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Launching an English daily that specialises in covering Muslim affairs is an idea many have broached, even attempted. But it has remained illusory so far. While many attempts didn’t go beyond the drawing board, the few that made it to a print-run didn’t survive more than a few months, accentuating the challenges to launching a community-specific daily for India’s Muslims. However, this hasn’t deterred a group of Andhra Pradesh Muslims from reviving the idea with a new daily called Deccan Age, which they promise to launch on January 1, 2014.
While there are many Muslim-specific dailies in Indian languages like Urdu and Malayalam, it’s the lure of having one in English—the language of many decision-makers—that has proved elusive. There are English journals for Muslims, like the Radiance Viewsweekly, the fortnightly Milli Gazette and the monthly Islamic Voice. But there’s no daily. Hoping to break this jinx, the Hyderabad-based Deccan Age was registered in September 2010.
Professionals will be hired to run the newspaper. But the management will completely remain with Muslims.
Explaining why they decided to take the risk, Sheikh Abdur Rahman, a freelance journalist who is promoting Deccan Age, says there is no Muslim mouthpiece even now to express the community’s concerns. “We hope to be the professionals who will voice the problems of Muslims and other backward sections to the government and to the people,” he says. While the paper will have non-Muslim employees and cover issues related to other marginalised groups, what is controversial is that the management will be completely Muslim. “We want our control, otherwise it is going to be just like any other paper,” he adds.
If all goes according to plan, the paper promises to be a major player nationally with 15 editions, correspondents in neighbouring countries and a targeted circulation of 20 lakh copies (which is comparable to some of the major English dailies). Asked where the money will come from, all Rahman is willing to disclose is that he is backed by some “nris”. He also refutes all accusations that his paper will have a communal tinge. “I think we should see it more as a voice of a community that is isolated, neglected and marginalised. Muslims too are paying their taxes but not getting their share,” he says.
However, having some knowledge about the people promoting Deccan Age, Zafar-Islam Khan, editor of the Delhi-based Milli Gazette, says he is sceptical about the paper’s success. “I don’t think they have the necessary skills or professionalism to deliver a good product. Any reader, Muslim or non-Muslim, would want to have a readable paper in their hands.” Even if Deccan Age proves him wrong, they will have to work out its finances. For, The Milli Gazette, widely read and now in print for 13 years, too is floundering on this count. “I may soon be shutting it down completely,” Khan adds. “We are producing a good paper and have many admirers but liking us alone is not sufficient.” With few ads and a limited circulation, the fortnightly has even failed to attract Muslim financers. “While there are not many big Muslim corporate groups, even the few that exist do not support us for they are afraid they will be labelled communal,” Khan says.
Meanwhile, a lot of what Rahman and his backers intend to do is already being done by websites that specialise in covering Muslim-related news, such as Two Circles, Ummeed and Indian Muslim Observer, and that too at far lower costs. Is it the wrong time then to come up with the idea of a separate “Muslim English newspaper”? Despite his own journal’s impending closure, Khan still argues otherwise. “It is needed, but it has to be done by professionals who have the necessary expertise to make it a success.” Wise counsel for the promoters of Deccan Age?