By Syed Atiq ul Hassan:
[The text of the speech delivered by Syed Atiq ul Hassan as a Guest Speaker in the Thailand Halal Assembly 2015, was held at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, Bangkok from 25 to 27 December 2015. The Title of the speech was the Role and Responsibility of Journalist/Media for Halal Industry]
In this politicised world where within or outside the Muslim Ummah, Islam has been conceptualised by misconceptions, stereotyping and misinterpreting the Islamic values and codes of practice by the people for their own vested interest, the role and responsibility of Journalists and Media are far more important than ever before in this modern age. Today, the role of a journalist has become globally important and challenging.
Media has the capacity to shape public opinion and its own strength to change public perception on critical issues, nevertheless, the primary goal of the media is to inform, criticize and educate the recipients on the subject rather than exploit the subject aiming for commercial and political gains. Journalism which is the core element of the media, is a discipline of collecting, verifying, analyzing and presenting the stories in a fair and neutral manner including trends, and issues and present it to the public through the media contents.
While the global media is playing a major role in providing timely information and knowledge on current affairs using modern technology; the misuse of technology is also crossing the ethical limits of journalism.
Exposure to faiths, cultures and other elements of human sociology through satellite electronic media, online news media and social media have virtually demolished the territorial boundaries among the people of different backgrounds. In this multimedia age, the digital contents of the media are playing an imperative role in societies through breaking news, attracting stories, and talk shows. Today, in the revolutionary change in the media industry, a Journalist can make a difference on critical issues and sensitive matters through their professional work.
Similarly, the commercialized media of today through digital contents can entertain masses and gain remarkable profits from marketing businesses and trade worldwide, at the same time, it can also promote understanding and coherence between people of different faith and demographics. In this perspective, the biggest problem, today, in the media is the Islamophobia. Overloaded with inflammable contents related to Islam are catered by media outlets, which are the most sellable items and generate huge profits.
Now in this situation, what is the professional and ethical role and responsibility of a Journalist. In Journalism, we believe that a Journalist works in the interest of the public. And the supreme interest of the people in any age has been to live peacefully and respectfully with others. Therefore, it should be the role and responsibility of a journalist that when making stories especially related to someone’s faith an extreme care must be taken that the contents should be thoroughly investigated and validated. Any content that may create high ratings and profit for media outlets but create unrest in the recipients gives no excuse to journalists creating that content.
Talking about Islam, we should not be diplomatic to say that today, Islam has been the most misunderstood religion within or outside the Muslim World and regrettably the western media including Australia has played a significant role in that respect.
Therefore, I believe, it is the prime responsibility of the Muslim Journalists and Islamic media that educating through knowledge about the true Islam and its codes of practice should be their top priority. The Journalist and media should work closely with the Islamic Scholars and Religious leaders and bring their knowledge into the public through their journalistic work.
If I talk about Australia, after terrorism, Halal is another selling stories of the media. There are people who are trying to link the cost of Halal Certification with financing to terrorism. Even though, there has been no evidence whatsoever yet that the funds being generated through Halal Certification by the Halal Certified bodies or that they have any link with the fanatic or extremist groups, still the space is given to those writers and columnists who are campaigning to ban Halal products in Australia. However, it is also true that some journalists have demonstrated their courage and professionalism in bringing out the truth on surface by documenting facts and figures in their reporting that how much beneficial is the production of halal products in the Australian economy.
I would like to share here with you, my personal experience being a journalist, owner of a media publication and an event organiser of Halal Expo. When we announced, Halal Expo Australia last year and advertised on social, electronic and online media, I have received many nasty and abusive messages from the people who I realised from their comments that the reason they were abusing and opposing Halal Expo because they did not have correct and enough information & knowledge on Halal and Halal Products. Further, I found many misleading, exploiting and exaggerating contents in the Australian mainstream media promoting boycott Halal campaign. On the other hand, the fact of the matter is that the Australian Government supports Halal industry as Australia is making large amounts of money from the export of Halal meat & products. Furthermore, Australia is one of the largest Halal meat suppliers in the world but this reality was not reaching in the headlines of the Australian media.
Therefore, I wrote an article, ‘Halal is not un-Australian’. I would like to share few lines from that article in order to show you how a journalist especially a journalist of a Muslim background can cooldown minds and create understanding. I wrote;
‘Australia is a multicultural society where every citizen has right to have their own choice of belief and choice of type of food they want to eat. Halal meat, halal consumable products or a halal service has never been harmful to any person, group or community in any part of the world including Australia, same as other special diet products and consumable items like vegetarian, kosher meat, and gluten-free products are not harmful to anyone. As a human being, we pass our lives with different faiths, traditions and food. In a civilised society people are free to pass their lives with their own choice of faith, traditions and food as long as these practices do not harm others. And, certainly, eating halal meat or using halal products do not harm those who don’t use halal meat or products.’
Of course my article was not attractive to many mainstream media outlets as it might not be a good selling article, yet my article was not condemning or confronting with anyone instead provided positive and factual contents and a message of understanding and harmony.
Being a journalist, I find Muslims in the western world like in Australia are muddled on the authenticity of available Halal products due to opinionated or interpretational difference between Islamic leaders representing different sects and ethnicities. Regrettably, there are divisions within the Muslim Ummah on the name of sect, culture and ethnicity and that has also divided Muslims on their own Islamic practices. Whereas a common Muslim looks for knowledge on Islam as genuine, simple and according to Quran and Sunnah.
In this context, the Journalists and media within Islamic world have more responsibility to work closely with religious leaders and scholars and convince them to come out and provide messages of unity and harmony on divisive matters especially issues like related to Halal industry. They can play a vital role in providing great service to the Muslims and everyone by publishing information especially in digital contents, like publishing interviews of Islamic scholars, knowledge-based articles, debates, talk shows etc.
For example; in Australia the biggest issue is the Halal Certification which is not a regulatory requirement for Halal industry players. Therefore, different religious and community organisations have their own defined procedures and practices of issuing the Halal Certification and they are in a race of competing others. The Islamic media can bring them together, provide them a platform to discuss their conflicting issues and create consensus among them.
As we all know that Islam defines every act of life from eating, drinking, washing, dressing to the activities of businesses and professions that is banking, financing, loan, insurance, and superannuation must be according to the Islamic Sharia that it must be HALAL.
Promoting and developing halal industry means promoting and spreading Islamic codes of practice. Therefore, Muslim Journalists can play a leading role in building Halal Industry in Islamic and non-Islamic countries. Muslim Journalists can create awareness on the importance of Halal practices based on facts and figures.
Subjects like interest free superannuation, interest free house loans, and financing are required to have prominent space in the media so that the people have more knowledge and adequate information on them. Periodicals should include interviews and articles of Islamic Scholars and Muftis on Halal Products & Services. The Islamic satellite TVs should hold debates and talk shows on Halal industry.
In regards to the issues related to Halal industry more work is required by the Halal industry players, Islamic Scholars and Leaders. They should work closely, establish communication with their local governments and related authorities to form a regulatory body, as in many countries like in Australia there is no regulatory body that can assess and issue a permit to Halal businesses. In Australia, there are many Halal Certification bodies operating, some are prominent and some not but they all are running under various Islamic organisations and groups. Yet, their output is limited to only Halal certification dealing with Halal manufacturers and producers. These Certification bodies are not particularly focusing on educating common Muslims about Halal and Haram and educating non-Muslims why Halal is obligatory to Muslims and Halal is not harmful to non-Muslims. In this affairs, Journalists and media can play a key role in bringing the issues and their appropriate solutions in their productions and publications.
I would also like to mention here, that Journalists worldwide are reporting on religion, many have particular expertise in this area and have built training sessions, associations, educational seminars, university accredited academic programs and many have developed special journalism programs for those who are reporting on issues based on Islam. However, on the ground level we still need a lot of work as in countries particularly in the West there is more hype than knowledge among the common public which can be addressed through justified, accurate and sensible reporting by journalists.
I must say, that Thailand Halal Assembly, deserves huge credit, and this is an excellent example, that Thailand being a country where Muslims are in minority, yet, the Thailand Halal Assembly proves that all the nations across the world share the same purpose to build a country that respects each other’s values, religion, culture – they seek economic prosperity – how they can provide employment, security and help establish a network for their communities. They don’t feel as though they have lesser opportunities and cannot excel – as we know that this social instability and in cohesion and intolerance can lead to as we have seen across the world to terrorism, bullying, discrimination and hate crimes. These events and platforms provide an excellent tool to showcase to the world and to those communities a way to acknowledge the vast opportunities available. However, these events must be reported by journalists – there should be accurate reporting and publicity – not about the protest against the events but of the protests for the event – the benefits and harmony it creates. This is a responsibility of the Journalists to put both sides forward but at the same time create a platform to resolve these issues rather than create.
At the end I would like to congratulate, the Halal Science Center Chulalongkorn University, the Central Islamic Council of Thailand and the Halal Standard Institute of Thailand for their excellent efforts in organising this valuable event and I would like to thank them for inviting me from Australia and given me an opportunity to express my opinion on the given subject.