~Looking back~ The role of media in Muslim-Western dialogue

by Eko Maryadi
23 July 2013
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Jakarta - The fluctuating relations between the Muslim and Western worlds are now seemingly more difficult, especially since the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City on 11 September 2001, popularly known as 9/11. Right after the tragedy, which resulted in thousands dead and thousands more injured, condemnation emerged from around the world. Soon after that, Western media began what has been called the “opinion war” which tended to blame Muslims unreservedly for the attacks.

Quoting US President George W. Bush extensively, Western media became a funnel for anger toward Islam which, unassailably, was the religion of the bombing suspects. In response, the media in many Muslim countries embarked upon counter-attacks by mobilising negative reactions toward any issue pertaining to the Western world. Suspicion, distrust, anger and hatred were suddenly spreading between these two different civilisations.

Besides repeatedly presenting news coverage on the big topic of “Islam and Violence” while employing words such as “Islamic terrorist”, “fundamentalist”, “extremist”, “radical Islam” or “militant Muslim”, Western media also became a pivotal means of campaigning for the “Global War on Terror”.

Meanwhile, massive military “counter” attacks on Muslim countries were launched, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Western media also got involved by sending several journalists to report live on how Western military operations were destroying terrorist networks. Since then, it seems that the former “Holy War” of Muslim against Christian has given way to the war of “Western media against Muslim terrorists.”

As part of the global community, Indonesian media also absorbed Western media news coverage, which increasingly tended to be anti-Islam. The prejudice and hatred exchanged between Muslims and Westerners in Indonesia became stronger, especially after the first Bali bombing, of October 2002. Though most Indonesian media tried to present balanced and prudent news, some tried to pump up the anger of Indonesian Muslims toward the West. These kinds of media sources also presented analytical articles which sided with Muslims and criticised Western leaders, interviewed Indonesian Muslim figures who were for the attack and who even supported similar “jihadist” attacks in the future.

These days are the hardest for the media in Indonesia, finding themselves in a conflict of interest relating to Islam and the West. It is difficult for the media to present balanced and impartial news and opinions as the majority of the audience in Indonesia is Muslim. Many media sources want to appeal to their Muslim readers and as a result, some Indonesian media deliberately choose to become partisan.

When ethnic and religious conflicts broke out in Ambon (1999), Poso (2000), Sampit (2001) and Aceh (1989-2005), some Indonesian media became a strategic means of public communication for Muslim groups. Rather than act as mediators and conflict transformation agents, some media – both print and electronic – actually got involved in the dissemination of provocative ideas and language. A Bosnian journalist’s comment that “the journalist who hides behind pens and microphones to propose wars is actually more wicked than the people who kill each other” rings true and certainly applied to Indonesia at that time.

By keeping their position independent and at a distance from religious prejudice, media can actually play an important role in encouraging dialogue between the Muslim and Western worlds. By creating balanced public dialogue opportunities, sharing togetherness and broadening the room for tolerance through their news coverage, media can bridge the gap and encourage the common need to live side by side peacefully.

Just as the public needs an atmosphere of sound dialogue, media needs professional and mature journalists as well. Media and its journalists should obey journalism’s code of ethics, maintain information sources accurately, look for competent persons as resources and write their reports using professional news coverage techniques.

It is interesting to note that recently an Indonesian newspaper was named by a research institution as the most popular media outlet because of its prudent and anti-violence way of reporting. This newspaper, which is surely reporting on the same Muslim-Western conflict issues in Indonesia, does not present any form of pro-Western or even pro-Muslim coverage. When asked why his paper has chosen this impartial style of reporting, a senior journalist said, “We just try to write with integrity and keep our messages away from prejudice. We run the risk of being labelled cowards, of being accused of not being involved or sometimes even of being anti-Islam by the majority of our readers because we do not show favouritism toward them. We just carry out our belief that media should not be involved in any conflict.”

Perhaps that should be the role of media in the “clash of civilisation” era: a channel of balanced, constructive and solution-oriented messages between the Muslim and Western worlds. Furthermore, as the relations between the two are volatile, the media should create an honest, equal and transparent venue for public dialogue. Media should focus not on the conflict itself, but on the creation of peaceful dialogue and the usage of non-violent means to resolve conflict and ease tensions. By doing this, we hope that media will play an important role in encouraging dialogue between Muslims and the West.

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Eko Maryadi is a freelance journalist for international media outlets and Coordinator of Advocacy in the Indonesian Journalists Alliance (AJI). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 8 August 2006, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
 
 
 
 
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