Lack of Reading: Self-Censorship

2012-10-31 04:47

Reading all the diatribes and comments after an article on the different online media outlets, made me realise the importance of reading widely in order to create critical thinking and improve general knowledge.

Lack of reading among some people is not only confined to South Africa. I believe globally people are not reading widely or sufficiently.

A recent guest to our country commented: “I was highly praised by a friend for my “courage” for touring South Africa. For him (friend), South Africa is where wild animals and “primitive” people prey on defenceless people”. Where did this stereotype come from?

The importance of reading cannot be overstated. I grew up during the Apartheid era and we could not go to the local library, so my primary school teacher asked us to read a daily newspaper to improve our English.

Various factors like high cost of reading material, lack of quality writing, computer games amongst others, have over the years decreased the enthusiasm to read.

For the sake of creating a discussion and dialogue, let’s take the example of terrorism and Islam.

Headlines about Al- Qaeda, suicide bombers killing innocent civilians and other Islamophobic articles are increasing in the mass media. Many commentators and writers question, where are the Muslim voices in condemning these acts, when a small percentage of misguided Muslims, commit, violent deeds? Muslim leaders have long been accused of remaining silent when criticism and disapproval should have been immediate.

Tagging a religion and a whole community with the same tag of terrorism or extremism is unacceptable and this justifies the argument that many in the media have much to learn.

Despite unanimous, vocal condemnations by Global Muslims, their scholars and leaders, some individuals are not satisfied. Every now and then numerous unsubstantiated statements appear in opinion pieces and editorial pages of  the various news outlets and on other mass media channels about Muslims assumed “silence” regarding terrorism, women abuse, suicide bombings and other deliberate agenda that promote Islamophobia.

Most recently, Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, addressed the millions of pilgrims gathered at this year’s Hajj, reinforcing to the pilgrims that “There is no association between terrorism and Islam”. He further added that “Suicide was haram (forbidden) and those who commit it will not be forgiven”.

Moreover, he appealed to both leaders and citizens to resolve political disagreements through dialogue and mutual understanding. Governance is based on justice, equality, co-operation, spirituality and a life of dignity for all and not on selective democratic principles and heredity monarchy.

Sadly his message was not published in the main - stream news media. This is disappointing considering the mass media’s important role in breaking down dominant, stereotypical narratives, myths and racial, religious and cultural discrimination.

This accusation of silence in the face of terrorism is now fixed with increasingly aggressive speech-making about Islam being an “evil” religion and subscribing to an inferior standard of humanity.

While Muslims are seeking peace, unity and co-existence with their fellow human beings, some individuals are sowing seeds of hatred and inappropriate information.

When Muslims try to correct myths, ignorant accounts or narratives about Islam, they are accused of defending their faith or regarded as apologists.  Any positive story about Muslim and Islam is hardly reported in the media and in many instances self censorship is practised by some in the media.

To this end I support the call made by Julie Reid, deputy President of the South African Communications Association (SACOMM), and an active member of the Right2Know campaign, that the press sector needs to address seriously how to improve its quality of reporting.

To quote Reid: “South Africa is fighting for media freedom, but I’m not always sure why – since even when journalists have freedom in theory, they seem to spend an awful lot of time parroting the ‘official’ standpoints on the country’s most burning issues. Why?”

Authors and Journalists are opinion formers and write about and for human beings, therefore they should inform critically, responsibly, honestly and with utmost accuracy.

It’s time the media fix the inconsiderate partisan journalism that is being witnessed and make a conscious effort to hear and report with human feelings and realities lived on the ground.

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