“At a young age when most kids were watching cartoons, my dad would make me sit with him and watch international news,” says Farah Nasser, an anchor with CP24, a local news channel in Toronto, Canada. “Through it, he would explain to me how government worked, how others lived and how the media was an important facet of democracy. I remember thinking journalists must have the best job because it is a front row seat to history.”
Years later, Nasser has realised her childhood dream of becoming a television journalist. “One day I could be following a prime minister around and the next day reporting from a homeless shelter,” she says. “Journalists have an incredible responsibility because an informed public is vital to any democracy.”
Although exciting, a career in the news media can be quite challenging. While normal work hours are typically nine to five, news happens around the clock.
“Every day is an adventure, being in a new place and meeting new people. It is also an education because as a television reporter you have to suddenly become an expert on the topic du jour,” says Nasser. “The difficult part is that you really can't have an off day.”
Farrah Fazal, a reporter with KRGV-TV at Rio Grande Valley in Texas, has lived in various cities and covered their local news. Her viewers and associates look to her as a resource.
“When I encounter a story, I am able to look at it as a woman, as a journalist, and as an Ismaili Muslim,” she says. Fazal explains that a large aspect of local television news focuses on the human element. It is about telling the stories of the local people.
“When I go to my story subjects, they want to know if I really care about them and if they can trust me enough to tell me their personal stories,” she explains. “At the end of the day, people relate to somebody who cares about them.”
Working as a reporter in Billings, Montana, right after the events of 11 September 2001, Fazal came across many who wanted to learn more about Islam. “I think that there is a hunger for information – and good information,” says Fazal. “I don't look at myself as a preacher, but I think of it as an opportunity when somebody asks me to explain to them who the Muslims and the Ismailis are.”
The notion of what it means to be a Muslim in the western world is explained quite well by Dr. Hussein Rashid, Professor of Religious Studies at Hofstra University in New York and Associate Editor of Religion Dispatches. As an academic, a speaker, and an educator, Professor Rashid's topics are generally focused on Islam and its followers, interfaith issues, religion and politics, and religion and popular culture, including news media. He has appeared on CBS Evening News, CNN, Russia Today, Channel 4 (UK), and State of Belief–Air America Radio.
“The reality is that Muslims are people, so show them as people,” says Dr. Rashid, indicating that media's role is not to colour a story by injecting a religious angle into it. “Religion is important, but it is not the whole story,” he adds.
Rahim Kanani writes opinion articles for Huffington Post. A research associate in Justice and Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School and Master's Candidate in religion, ethics and politics at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Kanani's topics range on issues such as the US foreign policy, human rights, Islam and media, international development and global philanthropy.
“The media can be a very divisive tool in public discourse,” says Kanani, “and often the more moderate and reasonable voices are sidelined.” He asserts that majority of today's mainstream media is tilted towards showing extreme point of views.
“I would like to accomplish, in some small way, an additional voice of common sense to public discourse,” says Kanani. “The media is a large part of the problem, but it can also be a large part of the solution.”
Mass media in the form of print, broadcast, or the Internet plays a crucial role, both in forming and in capturing public opinion and creating perceptions of the society at large. When journalism is practiced in a responsible, sensible and ethical manner, it has the power of creating an informed society capable of making its own judgments.
Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke to this point in 2005, at the opening ceremony of the International Press Institute World Congress in Kenya: “I believe that the best journalists are not those who think they know everything, but those who are wise enough to know what they do not know.”