Media reform

A few days ago, I wrote a post about how we can use “Zakat” to get the world out of its current financial miseries. Zakat is basically the Islamic version of tax, which is a 2.5% of any sum of money that a person owned, but did not use, for the whole year. It can be used to address major issues like hunger, poverty, health care, and education. But it can also be directed to “Da’wa” –  the practice of enlightening society, which is what we nowadays refer to as “Media”.

Today during a seminar called “Me in Media” held at the beloved Vancouver Public Library, I asked the panelists to contemplate about how despite paying for the media, we, as consumers, have less influence on it, and are ranking lower on its list of interests, than the advertisers. The reason I asked this question is because in my opinion, funding media through Zakat revenue is a vital step towards a quick correction of the whole current world order, that is causing immense social, financial, and environmental damages in our lives.

I believe that the reason why we are being sold this world order, and specifically this financial system for this long is because we are relying on the media that is reliant on advertisement revenues to learn about the world we live in. Naturally, the media has become part of the current financial structure, and in many cases, has lost the message that it is meant to deliver, which is to enlighten and educate. Media became just another industry that measures its success by revenue, and focuses on entertainment not enlightenment.

This industry is funded by consumers, who are paying extra money for the products to compensate advertisers for the cost of advertising. But despite “taking the bill”, consumers’ influence on media is extremely limited compared to that of the advertisers themselves. Instead of paying from the stored and unused accounts to enlighten the society, normal people are paying part of their incomes for these illusion that they are being fed about the world.

In the Islamic model, media will be financed by Zakat money, which is an obligation on those with unused assets. In that case, there will not be a direct influence of the powerful corporations on the way media is run, because the funds will go through people to chosen media. A publicly regulated process can be installed that guarantees a proportionate representation of each segment of society in the amounts of funds given to its selected media. This ‘publicly funded’ media will have more freedom to enlighten people when it’s not directly controlled by corporations, the biggest beneficiaries of the current failing system. A media controlled by corporations cannot stimulate a major change against the interest of these corporations. A “free” media will not delude people and will make other transitions to a better world easier.

The current system is devastating everyone in the world. It has failed, and those at the top will not change it because they are on top, they benefit from this system. The change must come from below, from you and me. Those with lots of money and power are the guardians of the system; don’t even think they will consider changing it. They will only further delude you to believe that this system is for your benefit.

Of course we can continue to run to the virtual world, and give up more freedoms in real life in exchange for the little freedoms that we have online, but that can also change. If corporations like Facebook, and Google, will continue to expand and “swallow” the internet, and treat people like commodities, we might end up in a place where even the internet cannot connect us!

Yes you can type the URL of this blog, and come to it, but if Google decides to give you a different image about me or about where I come from, they can give you 100,000 other pages before this one, or even take it out of the results completely, and prevent you from seeing it.

Just like the mainstream media now holds the monopoly about how people see each other, this could happen online as well. It is, therefore, not in the best interest of individuals to allow media, including online, to continue to rely on advertisement revenue. Internet is not impenetrable. Think about Wikileaks and you will understand how vulnerable it is, espicialy if we don’t have a solid ground of freedom in the real world to support it.

Social media and internet are a great tool that should not be exaggerated or taken for granted.  They present a window of opportunity, and the best way to use them is to utilize them to create more freedoms in the real world, similar to what people in the Arab revolutions have done. This needs to be done now because if we will lose this opportunity, we will end up with stronger corporations who control all the ways we, as people, can connect with each other, and they will have much more resources and technology to ‘disconnect’ whomever they choose to disconnect or misrepresent .

It is in the best interest of people to demand this reform now, because the further we go, the more difficult it will become to get out of this system. The right thing to do is to make the billionaires circulate their unused money, and pay taxes on how much money they withhold from society for the benefit of society that made them rich, and stop the current system that is making the poor person pay for this illusion from the little that he earns for his children.

In that case advertisement should not be that expensive, because media will not rely on it for revenue. In fact, advertisement can even be run for free, according to an agreed arrangement. In either way, this will reduce the costs of products that people consume, and make manufacturers compete for quality, and not for air time. It will also make the media bolder in exposing which products are low quality, and which are really good, and this will also serve the interest of us – the consumers.

This is how media can truly be representative of society, when it will take it out of the advertisers’ control, and become its “employer”, only then our interest will come first.

Until that happens, we will continue to talk about a “mainstream” media that does not represent minorities, youth, employees, elderly, normal people, and consumers, who ultimately pay for it. Until that happens, we will still have media that justifies pollution, wars, and discrimination to us, and distracts us by convincing us that we need more material stuff, and delude us to do what is in the best interest of corporations. Until that happens, we will rely on those who are causing our miseries to give us the cure, when the only thing they can give is more lies.

Until that happens, there will not be true “Me in Media”, there will only be “Money in Media” . IMHO.

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6 Responses to “Media reform”

  1. […] Zakat can be collected either by a publicly-regulated authority or allocated by the givers themselves to publicly recognized and licensed charities. This money will then be used for the needs of the poorest people, or used for other purposes, like education, health care, and media. […]

  2. Shima says:

    While I understand what you mean by suggesting that media revenue needs to be reformed by Zakat, I still have a concern: some pay more than others = those will have more power over content.

    I think what we need to do is challenge the dominant media. Like I mentioned, it’s not always about financial capital or means, but it’s about creativity and being smart with our resources. There are many documentaries that derived from a few friends, cameras, microphones and time. Walking around the streets and asking questions can result in a dynamic piece which forefronts pressing issues. Presenting these films to different film festivals has given platform and a stage to these individuals and thus, their voices were heard, at times, worldwide.

    The question that was asked last night concerning using terms such as “ethnic media” or “ethno-cultural” groups is often raised. And I often struggle with which term to use: racial minority, visible minority, people of colour, racial groups. Because maybe there are negative connotations to each one and maybe it does drive the dichotomy and division further. But as Sid Tan so brilliantly said, I do not mind calling myself an Arab-Canadian, or Canadian Muslim or the other parts of my identity. Dominant media, relying on advertisement or not, will depict what it pleases. Because essentially, they’re after what will interest people, what grabs their attention. Telling a story about how Muslims and Christians get along is not fascinating.

    So when I say all of this, what I mean is that we have to live within reality and learn how to produce something representative out of the tension between people like us and mainstream representations. I like to look at it like this, Martin Luther King, Jr., wanted to see change. He ached for it. But he saw there was resistance from the leaders of the country. So he spoke. He spoke to the people. They all had a similar cause and they all took to the streets. They rallied and they challenged. It was all grassroots. We have grassroots, independent, self media and it’s everywhere. We just need to recognize and appreciate its power.

    Thanks for coming last night and for your questions. There’s never enough time for intriguing conversation.

    • ahmadsaeid says:

      Thank you Shima for your most valued contribution, both here and yesterday at the event.
      I understand your concern. Yes, some people will pay more than others, but the authority that will regulate that will be elected by people (or will be reflective of the public in any other way), and this will mean that it will decide which media qualifies for this and which media doesn’t, and to what proportion, according to how big the segment of society that it represents and caters to. This way people will still have much more power over how media operates than they do now, which is limited to three options, changing the channel, switching off the television, or whining about it on twitter!
      By all means I do not imply that this is a finished theory, or a genius way out of this situation we are in. I am just throwing away ideas for people to consider as another version of how the solution can be. It can still be revised, adjusted, and tightened up to suit any particular society.
      In the mean while, I totally agree with everything you say about how people need to find ways to challenge the dominant media. I believe it is a very important practice for anyone who wants to be represented. But at the same time, I don’t believe that the two concepts are mutually exclusive. We can still have citizen journalism, while having a better balanced media that is more representative of us.
      The revenue driven media is more keen to be sensational, and to look for the points of disagreement that separate people, rather than “boring” stories of harmony. Until now, despite the immense power of citizen journalism, the common conventions are dictated by the mainstream media. They set the agenda, and they dictate the official and final version of events, upon which nations base their actions in reality, and that is why it is important for this issue to also be addressed. Citizen journalism is part of the solution, but it’s not the whole thing.
      I also agree with you about this ethnicity issue. I actually find it weird that a question like this will be raised. Acknowledging our differences and learning to live in harmony despite of them is much easier and more realistic than arguing about how not different we are.
      Thanks again for your (always welcome) comments, and I hope a venue for more intriguing conversation will facilitate in the near future.

  3. Shima says:

    I was going to tackle some of your points. But I came across this:

    It will suffice for now.

    • ahmadsaeid says:

      Astonishing! I can relate to many things that he mentions from my personal experience, and totally agree with his views on the urgency of reforming political, social, and economic aspects of what is known as ‘modern’ way of life. I believe that the shortest way to achieve a collective effort that can bring about such change is to reform media. It’s the easiest way to bring about the biggest positive change.
      I look forward to hearing your other points in this regard.

  4. […] however, one of the key areas where this revenue should be allocating is to provide financing for media. Under the current system regular people pay for media by the added value of advertisements on the […]

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