Joined: 27 September 2006
by Faruq Fayaz
Look Who's Talking! was an event in Brondesbury, London intended to develop a Muslim presence in the mainstream media. We sent Faruq Fayaz to find out more.
Aaqil Ahmed and Shazia Mirza
Shaista Aziz, a BBC journalist, hosted the event where speakers in the mainstream media discussed the Muslim presence in the industry. The evening began with a customary recitation of the Qur'an and then a panel discussion with Ghada Karmi (writer and author), Aaqil Ahmed (commissioning editor for religion at Channel 4), Yvonne Ridley (freelance journalist) and Shazia Mirza (stand-up comedian).
Debate centred round methods of introducing more Muslim journalists into mainstream journalism. Ghada Karmi advocated a position of assimilation whilst Yvonne Ridley took up a contrasting position, making mention of the fact "All the Muslims I know are very proud to be Muslim" - implying that Muslims shouldn't change their identity to any extent to get into the media.
Shazia Mirza's brief contribution was that she was always seen as a Muslim comedian rather than a comedian. It was difficult to empathise though as her comedy routine, delivered later, only used material drawn on the Muslim experience; albeit to a largely Muslim audience on this occasion.
Comedian Shazia Mirza
It was notable how few Muslim journalists were present, clearly reflecting their scarcity in the Media Industry as a whole. Seemingly only Aaqil Ahmed, largely responsible for the BBC's Islam UK season 2001, held a prominent position. Yvonne Ridley claimed that "...she'd never seen a practising Muslim in Fleet street". I myself didn't encounter any Muslim journalists in the audience although students honing their fledgling networking skills were unavoidable. Aaqil Ahmed also observed that female Muslim journalists trying to get into the profession far out numbered their male counterparts.
The event sparked useful debate concerning the nature of a Muslim presence in the mainstream media and was constructive in raising money for a Media Scholarship Programme. However questions raised by the event remained unanswered, as authoritative voices with a deeper understanding of Islam and the modern media were absent from the stage.
Questions of assimilation or isolation, or the pros and cons of independent Muslim media institutions, were not identified, much less addressed. In the wake of September 11th a huge surge of interest in Muslim culture, history and people has left an information vacuum. In the absence of credible Muslim journalists the vacuum has been filled with spurious claims about Muslim culture and history and then left unchallenged. These questions need to be addressed in order that the media doesn't misrepresent Muslims and for a more credible, higher quality mainstream media as a whole.http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/living/media.s html