should be the main obligation of Muslim media. However, none of the above mentioned efforts could lead to the development, and more mportantly, the practice of an Islamic code of ethics among the Muslim journalists. The reasons being: lack of support from Muslim governments; lack of interest and enthusiasm by Muslim journalists themselves; and lack of support from Muslim scholars as well Muslim society in general. Even the many Islamic magazines and newspapers have not been able to demonstrate that what they practice is inherently different from the secular media. As Schleifer has observed.
'The reverse-secularism of Western and Islamic Movement journalism insists that religion is worthy of reporting only in the political domain, and a political domain of confrontation. The specific danger of "Islamic journalism" to date is that the journalist substitutes the life and activities of the various Islamic movements for the life and activities of the much broader Islamic ally conscious society... of which the political movements are but a small part. When the "Islamic journalist" substitutes the life and drama of Islamic movements for the life and drama of Islamic society, he not only over politicizes Islam but he invariably becomes side-tracked into the same sort of surface reporting of organized political life in the Muslim world that characterizes the secular press and ends up even reporting poorly on many political and public developments of profound importance to Muslims.'14 The above statement is a true reflection of many Muslim magazines such as Impact International of London, The Minaret and The Message, both of the USA, Takbir of Pakistan, Radiance of Delhi, and even Al-Dawah of Egypt. It is evident that an Islamic code of journalistic ethics is inevitable if Muslims wish to have their own information system and also wish to see it play an important and effective role in the flow of news and information across the continents.

Basis for an Islamic Code of ethics

Since a journalist's foremost concern is the dissemination of news, we have to agree upon a definition of news that is permissible within the framework of Quran and Sunnah. Not only that, we have also to consider a process of news gathering, news making and news disseminating that is acceptable within an Islamic framework. And in order to compete with the existing information orders we have to provide theoretical foundations and arguments as well a driving force that will ensure its implementation among Muslim journalists throughout the world.Before defining news and attempting to develop an Islamic code of ethics, let us briefly discuss the basis of the Islamic moral system because it plays a very important role in the realization of the Islamic
worldview within which a Muslim journalist has to operate and which is inherently different from the secular or Western worldview. The central force in the Islamic moral system is the concept of Tawhid - the supremacy and sovereignty of one God. Tawhid also implies unity, coherence, and harmony between all parts of the universe. Not only has this, but the concept of Tawhid signified the existence of a purpose in the creation and liberation of all human kind from bondage and servitude to multiple varieties of gods. The concept of the hereafter becomes a driving force in committing to one God, and the inspiration as well definitive guidelines are provided by the traditions and the life of the Prophet (PBUH). A journalist who uses his/her faculty of observation, reason consciousness, reflection, insight, understanding and wisdom must realize that these are the Amanah (trust) of God and must not be used to injure a human soul for the sake of self-promotion or for selling the news, rather, as Dilnawaz Siddiqui has noted these are to be used in arriving at truth. A journalist must not ignore God's purpose in creating this universe and various forms of life.
Explaining the implications of Tawhid, Hamid Mowlana has noted that the responsibility of a Muslim journalist and the Muslim mass media system would be:To destroy myths. In our contemporary world these myths may include power, progress, science, development, modernization, democracy, achievement, and success. Personalities as they represent these must not be super humanized and super defined... Under the principle of Tawhid another fundamental consideration in communication [another important duty of Muslim journalists] becomes clear: the destruction of thought structures based on dualism, racialism, tribalism, and familial superiority... One of the dualisms according to this principle is the secular notion of the separation of religion and politics.Another guiding principle in the development of an Islamic code of journalistic ethics is the concept of social responsibility. As mentioned earlier, the social responsibility theory on which secular or Western media practices are based is rooted in pluralistic individualism. Whereas the Islamic principle of social responsibility is based on the concept of amar bi al-Maruf wa nahi an al-munkar or commanding right and prohibiting wrong'. This implies that it is the responsibility of every individual and the group, especially the institutions of social or public communication such as the press, radio, television, and cinema, to prepare individuals and society as a whole to accept Islamic principles and act upon them.Throughout Islamic history many institutions as well as channels of mass communications such as mosques, azan, and Friday khutba have used this concept of social responsibility to mobilize public opinion and persuade individuals to work for the collective good of society in general and for their own individual pursuit of good in this world and the hereafter. The Islamic revolution in this country has demonstrated well the strength of such uses of non-traditional means of public communication. However, in a highly individualistic society of ours the press seems to play the opposite role of amar bi Munkar WA nahi an al Maruf. Whether Muslim or non Muslim, the media are more interested in conflict, contention,disorder, and scandal than in peace, stability, continuity, and moral conformity. Unless Muslim media practitioners accept social responsibility as a cornerstone of their profession, no Islamic code of ethics can even be realized.

Challenges, problems and suggestions

A brief conceptual framework for an Islamic code of journalistic ethics has been presented above. There is nothing new in it. It only reminds us that putting such concepts into practice is the most difficult aspect of the entire discussion. No effort has yet materialized in a viable Islamic information system that may end Muslim's reliance on Western sources of information. Muslim media practitioners are dependent on the four transnational news agencies and wire services: the AP, UPI, AFP and Reuters. In a survey conducted in 1986 it was revealed that most Muslim newspapers in Arabic, English, Persian, and Urdu base 90% of their news coverage on these four agencies. Seventy percent of foreign news bureau in Muslim countries belong to the Western news agencies, whereas the number of Muslim countries' news bureau is hardly 5% of the total.18 Ten years on, the situation is not much different. The strong presence of Western news agencies in Muslim countries discourages media practices that do not conform to the norms of these sources of information. Therefore it is essential to develop an alternative and viable source of information that will replace reliance on sources of information whose primary objectives are in contradiction with the basic value system of Islam.Unless Muslim media take a lead in the development of alternative sources of information, and unless they show great willingness to accommodate neglected social groups such as Muslim youth, women,children and the rural population, they will remain confined to a small audience without any practical relevance to the Muslim masses in particular and the world in general. As a consequence the desire to adhere to an Islamic code of ethics would also remain low.It is important to note that Muslim media practitioners.themselves have to develop an independentstructure. Unfortunately there is very little exchange of ideas, experiences, and expertise among Muslim journalists, newspapers, and magazines. As a result, already scarce human and material resources are wasted in duplicating similar efforts. Thus a core group of Muslim media practitioners, drawn from
various countries, could be formed to serve as a media think tank. Such a group should work in close cooperation with those who are actively engaged in defining an Islamic framework for other areas of study i.e. sociology, psychology, political science, philosophy, and anthropology etc., in order to develop a thorough Islamic approach to the process of mass communication.
An important aspect of the development of a professional code of journalistic ethics is the training of Muslim journalists. There are numerous training centers to train journalists in all other aspects of the job, but none where journalists can get training on specifically Islamic aspects. There is an urgent need to establish an Islamic Institute of Mass Media Research and Training. Such an institute could perform many important tasks besides just training journalists:
1) Preparation of a directory of Muslim journalists for world wide and regional co-operation;
2) Preparation of an exhaustive bibliography on the existing literature on the Muslim world media;
3) Preparation of books introducing the basic concepts in mass communication history, methodology, and process with a critical examination of the contemporaryapproaches;
4) Preparation of monographs on specific issues and problems faced by Muslim media and
Muslim journalists related to the editorial tasks, circulation and distribution, advertisement, and effective
use of new communication technologies;
5) Establishment of a media monitoring group in order to keep
up with the Western media's distortion of Islam and Muslim societies as well as to monitor and assess the
press-government relationship in Muslim countries;
6) Organize regional and international seminars
and conferences in which both Muslim and non-Muslim media practitioners can exchange their thoughts
and experiences in order to appreciate the importance of an Islamic code of ethics for journalists.
These are few suggestions towards realizing the goal of developing a workable code of media ethics
within an Islamic framework. To begin with, an active forum of Muslim media practitioners and
academicians could be created to exchange information about codes of journalistic ethics in Muslim
countries, and also to cooperate and co-ordinate with non-Muslim media practitioners, associations and
organizations that have a concern about media, culture and religion. Such forum could later play a key
role in the formation of an international institute for media training and research for Muslim journalists.
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