Islamic code of journalistic ethics | By Umar Riaz Abbasi

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Islamic code of journalistic ethics

MASS media appear to be more practical than abstract and philosophical. However, both news and entertainment convey, reinforce, and are based on certain beliefs and value system.

The epistemological and the ethical foundations of contemporary mass media practices are deeply rooted in the western ideologies and philosophies.

The major motive behind all mass media structures, practices and processes is based on sales values and governed by the market mechanism.

Media code of ethics and watchdog mechanism are ignored by the media practitioners because they contradict the prevailing social order and hinder the pursuit of private good. The situation in Muslim countries, or of Muslim media practitioners, is no different from that of the western media.

Various forms of mass media ethics pertaining to the rights, responsibilities, freedom, and regulation of the press have been debated in European cultures since the introduction of the press in the 15th and early 16th centuries.

Most of these debates focused on two areas: professional ethics related to the training of media professionals; and normative philosophical theories of public communication which bear on the professional obligations of media practitioners.

In practical terms there exist different codes of journalistic ethics in many nations of the east, west, north and south. The process of mass communication is dictated by a journalist’s own vision of what can be most readily sold to the public and in what form.

That is why there are ‘codes without conduct, technology without humanity, theory without reality [practice], global change without personal change, and personal ethics, without world awareness.

In practice today there is no journalistic code of ethics based on the principles of Islam, and a few scholars have attempted to define an Islamic framework for mass media ethics. However, their thinking did not go beyond academic discussion.

That is why the Muslim Ummah of more than one billion has no control over sources of information and the way it want to disseminate news despite having more than 600 daily newspapers, about 1500 weeklies, 1200 monthly news and views magazines, and about 500 miscellaneous Muslim publications. It is difficult for a researcher to find a well defined Islamic code of journalistic ethics.

One can find press codes in Pakistan,Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, maybe in Iran, and a few more Muslim countries, but most of these reflect, to a great extent, the same secular bias that is part of the existing code of ethics in most other countries.

The first Asian Islamic Conference organized by the Mecca-based World Muslim League in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1978 decided that co-ordination should be developed between Muslim journalists to offset and counter the Western monopoly of the mass media and its anti-Islamic propaganda. The first International Islamic News Agency (IINA) was established by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1979 with its headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.’

The most poorly served IINA objectives is its very first one – to consolidate and safeguard the rich cultural heritage of Islam…

A more significant limitation to IINA coverage, from a Muslim perspective, is the relatively low amount of intrinsically Islamic news content.’

The first International Conference of Muslim Journalists held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1981 endorsed a covenant for Muslim media professionals emphasizing that: Islamic rules of conduct should form the basis for all Muslim media practitioners in their journalistic endeavours and Muslim media should work towards achieving integration of the Muslim individual’s personality.

It was stated that the consolidation of faith of the Muslim individual in Islamic values and ethical principles should be the main obligation of Muslim media.

Since a journalist’s foremost concern is the dissemination of news, we have to agree upon a definition of news that is permissible within the framework of Quran and Sunnah.

We have also to consider a process of news gathering, news making and news disseminating that is acceptable within an Islamic framework.

And in order to compete with the existing information orders we have to provide theoretical foundations and arguments as well a driving force that will ensure its implementation among Muslim journalists throughout the world.

Before defining news and attempting to develop an Islamic code of ethics, let us briefly discuss the basis of the Islamic moral system because it plays a very important role in the realization of the Islamic worldview within which a Muslim journalist has to operate and which is inherently different from the secular or Western worldview.

The central force in the Islamic moral system is the concept of Tawhid — the supremacy and sovereignty of one God. Tawhid also implies unity, coherence, and harmony between all parts of the universe.

Not only has this, but the concept of Tawhid signified the existence of a purpose in the creation and liberation of all human kind from bondage and servitude to multiple varieties of gods.

The concept of the hereafter becomes a driving force in committing to one God, and the inspiration as well definitive guidelines are provided by the traditions and the life of the Last Prophet (PBUH).

An important aspect of the development of a professional code of journalistic ethics is the training of Muslim journalists.

There are numerous training centres to train journalists in all other aspects of the job, but none where journalists can get training on specifically Islamic aspects. There is an urgent need to establish an Islamic Institute of Mass Media Research and Training.

These are few suggestions towards realizing the goal of developing a workable code of media ethics within an Islamic framework.

To begin with, an active forum of Muslim media practitioners and academicians could be created to exchange information about codes of journalistic ethics in Muslim countries, and also to cooperate and coordinate with non-Muslim media practitioners, associations and organizations that have a concern about media, culture and religion.

Such forum could later play a key role in the formation of an international institute for media training and research for Muslim journalists.

—The writer is PhD in Islamic Studies, author and academic writer & lecturer at NUML, Islamabad.

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