The last 3 years or so have provided the surge of the “channels” as I like to refer to them, at one moment in time there were three channels running together side by side on the sky platform. One channel solely in English and the other two having a mix of Urdu and English. Since then the channels have struggled to stay afloat but have managed to produce some outstanding quality. Muharram and Ramadhan are seen as the peak point for the channels as the majority of audiences naturally tune in for their spiritual upliftment.
The aim here is to analyse the role of an Islamic channel and perhaps gain an understanding of how such channels can continue to improve on a daily basis. This is because it is unfortunate that I feel none of the three channels have improved in the last year and so one needs to look deep and begin to understand why this could be the case
I will split the analysis into 2 sections, the role of an Islamic medium in ensuring that it is a progressive and productive channel and the future of such channels.
The Role of the Islamic Medium
When setting up any project one must know and understand the Aim and objectives of the project, what is it that they want to achieve and how will they go about in achieving it. From the outset it seems clear that these channels hope to spread the message of Islam. The goal is for the channels to be a form of enlightenment for those that view it. Being on the Sky platform opens up many new boxes as Sky is the main Satellite provider in the UK. Thus it is then of importance to know ones audience, who will be watching the channel and how best the channel can cater for the audience needs.
Once the aims, objectives and the target audience are identified then can the channel begin to plan out its programming content. TV production is no easy game it requires much planning and a lot of hours in executing the plan. Then many hours are put into the editing and completion of the content, editing is perhaps the most vital area it is like having a canvas where the footage and background sounds are the paint to convey the message. Nevertheless it goes without saying that the most important aspect of TV production is the planning stage.
Therefore in planning a channel one must plan its content, staff, finance and many other logistical aspects. In addition a list of possible roles should also be acknowledged, here are some possible roles of an Islamic channel broken down into higher level and lower level
High Level Roles
- Spread the message of Islam
- Tackle Islam phobia by tackling controversial issues and painting Islam in a positive light
- Resolve any misconceptions regarding Islam and specifically Shia Islam
- Bring about positive dialogue through interaction with various schools of thought
- Engage with society in the UK
Low Level Roles
- Reach out to the wider audience by inviting members from various communities i.e. Christians, Jews and Non Muslims
- Explore local as well as national issues effecting both Muslims and Non Muslims
- Create an educational syllabus for the younger viewers with the aim of introducing Islam and its teachings, the Arabic Alphabet and stories from the Quran and history
- Aim to reduce static content as much as possible, having lectures is good but all too often this an easy route to getting content rather effort should be made for new ground breaking content. Simply analyse the likes of BBC and one will notice how fast paced the shows are.
- Getting a fair balance right between Idealism and Realism
Idealism vs. Realism
Firstly let us define the two words and then relate this to the roles of an Islamic Medium
Idealism: The representation of things in ideal or idealized form.
This means that the Islamic medium would represent Islam or its content in a very conservative manner therefore when it comes to issues of Hijab the channel would stipulate that all females must be wearing the highest form of Hijab. A practical example of this would be women who would appear in the full black garment on the channel but perhaps may not necessarily wear the same outside of the channel. This does not mean that they don’t wear Hijab it just means they don’t wear the clothing that the specified channel would consider the best of Hijab.
Realism: A person who tends to view or represent things as they really are
Here the Islamic medium would seek to convey a natural outlook on the issues that it tackles and covers, for example if young people are facing the issues of underage sex and drugs then the medium would highlight this matter rather than shy away from it. The medium would not create a false sense of religiosity when representing a particular group.
So where does the balance lie? This can sometimes become a grey area and there are situations where the Islamic medium may need to take an ideal approach whereas in others the latter would be more plausible. In the long run however it is important that a balance is achieved between the two for Islam is about being both real and also holding onto ones ideals. In his book Samuel Huntington says the following,
“Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”
Samuel P. Huntington – The Clash of Civilisations
I will not discuss this quote in detail but rather use it as an example of the image that Islam may hold, quotes like this undermine the sacrifice of the grandson of the Prophet. This quote highlights a lack of understanding of what Islam is truly about and in short Islam is about nothing more than submitting to the one God. The very meaning of the word Islam comes from the Arabic word Aslam whose root Arabic is ‘Salema’ which means peace, purity and submission to God.
It is therefore incumbent upon these channels to portray Islam holistically as a way of life one that truly shows that this way of life fits perfectly well within any society. Let us remember that Islam is more about me than it is you, this is why the famous saying of the Prophet (pbuh) holds true,
“One hour’s contemplation is better than seventy years of worship”
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
This is because the value of any human lies within themselves and so the value of the channels needs to also lie within their content and direction.
The Future of the ‘Channels’
In terms of content I pretty much explained what I feel need to be the direction however there are other aspects that need to be looked at when ensuring that the future of such channels is bright and colourful
Ownership and Transparency
With many of the channels it is often difficult to understand who actually owns the channel, in whose hands does the channel belong and how does the channel govern both itself and the content that it plays out.
Recently there has been an issue where a prominent lecturer no longer appears on one of the channels, the issue has been ongoing and is yet to be resolved. This raises the question of ownership in the sense of who has made such a decision and why. The issue of transparency is also brought to light and this is an area that applies both to the method of directing governance and generating finances to support an Islamic channel.
When establishing who actually owns the channel it is perhaps logical to identify who pays for its existence and sustenance in most cases this comes down to the viewers who donate towards the running of the channel. It can therefore be argued that the viewers are then the owners of the channel, if this is the case than how can the viewers go about and influence their interests and needs within the content of the channel?
An ideal method perhaps would be a board of directors whose positions are elected and whose skills and understandings are reflected in the progression of the channel. The board can then deal with difficult or controversial issues collectively; there are major advantages to this which can be summarised into the following points
- Utilise expertise and knowledge of various individuals within the board
- Collectively deal with controversial and difficult issues
- Forms a stable and solid base of governance so that the channel can measure itself against
- Allows for transparency as viewers would know who is on the board and the background of each individual on the board
Transparency as I said is key especially in the area of finance, many channels often run donation drives and continually rely on these drives to stay afloat but the biggest setback to these drives is that they fail to identify where the finance is being spent. Viewers would always be willing to donate but with each drive and each donation comes a sense of value. “Am I getting value for money” the word value is key and is central to everything discussed above. If audiences are going to be a major source of income for a channel then they need to be part of it. If person A donates towards a project and gets no feedback whereas person B gets feedback then person B would feel assured.
To conclude I feel that is extremely important that such channels stay alive as the media is a powerful tool however collectively a professional approach should be taken and hopefully this is the direction that many of the channels will take. Once this happens then perhaps the content we see on our screens will be engaging and productive.