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Muslim Community Media: A Ground Plan

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The Muslim Community Media Trust

MY article in the pre-Ramadan edition of Muslim Views (Muslim Community Media: Is it My Final Crossroads?) has, I hope, led to some introspection about the lot of those who work within our community, especially the media.

In it I confronted the harsh realities that community media faces, and the even harsher economic challenges for those and their families who work within it.

Whilst some who read the article felt it better that I – a loose cannon – should finally retire, others tactfully asked whether it was that bad in the community media. Unfortunately, the answer is, yes.

So how bad is it? Well, the combined take home pay (sans benefits) of our two most senior journalists – with 70 years on the coalface between them – is still less than that of a reporter of five years’ experience in the mainstream. Do the Maths.

And for those who might clamour that community media is all about volunteers, of course, it is – as well as training, empowerment and education – but there has to be a professionally skilled corps at the centre to keep the wheel turning.

The point I’ve made many times is that in the Western Cape, at least, Voice of the Cape, Radio 786 and Muslim Views have to compete with the mainstream, which demands standards. Interns and volunteers have to fit into the skilled structures, and not the other way round.

I’m sure few will disagree that a thriving Muslim media is absolutely essential to our wellbeing as a community. Whilst providing a social stage, it opens us up to local and international audiences.

But where do we go from here?

My suggestion is that a waqf – a trust – be set up to ensure the long-term survival of community media. This waqf, which I will call the Muslim Community Media Trust (MCMT), will act as a central, independent body.

The fine print of how it will be run will have to be left to the experts in this field, but I don’t think it would be out of place to suggest that the MCMT – a national body – be responsible for administration, collection and disbursement.

The main function of the MCMT will be to augment the salary bills of Muslim media houses, freeing them to face running costs with less anxiety.

These funds will be allocated on a pro-rata basis – so a radio with 25 permanent staff members and 300,000 listeners will be entitled to a larger proportion than one, for example, with five staffers and 20,000 listeners.

Whilst my suggestion is that the monies should be spent on human resources first, should the media houses need funds for special development projects, the MCMT should have the mandate to grant an exception – but only if the better interest is served.

Naturally, the MCMT would have to embody the highest principles, and media houses would have to first qualify for the grants.

A successful application would have to be based upon criteria such as good book-keeping, audited audience surveys, compliance of licence conditions, consistent turnover, competent management, a proper business plan and appropriate labour practices.

Muslim media houses will not be allowed to have sole dependency on the MCMT, and as I’ve said above, will have to have proven records.

My instinct also tells me that each media house will have to administer their MCMT funds in a separate account served by officers who must have specific skills in the accounting, legal and HR professions. These people would not be allowed to be Trustees or Directors of the media houses in question.

This leads to some of the hard questions: how do we form the national MCMT? How much is needed? Who will be the players? And, how do we raise the funds?

It’s not a cop out, but I leave ideas and debate about the constitutional formation of the MCMT to those who know more than me. My suggestion is that it is served by competent professionals in our community, of whom there is no shortage.

As for funds, I’m looking at R5 million annually.

And before I’m shot down in flames of derision, let me explain. Is R5 million a lot of money? Yes, it is, and yes, it isn’t. In terms of social and human investment it’s priceless – offering empowerment, stability and peace of mind for our community media, as well as enabling us to create institutions. In terms of a bank balance, I agree, it’s a challenge.

But I cannot emphasise enough the need for a stable local media, and the critical role that it has to play. If one considers how much money the Zionist lobby spends on its agendas, R5 million (about 800,000 dollars) will pale by comparison.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a question of spending wisely on our most precious resource, human resources. And to crunch a few numbers, I estimate that R5 million is enough to double the pay annually of 48 of our journalists, managers and admin staff.

So who will be the players? Again, that’s something that would have to be open to discussion, but most likely Voice of the Cape, Radio 786, Muslim Views, Al-Qalam, Radio Islam, Radio IFM and Radio Al-Ansaar.

Channel Islam, to my knowledge, is commercial – but even media review agencies with a proven reputation, such as the Media Review Network, could be considered under this aid umbrella.

And the money?

Here’s a golden opportunity for the multi-million rand Halal industry to finally do something for us, the consumer who bankrolls it. It would be a perfect trade-off. But the best option, I suspect, would be to create a platform for national corporate social responsibility – again the realm of those more qualified than myself.

In conclusion, all that I’ve formulated is an idea – agree or disagree with me – but, surely, if we do nothing, we all stand to lose?

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