Exploring Representations of Muslims and Islam on Public Broadcast Television and Social Media in South Africa
Keywords:media, Islam, public broadcast television, digital media, social media, Instagram
Scholars from a variety of disciplines and contexts have thoroughly affirmed the systemic character of negative portrayals and limited representations of Muslims and Islam in film, television, and news media. The corpus of research on media representations of Islam and Muslims has been defined and dominated by the Global North. Scholars working in this field of inquiry acknowledge, affirm, and address the deeply discriminatory, damaging, and dangerous consequences that stereotypical, limited, inaccurate, and homogenising mediatised tropes have for the lived realities of Muslims on a global level. However, by taking on this important and urgent work, scholars have unwittingly contributed to the development of an ever-expanding oeuvre wherein the majority of scholarship on media representations of Muslims and Islam is directed towards issues of ostracism and alienation. On the contrary, the growing study of religion in digital spaces offers insight into more nuanced and diverse (self) representations and portrayals of Muslims and Islam. While digital religion studies, an outgrowth of the discipline of internet studies, is already an established and recognised sub-discipline in the field of religious studies in the Global North, the study of religion in digital spaces in Africa is a bourgeoning field of interest located within the wider tradition of religion and media scholarship. Scholars of religion in Africa have noted that while other contexts may favour an evolutionary approach to the study of religion and media generally, in African contexts media technologies and practices generally coexist. Exploratory and reflective in its orientation, this article offers a careful consideration of the historical, social, media, and political context in which Muslims in South Africa, a multi-religious, multi-racial, majority Black democratic context, are located and offers two examples that highlight how media forms and practices coexist within the location. The first set of examples, from public broadcast television, responds to the predominance of scholarship from the Global North and offers an alternative view that illustrates the ways in which the national imperatives that mandate religious diversity on public broadcast television intentionally circulate positive narratives of Muslims and Islam, yet also obscure the challenges that South African Muslims face, thereby reproducing a different kind of limited trope to that which might be encountered in the Global North. The second set of examples explores the possibilities and opportunities that social media provides for encountering and engaging more diverse, self-constructed representations of Muslims and Islam in hopes of encouraging more local scholars to take seriously the opportunities and possibilities that social media provides as sites and sources of knowledge about religion in general and Islam in particular.
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