Promoting better understanding of hajj through media

Alhaji Liadi Tella

The Nigerian media have been urged to ensure fair, balanced and unbiased reportage and embrace pristine journalism ethics in the coverage of hajj and Islamic affairs generally.

Senior Research Fellow, Mass Communication Department, University of Ilorin, and Guest Speaker at the 2017 Symposium of the Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria (MMPN), Alhaji Liad Tella, said the media and journalists, especially Muslim journalists should wake up to the challenge of promoting better understanding of hajj.

Tella, who is also the Founding President of MMPN, said negative media reportage from negative perception might be due to ignorance or lack of desire to understand Islam or due to deliberate bias as a result of inherited bigotry. With Hajj Operation and Media Responsibility as theme, the symposium was held yesterday in Lagos.

The great journalist who has also served as Commissioner, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) said: “Muslims and hajj affairs managers have done very little to appropriate, engage, and stimulate the media towards a better understanding of Islam and hajj affairs by the media. Where efforts were made, it has been so little.”

According to him, “hajj is the largest collection of people in a single sacred location, in a country using a single airport, until very recently when Madinah Airport became a complementary airport to Jeddah International Airport, two million people flying into Saudi Arabia within three weeks is not a mean air traffic management in term of landing, parking and taking off. No nation and no airport in the world is so challenged.”

He listed agencies involved in the hajj management to include Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Health; service providers such as Nigeria Airport Authority, Cargo handling companies, tour operators and other service providers.

He explained further: “Lopsided Muslim presence in the media, notwithstanding, professional ethics of Journalism make fairness, balance and objective reportage of events and issues mandatory and inviolable. Facts in journalism are sacred while comment is free. Truth is supposed to be the fountain of journalism but perception based on political, ethnic and religious primordialism has brought in slanted and bias reportage to the centre of journalism practice.

“Balancing is thrown to the wind when issues concerning hajj is reported. Half-truth are deposed and ventilated by the media as long as somebody can be credited with making the statement. Most often when reports about hajj are filed by field journalists, no responsible effort is made to check, cross check and double check the facts before filing the report for publication. The right of reply on such issues is most often than not violated with impunity,” he said.

Tella also decried the situations whereby reports by reporters deployed to cover hajj were ignored for homegrown report citing an example of a report in some media that Nigerian pilgrims were stranded in Saudi Arabia less than two weeks after the completion of hajj in 1998 when he was on hajj.

Tella said: “The fact is that the out bound flight to Saudi Arabia took 23 days. Why should the media expect the completion of in-bound flight within two weeks? I am still waiting to read the editorials that will celebrate the National Hajj for seamless and hitch free Hajj since 2007. I am yet to read editorial celebrating Nigeria Hajj managers for rebranding Nigeria’s image in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The improvement in accommodation and transportation of Nigerian pilgrims, the luggage management and movement of Nigerian pilgrims to the main departure terminal at Jeddah and Madinah Airports are yet to be acknowledged by the media.

Journalists covering Hajj annually, he declared, “have not done enough, many file their reports and go to sleep after Hajj only to resurface at the commencement or during the buildup for the next Hajj. This is a weak approach to meeting media responsibility to inform, educate and positively prepare the new pilgrims for the challenge of Hajj and sensitize Hajj managers on areas requiring improvement. The media apart from covering Hajj rites should devote more airtime and editorial space in the print media on Hajj education.

“Pilgrims need to be assisted to go through Hajj rites and for Hajj rites to have positive impact on them so that they will all return from Hajj to begin a new life that will benefit the community and the nation at large. There are a lot of changes and review of the rules governing the performance of Hajj rites, changes to the mode of transportation and accommodation of pilgrims to make pilgrimage less stressful and more engaging for spiritual benefits.

“The media outreach on Hajj is grossly in adequate. The absence of Muslims in the media and inadequate understanding of the role of the media in the society has greatly affected public perception of Hajj and the content of Hajj operations. This has led to poor understanding of the phenomenon called Hajj. The missionary history of the Nigerian media and none effective participation of Muslims in the media has aided the misperception of hajj and Islam in general.

“The Muslims should not expect balance reportage from the Nigerian media because of the preponderance of Christians in the media. It is natural for Christian journalists, though unprofessional, to favor their religion in media reportage.

“The National Hajj Commission since its inception in 2007 has reformed Hajj Operation and Management in several commendable ways. Hajj airlifts are completed days ahead of the closure of Saudi airspace to pilgrims from all over the world. Most of the time, all Nigerian pilgrims arrive KSA for Hajj before the public realize that the outbound journey had been concluded. The filthy and dirty environment of Nigerian accommodation in Makkah, Muna, Arafa and Madinah has been consigned to the dustbin of history. The commission now generates 100 per cent of its onshore administrative expenditure and 80 of its offshore administrative expenditure. This should ordinarily be celebrated by the media. All these and many more were stated at the 10th anniversary celebration of NAHCON. Unfortunately, it received little media attention,”

Tella however urged wealthy Muslims to invest in the media, saying complaints about bias and miss reportage should stop and positive and effective action should be taken to improve Muslim presence in the media by investing and promoting media scholarship. He emphasized that Muslim students should be encouraged to study journalism and media related studies.

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Liad Tella
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