Amidst all the talk of “terror on an unimaginable scale”, “beards of terror” and “terror of terrors to beat all terrors”, the media industry has been asking whether young Muslims have been alienated by the mainstream media and turning to what documentary filmmaker Navid Akhtar called the “digital ghetto”.
The central premise to this idea is that young Muslims are turning to the likes of PTV Prime, Islam Channel, Q-News magazine, Zee TV, Eastern Eye and other “ethnic media” for their consumption, creating parallel worlds where they pay very little attention to the national conversation.
The issue was kicked off by Radio 4′s Today programme, which ran a short clip on the issue last week, and followed up by BBC News online. I believe BBC World followed up, as did Radio 4′s weekly media show The Message in an interview with yours truly again.
There are three broad issues here that were touched upon and and I will examine briefly.
1) Why would young British Asians be migrating to niche channels? Wasn’t that just the older generation?
It is easy to understand why the first generation of British Asian immigrants consumed “ethnic media”; it connected them back home and spoke to them in a language they were comfortable with it. UK based ethnic media had the added advantage of informing them what was going on within their own local communities.
With the younger 2nd and 3rd generation the picture is more muddled. Many are more likely to consume national media than niche outlets because they are outward looking and want to keep abreast of current affairs. They may also be disillusioned with the lower quality of many ethnic media outlets.
However there are many others who make two accusations: (a) the MSM does not bother covering them as ordinary individuals as part of this country; (b) they are referred to only during a controversy. There is credence in these accusations too. Events such as a national mela, the opening of a big mandir or the Asian rich list are covered, but what about ordinary stories? When will the Evening Standard bother covering people other than middle-class rich kids in London?
Thus, an increasing number of British Asians are migrating to niche channels or at least subscribing to them in tandem to the national media to find out what’s going on in their world. BBC Asian Network, Sunrise radio, Eastern Eye, Zee TV, B4U, Islam Channel, PTV Prime, Daily Jang are the big examples. There are also quite a few websites, some of which I manage.
2) Is there a parallel world being created, and how? Are these stations sufficiently self-critical?
If a parallel world was being created only in entertainment and culture it wouldn’t be an issue. However the job of this niche media, incl Pickled Politics, is to reflect the world in the values of they were created with. And this may not always tally with how the MSM reports it. As I recently told the editor of a national news broadcaster, the Asian media (which broadly includes Muslim media) were a lot more sceptical about the Forest Gate raid than the nationals – the latter happily regurgitating any leak from government and police sources.
But with news people generally like to gravitate towards outlets that tally with their own world view. So as the media fragments, its views and the audiences themselves become more polarised (as is happening in the USA).
If this niche media was more self-critical this wouldn’t be a major issue. Unfortunately as they are developing as a reaction to an existing climate of marginalisation (the Islam Channel being a good example), they are less willing to be self-critical. The new media outlets see it as their job to be a vanguard against mainstream media villification.
But this doesn’t just apply to niche Muslim media. Fox News for example sees itself as a vanguard against a supposed vast leftwing liberal media conspiracy. So it is always defensive of President Bush and the Republicans. They pander to their audiences; they don’t want to challenge those ingrained assumptions that make them popular in the first place.
3) Is this a digital ghetto?
This is perhaps the most interesting question. The attitude amongst editors is that the niche media does not pose much of a threat since it is small, less resourceful and does not provide the breadth and depth they can.
But, as I argue in tomorrow’s Guardian, this paradigm is becoming outdated. Broadcast technology and the internet have connected international audiences to such an exent that people aren’t just tapping into local niche media; they are increasingly tapping into international media outlets that are “mainstream” themselves, but reflect their own world view.
The internet is perhaps the best example; where informal news networks have sprung up around particular interests and identities (whether Indian, Muslim, Sikh, vegetarian or gothic); and can no longer be viewed as niche media with only a limited audience.
Unless the national media wake up to this paradigm and accept this new generation of Britons as their own, and give them a reason to consume them, those audiences will migrate elsewhere forever.
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Filed in: Media,Race politics,Religion