by Our Own Correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 10, Muharram, 1433)
On October 29, Muslim researchers, journalists and editors gathered in Tehran to inaugurate the establishment of the Press Union of the Islamic World. The first general assembly session of the press union attracted Muslim media professionals from 38 countries representing different media outlets including Crescent International. At the forefront of strategic Islamic vision for over four decades, Crescent International offers its own analysis of the newly established Press Union.
It was a 10-day event. That is a pretty long time to formally establish the Press Union of Muslim journalists. In addition to discussing the work of the Press Union and its future activities, a number of related issues were also tackled. The formal talks revolved around the operational and strategic future of the new organization. The key concern for many delegates was to make the union truly international. Nasihin Masha, a journalist from Indonesia, repeatedly emphasized the need to hold Press Union meetings in different Muslim countries and proposed Indonesia as the next venue.
The delegates held interesting meetings with top officials of Iran’s Etela‘at newspaper and the Islamic Republic News Agency. Discussions centred on various problems faced by Muslim journalists and how to address them. Even though Muslim journalists face numerous problems worldwide, two themes dominated discussions: lack of systematic professional training and how to maneuver through restrictions imposed by authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world. Soleiman Kenawy, managing director of al-Akhbar paper and editor in chief of Sawt Azhar (the voice of Azhar) from Egypt was particularly interested in learning about Iran’s post-revolutionary experience in running its mass media apparatus after getting rid of the Shah’s cronies. Like most other journalists, Kenawy was eager to learn how the Islamic Revolution dealt with lack of competent human resources after the US-backed monarchy was overthrown.
Perhaps the most promising part of the union inauguration was that it provided Muslim journalists with great networking opportunity. It also gave them an excellent chance to discuss common strategies in countering the Western corporate media’s demonization of Islam with active backing from neo-colonialist and pro-Zionist regimes. Establishment of the Press Union was viewed by all participants of the first session of the general assembly as an important preliminary step in countering the global soft-war on Islam. However, for the new organization to fulfill its objectives fully, several crucial mechanisms must be implemented immediately.
To avoid the trap of becoming another organization on paper, the Permanent Secretariat and the members must make the Press Union an inclusive forum. It must not turn into a bureaucratic body. Instead, it must be for all committed Muslim journalists, and managed by them.
This does not mean Muslim governments should play no role in promoting or assisting the new body. Their role, however, must be limited because if the union becomes “landlocked” within a nation-state structure, its efficiency and global outreach will be limited. The union will end up functioning within the colonialist imposed construct of the modern “nation-state.”
Instead, the Press Union must become an international Muslim body that does not recognize colonial-imposed boundaries. The modern world with its technological advances and process of globalization provide an excellent environment for Muslim professionals to convert this new body into a truly Ummah-wide union. The practical way would be to create active representative offices worldwide with powers to take initiatives within the framework of the ratified charter.
For a unified strategy to counter the demonization of Muslims by the corporate media, the Press Union should provide Muslim journalists regular training courses encompassing a wide range of issues. However, these training courses must be flexible taking into account that journalists work in diverse socio-political and geographic locations. Nonetheless, the training programs ought to be designed in collaboration with union members and must be fairly standardized in order to pursue the same goals and strategy. Training programs must cover a wide variety of issues such as communication tools, terminological and conceptual strategies, writing techniques and so on.
Administratively the Press Union must be an active body whose activities are not limited to yearly gatherings where there is much talk but no real work. The Press Union Secretariat must keep in regular contact with union members and keep them engaged in its work as well as promote their work worldwide.
The Press Union must become a vehicle through which Muslim journalists can disseminate information to a global audience, and appeal for financial assistance in the form of grants, yearly awards and scholarships. The organization must aim to create simple and transparent administrative mechanisms that are user-friendly.
Another key area requiring serious attention relates to defending the rights of Muslim journalists. When secular journalists are targeted by oppressive regimes, Western-based institutions concerned with freedom of expression immediately spring into action. The same institutions however do not pay much attention to the plight of Muslim journalists that often face far greater risk to their lives. A recent case related to the arrest and fabricated charges against the editor in chief of www.islamazeri.az Ramin Bayramov in Azerbaijan. The Islamic Press Union must spearhead a movement to defend the rights of those journalists that present the Islamic perspective on contemporary global issues.
The Press Union of the Islamic World must become a platform to help Muslim journalists develop professionally and allow them to enhance their effectiveness in informing the global audience about Islamic solutions to contemporary problems. Members of the Press Union must establish their credibility with diverse audiences and one way is not to shy away from rational self-criticism. When President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad met the organization’s members, he explicitly stated that “members of the Islamic Press Union must base their work on honesty and justice… and have no right to disseminate inaccurate news or baseless analyses even about our enemies.”
In the absence of the Islamic Press Union, Muslim journalists may have felt a void. Its failure, however, would inflict even greater psychological damage. The Secretariat and members of the Islamic Press Union must prevent it from becoming another Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) type body. The greatest threat to the Islamic Press Union may not be external but internal: administrative incompetence and lack of proactive initiatives with lofty goals. The Islamic Press Union must constantly keep its members engaged who in turn must keep the union’s secretariat alive and active. The way to achieve this is to act in a professional, transparent and organized manner.