Islam, Identity and Professional Values

(June 2013) Islam is a religion, but it is also a philosophy. An analysis of surveys in the Arab world, Indonesia and Pakistan reveals that the mission and values of journalists in those Muslim-majority regions closely track Islamic obligations to tell the truth, seek justice and work toward the public interest. This article provides empirical data to bolster the argument that the values of Islam are the prism through which journalists in Muslim majority countries approach their profession. Those findings add to the body of research supporting the theory that journalistic norms are contextual, shaped by a hierarchy of influences that include global standards and local values such as culture, political climate and religion. But the findings also indicate that in regions where a professional journalistic culture is in the process of emerging, the influence of personal versus professional values is in reverse proportion to those found in more mature journalistic markets.


journalism, Islam, values, identity, religion, Pakistan, Arab, Indonesia.



Pakistan’s Urdu language newspaper Nawa-e-Waqt carries on its editorial page a quote from the Prophet Muhammad that epitomizes its original raison d’être: ‘The best form of jihad is to say a word of truth in the face of an oppressive ruler.’

The term jihad is inextricably linked in Western minds with the radical Islamist terrorism that has dominated newspaper front pages for several decades. But violent jihad is just one manifestation of the ‘struggle’ or ‘exertion’ that is the true essence of the term (Mohammad, 385). As Bonner observed, ‘Jihad, for the historian, is thus not only about clashes between religions, civilizations, and states but also about clashes among groups within Islamic societies’ (Bonner, 2006: 4). Those clashes can take many forms.

Scholars of Islam outline four ways through which a Muslim may carry out jihad: By heart, by tongue, by the mind and by the sword (Mohammad, 389). As Qur’anic scholar Yusuf Ali has noted: ‘Mere brutal fighting is opposed to the whole spirit of Jihad, while the sincere scholar's pen or preacher's voice or wealthy man's contribution may be the most valuable form of Jihad’ (Ali, 2005: Note 1270).

Based on an analysis of surveys involving 1,596 journalists in the Arab world, Pakistan and Indonesia (Pintak and Ginges, 2008, Pintak and Setiyono, 2011, Pintak and Nazir, 2013), this article will argue that while a variety of political, economic and social factors shape the unique worldviews of reporters and editors in three of the largest regions of the Muslim world, a common thread that binds them is the degree to which – consciously or not – Islamic values shape their approach to the mission of journalism as they struggle to: 1) report the truth in societies where information has long been suppressed; 2) achieve social justice and political rights; and, 3) balance international professional standards with the values of their religion and culture.

This is not to suggest that Muslim journalists in those regions, or in general, are on a religious crusade with journalism serving as their ideological sword. Rather, just as US newsrooms are pervaded by a ‘belief in the morality and righteousness of journalism’ and ‘an almost sacred commitment’ to the watchdog functions of the press (Brennan, 2000), journalists in the three major Muslim-majority regions studied likewise see themselves as engaged in a cause, but theirs also involves balancing the Western journalistic aspiration to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’ (Astor, 2006) with a more culturally-sensitive desire to report ‘truth with restraint’ (Rao and Lee, 2005).

Inherent in that dichotomy, I argue, is the fact that among these Muslim journalists, whether or not the journalists themselves are consciously aware of it, professional aspirations closely track a parallel set of obligations intrinsic to Islam. This argument builds on the qualitative work of Steele, who found that journalists in Indonesia and Malaysia ‘express the universal values of journalism, but do so within an Islamic idiom and, more generally, see and understand the significance of their work through the prism of Islam’ (Steele, 2011: 534).

The survey results support her conclusion that that justice (‘adl) is ‘the overarching ideology of journalism in Islam’ (Steele, 2011: 533) and that other journalistic values mirrored in Islam include the quest for truth (haqq), independence (nasihah), and balance (l’tidal). These findings expand those values to include the promotion of good and the prevention of evil (hisbah), and working for the public interest (maslahah), and indicate that the Islamic value of moderation (wasatiyyah) plays an important role in governing how journalists in Muslim societies approach their reporting.

The influence of these Islamic values can be detected even among journalists who do not consider themselves overtly religious. Islam is a religion, but it is also a philosophy, described by Islamic revivalist Maulana Maududi (1903-1979) as a ‘revolutionary concept and ideology which seeks to change and revolutionize the world social order and reshape it according to its own concept and ideals’ (Esposito, 2002: 55). On a cultural level, Islam is syncretic, absorbing the cultural mores of the milieu into which it has been introduced, whether the cultural conservatism of the Arabian Peninsula, the ethno-political complexities of Pakistan or the consensus culture of the Indonesian archipelago.

Using Shoemaker and Reese’s (1996) notion of a hierarchy of influences affecting the news, this study will examine the relationship between tenets of Islamic faith, the political, economic, and historical contexts of Islamic-majority regions, and journalist’ conceptions of professional values.

In contrast to the erroneous headline a New York Times editor appended to an article about the Pakistan survey results, “Inside the (Muslim) Journalist’s Mind,” (Pintak and Nazir, 2011) the results will demonstrate that there is no such thing as a ‘Muslim’ journalist any more than there is a single worldview uniting all Christian, Jewish or Buddhist journalists, but that while a variety of regional influences create significant variations among them, Islamic values form an underpinning that affects how journalists perceive their role in each of these societies surveyed.

The Chimera of Universal Values

Journalism has been defined as a set of ‘cultural practices’ (Breen, 1998) built on the conviction that ‘[j]ournalism’s first obligation is to the truth’ (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2003: 37). Some scholars have argued that these shared values can be found in newsrooms around the world, proposing a ‘universal’ code of ethics (Herrscher, 2002, Callahan, 2003) as a ‘bulwark’ against other influences (Ward, 2005: 5).

However, a growing body of research argues that such a borderless journalistic worldview remains elusive. A plethora of studies of journalists from Europe to Southeast Asia have identified a rich tapestry of perspectives shaped by culture, religion, politics, ethnicity, economic pressures and a host of other factors (Steyn and De Beer, 2004, Gross, 2002, Jakubowski, 1991, Kaposi and Vajda, 2002, Hanitzsch, 2005, Hallin, 2005, McMane, 1993, van Dalen et al., 2011).

Journalists in many countries may aspire to certain values, such as objectivity, but their ability or willingness to actually abide by them is determined by the practicalities of their unique socio-political situation. Examples are the persistent ‘gap between perceived importance and actual practice for most functions’ found in Bangladesh (Ramaprasad and Rahman, 2006: 148), the way that ‘both objective and subjective factors influence pro¬fessional freedom’ among Chilean journalists (Mellado and Humanes, 2012: 15), or journalism in Pakistan, which is ‘context-dependent’ with the ‘universal’ values of journalism shaped by factors ‘that are historically, culturally, and socially situated’ (Dickinson and Memon 13-14).

Religion and culture mean that many journalists, particularly in the developing world, modify Western ideal-types to fit their own values. While journalists may, in some but not all cases, share certain objectives (Hanitzsch et al., 2010), or aspire to a ‘global ideology of journalism,’ they each interpret its values and mores through their own cultural prism, creating a ‘liquid modern state of affairs’ (Deuze, 2005: 445). Southeast Asia’s ‘development journalism’ model, in which journalists don a ‘steering mantle’ to guide societal development (Yin and Payne, 2004: 387-388) has spawned a variety of theoretical children, each adopting and translating the broad themes of responsibility and social justice to fit their own specific cultures and political systems, such as the Singapore model in which the media is a partner of government in building the nation and instilling ‘Asian’ or Confucian values, and Indonesia’s ‘Pancasila’ press, dedicated to upholding the unity of the nation’s far-flung archipelago (Romano, 2003).

In his benchmark study of international journalists, Weaver found ‘[t]here are strong national differences that override any universal professional norms or values of journalism around the world’ (Weaver, 2004: 145-146). Paraphrasing a leading Indonesian editor, Steele concluded that ‘just as Islam was understood and accepted in a local idiom in Southeast Asia, so too are the values of journalism’ (Steele, 2011: 545). Ultimately, journalistic conduct is closely tied to the ‘culture of a nation, its economic stage of development, its political regime.’ (Bertrand, 2003: 44).

None of this should be a surprise; in the 1950s, the fundamental framework through which Western scholars view the media, The Four Theories of the Press, concluded, ‘The press always takes on the form and coloration of the social and political structures within which it operates’ (Siebert et al., 1956: 1-2). After interviewing journalists in Asia and the Middle East, Rao and Lee concluded that,

‘the epistemology and practice of journalism ethics needs to be understood as an incendiary mix of technology, culture, and morality [that] … resists exclusive and linear western notions of ideology and identity politics’ (Rao and Lee, 2005: 168).

Theoretical Framework

The growing body of literature examining journalistic values and mores outside the borders of the US and Western Europe has led to an evolving set of theories that move beyond the ‘arrogant and ethnocentric’ efforts by some US communications scholars to force-feed American ethics on other journalistic cultures (Merrill, 2002: 18).

A foundation for several of these theories is Shoemaker and Reese’s ‘hierarchy of influences’ model, which posits that mass media content – and the journalists who produce it – are shaped by a multitude of internal and external forces (Shoemaker and Reese, 1996). The theory provides a framework for examining journalism on the international stage (Donsbach and Klett, 1993, McQuail, 2005) and led to proposals for a ‘universal theory’ of journalism culture, which attempted to explain why various journalistic values ‘seem to play out differently around the globe’ (Hanitzsch, 2007, Hanitzsch et al., 2010) and the concept of ‘glocalization’ – a ‘global-to-local’ theoretical matrix that its authors say explains the ‘two-way relationship between global and local epistemologies and practices’ (Wasserman and Rao, 2008: 164).

These approaches take into account ‘country contexts’ (Reese, 2001: 185) and ‘contextual objectivity,’ in which ‘the media reflect all sides of any particular story but still retain the values, beliefs, and sentiments of their target audience’ (El-Nawawy and Iskandar, 2002: 1-2), often seeking to balance ‘truth with restraint’ as journalists seek to report ‘responsibly’ in the context of local political and cultural realities (Rao and Lee, 2005: 21).

The Islamic Approach to News

Any study of journalism in Muslim majority countries must acknowledge the role of information (i’lam) and news (khabar) in Islam. As scholar Ali Mohamed noted, ‘Islamic religious ethics have more of an influence on Muslim journalists around the world than the codes of ethics formulated by professional organizations’ (Mohamed, 2010: 144). Those who compiled the hadith, the collections of words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and other prophets recognized in Islam, are considered to have been the first reporters, and in establishing the truth (haqq) of the tales passed down through the ages, they were advised to consider the veracity of each Rasool (messenger) or Nabiy (news giver) (al-Seini, 1986: 288), providing a template for modern journalists in the effort to confirm the facts of news accounts (Hassan, 1994).

Truth and objectivity occupy pride of place in the Islamic approach to communication. Islamic information means ‘clearly expressing the truth (haqq) in a way that attracts people’ while objectivity is defined as ‘wisdom’ (hikma), known in Islam as the ‘divine principle’ (Glass, 2001: 226). Islamic theorist Abd al-Latif Hamza explains i’lam (information) as: “[p]roviding the people with proper news, correct pieces of information and firm truths, which help the people to form a correct opinion of an event or problem” (Glass, 2001: 223-224).

To its advocates, this “Islamic” approach to information, in its purest form, is primarily focused on the spread of religion, giving precedence to da’wa, the teachings of Islam, thus making the news industry a channel for the spread of religion, transforming journalists into ‘champions of justice and God’s witness’ and recognizing their ‘social responsibility role’ (Pasha, 1993: 73-74).

To its critics, this theory is both simplistic and Orientalist. The Islamic world is wide and varied, these scholars argue, and a reductionist approach that positions Islam as the driving force ignores the role of race, ethnicity, nationality and other factors in shaping the worldview of Muslim journalists (Khiabany). Likewise, in the modern world, Muslim journalists do not necessarily accept the idea that they are supposed to use their craft to proselytize.

Still, the advice that Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), the renowned philosopher and historian, provided to scribes six centuries ago could easily have come from a twenty-first century editor: avoid ‘partisanship’ and ‘bias,’ ‘over-confidence in one’s sources,’ and ‘failure to understand’ the information about which they write, ensure information is presented ‘in its real context,’ eschew ‘exaggeration’ and be on guard against the ‘very common desire to gain the favour of those of high rank’ (Khaldun, 1992: 27-29).

The Surveys

This study analyzes the results of three surveys involving a total of 1,596 journalists in 14 Arab countries (n=601), Indonesia (n=600) and Pakistan (n=395) carried out between 2006 and 2010 (Pintak and Ginges, 2008, Pintak and Setiyono, 2011, Pintak and Nazir, 2013). The same basic survey was administered in each region, with adaptations to account for international and domestic developments (e.g. the election of Barack Obama) and local variations. The original survey instrument was based in part on studies by Weaver et al (Weaver et al., 2007, Weaver and Wilhoit, 1986, Weaver and Wu, 1998), and was influenced by other surveys of journalists in emerging media markets (Ramaprasad, 2001, Ramaprasad and Kelly, 2003). Like the earlier surveys, it examined journalist demographics, working conditions and the perceived role of the journalist, but also included attitudes toward a range of international issues drawn from broader surveys of the regions involved (Inglehart, 2005, Newport, 2002). This study only examines a portion of the results.

The initial goal of the surveys was to create a portrait of journalists in the three regions, which represent 43 percent of the world’s Muslim population (2011), in order to better understand their sense of identity, to gauge the degree to which they ascribe to what some consider to be ‘universal’ values of journalism, to measure their attitudes toward a range of ‘domestic’ and international issues, and, generally, assess the influences that shape their journalistic worldview. Those findings are detailed in the individual articles on each survey.

The common thread between the three regions surveyed is that the population in each is overwhelmingly Muslim. But there are also major differences in each of the societies. Since the overthrow of President Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has been a vibrant democracy with a flourishing media sector. Pakistan has been in constant political turmoil for decades, as the military, politicians and judiciary vie for power, and it was only in 2002 that the government deregulated the media. When the survey in the Arab world was conducted in 2006-07, the so-called Arab Spring had not yet arrived. Most countries still labored under dictators or royal families and while the pan-Arab media had emerged as a vibrant force in the region, most domestic news organizations were tightly controlled.

There are also significant differences in the socio-economic characteristics of those societies. Indonesia is a vast archipelago made up of some 300 ethnic groups; when the survey was conducted in 2009, the internecine conflicts of the late 1990s and the Islamist terrorism of more recent years had largely been quashed, though there were still isolated acts of violence, and the economy was booming. Pakistan, when the survey was carried out in 2010, was a nation mired in violence and political instability, with a virtual civil war between the government and Islamist militants, conflict between various ethnic and religious groups, spill-over from the war in Afghanistan, and a vicious struggle for political power. The Arab countries surveyed represented an array of vastly different nations, from war-wracked failing states like Sudan and Yemen to the feudal economic powerhouses of the Gulf. Arabic may – at some level – be the shared language but the differences among those countries were as plentiful as their similarities.

The detailed analysis below will demonstrate that there are major differences among the journalists surveyed regarding issues of identity, worldview and the specifics of their perceived role. However, when examining the commonalities and differences among the three sets of results, it becomes clear that both the underlying sense of mission of journalists in all three regions and the way they carry out their functions reflect the societal goals and values of Islam.



How individuals see themselves shapes how they see the world. Thus understanding perceived identity is an important step toward understanding how journalists in any given region approach their profession. The elements that combine to determine identity are complex.

In the case of Pakistan, for example, its citizens’ ‘multiple identities can be categorized on the basis of religion and state … there is much interplay between and among the “cultural,” “homeland,” “Islamic state,” and “Islamic vanguard” identities’ (Cohen, 2004: 163).

When studying journalists, an added element is professional identification. The degree to which reporters and editors identify with their profession is one benchmark scholars use for measuring the maturity of the media sector in regions emerging from long periods of government control (Splichal and Sparks, 1994).

Journalists in the surveys were asked how they viewed themselves: Did they identify first with nation, religion, ethnicity, region or profession? As noted above, more than 90 percent of the journalists in all three surveys were Muslim. But when asked their primary identity (‘Above all, I am a…’), half the Arabs said they saw themselves first as a journalist while more than half the Pakistanis saw themselves as Muslims first. In Indonesia, the balance between religion and nationalism was roughly even, with 40 percent of respondents identifying first as an Indonesian, the same percentage declaring him/herself Muslim first, while only about 12 percent responding ‘journalist’ (Figure 1).

When journalistic identity was taken out of the equation and the groups were asked, ‘To which geographic group do you most belong?’ it became clear that the Pakistanis had the greatest sense of identification with nation, while for Arab journalists, identity transcended borders. Sixty percent of Pakistanis said they identified primarily with the Pakistani nation, 26 percent with the Muslim world and fewer than 10 percent identified with their tribal or ethnic region. In stark contrast, just 15 percent of Arabs identified first with the nation of their citizenship, more than 30 percent said they identified first with the Arab world, and a quarter said the Muslim world (Figure 2). The question was not asked on the Indonesian survey.




Truth (haqq)

There is no value more fundamental to Western-style journalism than truth. It is equally central to Islam. ‘Cover not Truth (haqq) with falsehood (baatil), nor conceal the Truth when you know (what it is),’ says the Qur’an (2:42).

Truth is an ideal to which journalists in the study aspired, but, like objectivity itself, it was seen as contextual. ‘Truth is the most important thing, but it depends on the media that you are working for,’ according to Al-Arabiya reporter Haitham Hussein. ‘If you are working with BBC, Al-Arabiya, or Al-Jazeera, the truth is not the same. Maybe you can share the same information, but not the same truth’ (Pintak, 2011: , 6). The comment reflects the fact that journalists in all three regions aspire to Western journalistic values of independence and freedom of expression, but they do this within the constructs of emerging ownership patterns, political pressures, the complexion of their audience, and their own religio-cultural values.

The Qur’an counsels Muslims to both verify and consider the implications of their work, ‘lest you harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance’ (49:6). This is where the Islamic ideas of moderation (wasatiyyah) and balance (l’tidal) meet Western-style journalistic values. The overwhelming majority of journalists in all three regions agreed that ‘a journalist must always be objective.’ But that aspiration was tempered by the fact that more than half also said ‘a journalist must balance the need to inform with the need to show respect’ toward those about whom s/he is writing (Figure 3). It is a conviction vividly illustrated in the controversy over the 2005 publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by a Dutch newspaper. Many Western journalists said publication was an issue of freedom of expression; many Muslim journalists saw it as a failure of the Western media to show respect to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. ‘From an Islamic viewpoint, freedom of speech is not an absolute right without limitations; rather it is modified by certain limits realized within the framework of the concept of justice’ (Mohamed, 2010: 154).


Less controversially, more than half the respondents said journalists should interpret events and just a handful argued that they should include their own opinion, though a quick survey of media in all three regions will find the reality far different.

The activism of the Arab media was clearly reflected in the fact that about 70 percent said it was acceptable for a journalist to take part in political activities and protests; significantly fewer Pakistani and Indonesian journalists agreed. Still there were apparent contradictions: While only about a quarter of Indonesian and Pakistani journalists said reporters should take part in political activities, about twice as many said journalists should be allowed to participate in protests, though the line between the two can be indistinct (Figure 4).


Independence (nasihah)

The Qur’anic concepts of nasihah (independence or sincere advice) and hisbah (promotion of good and prevention of evil) take for granted ‘the basic freedom of the individual’ to speak out, advise, and even criticize government leaders. They are based on a variety of Qur’anic affirmations of freedom of expression and the public interest (maslahah), which includes ‘ freedom to work, freedom of speech and freedom of travel’ (Kamali, 2011: 203-204, 32, 34).

The fight for free expression and media independence is an important theme among journalists in all three regions examined. Closely tied to that struggle is the quest for professionalism. Journalists in the Arab world, Pakistan and Indonesia face a variety of pressures: from governments, from business interests and from Islamist militants. These reporters and editors daily risk their freedom and their lives. It is thus striking that in all three regions they said the greatest threat to journalistic independence was their own lack of professionalism. All groups also cited poor ethics and corruption among journalists as major problems. These are significant statements about the aspirations they hold for their profession.

The other perceived threats to journalism were closely tied to the particular environment in each region, but ultimately they were all roadblocks to the ability of journalists to operate independently. For the Arabs, government control came in a close second to the lack of professionalism, but the next two threats also displayed their willingness to criticize themselves, with more than two-thirds of the respondents saying a lack of ethics and corruption among journalists were major threats to the industry. The Indonesians agreed, identifying the lack of ethics and journalistic corruption, along with media ownership patterns, as the greatest threats, while Pakistani journalists listed business pressures, media ownership patterns and threats of physical violence among their top four threats (Figure 5).


Yet the gap between professional aspiration and economic reality was seen in the responses to questions about specific journalistic practices involving money, with sizable percentages from all three groups – particularly the Pakistanis – seeing it as acceptable to receive travel money from news subjects and exchange advertising for favorable coverage (Figure 6). A clear explanation for those responses, and the self-criticism regarding the lack of professionalism, poor journalistic ethics and corruption among journalists, lies in the fact that in all three regions journalists are overwhelmingly young, with about 80 percent under age 40, have minimal formal professional training and are very poorly paid. Eighty-four percent of the Pakistani journalists and 77 percent of the Indonesians reported salaries below $500 a month, with about half earning less than $250. Only the Arabs reported better salaries, but even among them, only about one-third earned more than $1,000 a month.


On the issue of professionalism, it is also significant that Pakistani and Arab journalists gave high ratings to the professionalism of the US media (Pakistanis 76 percent/Arabs 62 percent), even though they rated the Americans much lower on fairness (43/20 percent) and gave them mixed reviews for independence (52/36 percent). The European media received much higher marks for fairness (47/47 percent) than the Americans and was also seen as highly professional (76/74 percent), while their view of European media independence was also mixed (55/58 percent) (Figure 7). Indonesian journalists were not asked this set of questions.


Overall, journalists in the three regions felt there had been significant improvements in media freedom. In Pakistan, which has seen the most recent loosening of media controls, journalists were particularly confident that their media is becoming more independent, with almost 90 percent saying the industry is freer (somewhat/completely agree) than in the past and about 84 percent saying they were personally freer to do their job. The Arabs were the least convinced; 74 percent said the media overall was freer and just 54 percent said they were personally more free as a journalist (Figure 8).


Justice (‘adl)

According to the Islamic jurist Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350), ‘Justice is the supreme goal and objective of Islam’ (Kamali, 2011: 31). It is closely tied to the related concepts of promotion of good (hisbah) and the public interest (maslahah). To many Muslim reporters and editors, justice – in the form of human and political rights – is also the supreme goal and objective of journalism.

Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), Pakistan’s most influential Islamic thinker, echoed the Prophet Muhammad when he spoke of the responsibility of journalists to use their profession to seek social and political justice. ‘To change the views and mind of the people through spoken word as well as written word is also a form of Jihad, and to bring down the old tyrannical social system and establish a new order based on justice and fairplay [sic] by dint of power too is ‘Jihad’’ (Maududi, 1939: 6). In her study of Indonesian and Malaysian journalists, Steele concluded that justice is ‘the overarching ideology of journalism in the majority Muslim countries of Southeast Asia’ (Steele, 2011: 537).

In regions dominated by oppressive and/or corrupt regimes, justice is closely tied to political and social reform – another way of saying promotion of good (hisbah) and the public interest (maslahah) – which is the top priority of journalists in all three regions surveyed.

Indeed, that quest for change is rooted deeply in the Islamic approach to information. From the primitive tools of the fourteenth century warraqueen or ‘men of the pen’ (Sardar, 1993: 48) to today’s satellite television and digital media, all have one thing in common, according to information scholar Dagmar Glass, ‘They are agents of social and intellectual change and have far-reaching effects on society and communication’ (Glass, 2001: 219).

This desire for social and political justice, so fundamental to Islamic society, manifests itself in different ways among the journalists surveyed, reflecting the other political and socio-economic influences at work in each region.

Arab Journalists: Change Agents – The truth of Glass’ observation about agents of social and intellectual change was readily evident in the Arab media’s seminal role in spreading the seeds of the Arab Spring. The Arab survey was completed four years before the media-fostered revolt, yet it was clear then that Arab journalists intended to play a critical part in reshaping the Middle East and North Africa.

Arab journalists are first and foremost change agents. Three-quarters of the Arab journalists surveyed said the primary mission of Arab journalism is to drive political change. The other roles most frequently cited in the responses were all fundamental to creating a just society: Educating the public, using news for the social good, serving as a voice for the poor, and encouraging civic engagement (Figure 9).


Almost 95 percent said Arab society must be changed, with one-third of those insisting that change must be radical. Roughly the same number of Pakistani journalists wanted something similar to happen in their own society (Figure 10). Given that Arab journalists have since played a key role in making that change a reality in some Arab countries, the Pakistani response is noteworthy in a nation currently facing internal political, military and social turmoil. The question was not asked in Indonesia.


Pakistani Journalists: Serving Society – While the perceived mission of Pakistani journalists is less overtly focused on change than that of their Arab colleagues, Pakistani journalists likewise see their role as working toward a just society.

More than 96 percent of respondents said the mission of Pakistani journalism is to ‘analyze complex issues,’ and no issue is more complex than the multifarious relationship between elements within the Pakistani political establishment, military and intelligence agencies, the forces of Islamist militancy and the US government. That confluence of pressures is directly responsible for the political, social and economic instability wracking Pakistani society.

More than 90 percent of respondents also included in their mission ‘investigate government claims,’ ‘defend Pakistani interests’ and ‘enhance national unity,’ all roles that ultimately foster a just society. Unlike its Arab counterpart, the Pakistani media’s relationship with the government is not primarily one of confrontation. The media certainly play a highly political role, frequently lining up behind specific political parties, but it is more in the context of the country’s complex democratic free-for-all than the confrontation with authoritarianism evident in the Arab world (Mufti, 2007).

Beyond day-to-day Pakistani politics, there is a strong echo of the ‘development journalism’ of Southeast Asia, in which media see themselves as partnering with government for the good of the nation. That is apparent in the other most commonly cited missions of Pakistani journalism: ‘Educate the public’ and ‘serve as a voice for the poor,’ as well as those in the next tier: ‘enhance national unity,’ ‘use news for the social good,’ ‘transform society,’ ‘support national/regional development’ and ‘foster Pakistani culture’ (Figure 11).


Indonesian Journalists: Justice through Consensus – More than a decade after the overthrow of Suharto, Indonesian journalists are dedicated to a twenty-first century variation of the ‘Pancasila journalism’ that prevailed in the New Order but has now been adapted to the new democratic environment. Under that old model, it was the duty of the journalist to work for the good of society, which usually equated with the good of the regime. The driving principles were the values of the Pancasila philosophy: Belief in one God; humanitarianism; the unity of Indonesia; consultative democracy; and social justice (Frederick and Worden, 1993).

In the tumult that has marked Indonesian politics since 1998, journalists have found their voice and mission. They no longer serve as a lapdog to the government, but the survey found they remain true to the broader notion of serving the nation as a whole. Today, they see themselves as pillars of a just society, evident in the fact that the top five tasks of a journalist most frequently cited included educating the public, using news for the social good, giving voice to the weak, supporting national and regional development, and analyzing complex issues (Figure 12).

Consensus-building rather than confrontation is a hallmark of Indonesian society. It should therefore not be surprising that Indonesian journalists see themselves as agents of evolution not revolution. After the most frequently-cited missions, the next five were largely in line with facilitating the evolution of a just society: support for political change (86%), encouraging civic engagement (86%), supporting religious values (86%), entertaining the public (83%) and transforming society (79%).


The priorities of the journalists in the three regions, and their underlying quest for social and political justice, were also evident in what they saw as the most important stories to cover. For Arabs, it was political reform, human rights, poverty, and education; for Pakistanis, education, terrorism, the economy and political reform; and for Indonesians, education, human rights, poverty and the environment. These variations reflect less a difference in worldview among the three groups of journalists than the societal context; the Arab world is dominated by autocrats, Pakistan is caught up in both the Afghan war and vicious internal violence, and Indonesia is focused on societal institution-building more than a decade after its own political revolution. At root of all these priorities is the idea behind Maududi’s exhortation ‘to bring down the old tyrannical social system and establish a new order based on justice and fairplay [sic].’


While Islamic values may underpin their journalism, when it comes to the role of Islam in society, the reporters and editors surveyed speak with many voices and their views are far from uniform. As would be expected, more than 90 percent of journalists in each of the regions reported that they were Muslim, but there were significant differences in their religiosity. When asked to self-identify as a ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ Muslim, almost 60 percent of Pakistanis, 50 percent of Indonesians and just 30 percent of Arabs identified themselves as ‘religious’ Muslims as opposed to ‘secular’ Muslims (Figure 13).

The secular orientation of Arab journalists and the far more religiously conservative view of the Indonesians were reflected in their attitudes toward the role of religion in society (Figure 14). Only 40 percent of Arab journalists agreed that belief in God is necessary for good moral values, just 25 percent said politicians who do not believe in God should be banned from office, 60 percent said governments should be allowed to pass laws that contradict sharia (religious) law, and almost 80 percent indicated clergy should not be allowed to influence how people vote. In contrast, about 90 percent of Indonesian journalists equated belief in God with good moral values and opposed allowing non-believers to hold office, and the vast majority were against laws that contradict sharia, though they also said clergy should not influence voting among their followers. Pakistani attitudes fell roughly mid-way between those of the Arabs and Indonesians on most questions, but like the Indonesians, only about one-quarter of Pakistani journalists agreed that secular laws contradicting sharia were acceptable.



The Indonesian journalists also exhibited a religiously conservative view on a range of domestic issues, with more than 60 percent supporting a series of fatwas from a leading Islamist organization supporting an anti-pornography law and favoring banning both the Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine and the Ahmadiyah, a sect considered heretical by some Muslims. About 40 percent of the Indonesian journalists also favored requiring women to wear head-scarfs and wanted sharia law enforced. However, it is important to note that does not mean Indonesian journalists are blindly supportive of all things religious: 84 percent of the Indonesians said they are against clergy influencing voting.

Indonesian journalists had the highest regard for the clergy, Arabs the lowest (Figure 15). More than 60 percent of Indonesians said religious leaders effectively meet the moral needs of the individual, 70 per cent said they help resolve family problems, almost 90 percent gave them high ratings for meeting spiritual needs and 60 percent for their counsel on social problems. In contrast, less than half of the Arab and Pakistani journalists agreed clergy adequately address: Moral needs (Arab 29 percent, Pakistanis 44 percent), family problems (38/46), spiritual needs (41/50), and social problems (20/49).



The survey results indicate that Islamic values play an important and unifying role within the hierarchy of influences that shape worldview among journalists in the Muslim world.

Islam is by no means the only factor that influences the way these reporters and editors approach their profession. Differences in identity, attitudes toward journalistic priorities, threats to the industry, role of the clergy, and sense of mission can be explained by an array of political, social and economic factors within the regions studied, such as the form of government and level of political stability, the presence or absence of conflict, and the state of the economy. The purpose of this paper is not to detail those differences or speculate how they might explain the varying responses, but rather to examine the role of shared Islamic values.

The survey results indicate that in the three largest Muslim-majority regions, Islamic values are the prism through which journalists view what are generally accepted in the West as ‘universal’ values of journalism. Most fundamentally, the shared goal of improving society, whether through radical change or gradual social reform, mirrors the Qur’anic quest for truth and justice; and the way these journalists approach their job is heavily influenced by a variety of other Islamic values, such as the need for balance, moderation and respect.

These findings, based on data from a wide and diverse geographic segment that contains more than 40 percent of the world’s Muslims, support Steele’s more limited study in Malaysia and Indonesia, which concluded that Muslim journalists in those two countries approach the values of journalism “within an Islamic idiom” and that “justice” is the overarching ideology of their journalism.

The findings also expand on Shoemaker and Reese’s hierarchy of influences theory. Where they concluded ‘communicators’ professional roles and ethics have more of an influence on content than do their personal attitudes, values and beliefs’ (1996, 98), this study indicates that in regions where a professional journalistic culture is in the process of emerging, that relationship may be reversed and that in Muslim-majority countries, religion serves as a unifying factor mitigating other influences.

On a broader level, the study highlights the similarities and differences between ‘Western-style’ journalism and journalism in these Muslim-majority countries. A study of Catholic and Evangelical journalists in the US, found that they used the ‘rhetoric of objectivity’ to maintain a ‘boundary between professional and religious worlds’ (Schmalzbauer, 1999: 2). The results of these three surveys strongly indicate that the boundary between the personal and the professional in the Muslim world is far more porous and that objectivity itself is contextual, shaped by religion, culture and a variety of other forces. While objectivity is a – or perhaps the – dominant influence on the worldview of journalists in societies with a mature media sector and personal belief systems play a secondary role, the reverse appears to be the case in Muslim nations where independent media is embryonic. The importance of understanding this perspective is embedded in scholar Ali Mohamed’s warning that the quest for a set of global media ethics ‘must adequately take into account the enduring religiosity of many non-Western populations’ rather than ‘simply enforce secularism upon religious peoples’ (Mohamed, 2010: 180).

There is, undoubtedly, an emerging culture of professionalism – and an aspiration for even greater professionalism – among the journalists studied; however, that culture is emphatically not ‘largely hostile’ to the inclusion of political judgments in news reporting, as Hallin found among US journalists, and the idea of ‘cynical detachment to engagement in the public sphere’ (Hallin, 1994: 6) is anathema to the majority of journalists surveyed.

These Arab, Pakistani and Indonesian journalists admire the professionalism of their Western counterparts, but they are shaping and adapting global journalistic ideal-types to fit their own unique local realities and beliefs, in a clear example of Wasserman and Rao’s global-to-local matrix.

The self-avowed secularists among these Muslim journalists may not be overtly seeking to implement the commands of the Qur’an, but as they struggle to reveal truth in societies where information has long been suppressed, to bring social and political justice to long-oppressed peoples, and to balance Western journalistic ideals with their own religious and cultural values, they are – consciously or not – demonstrating the Qur’anic maxim that, ‘The best form of jihad is to say a word of truth in the face of an oppressive ruler.’


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1.Details on the methodology of each survey can be found in the individual survey articles.

2. 9.5 percent of Arabs identified first with their nation of citizenship and another 9.5 identified as ‘Arab’ first.

3. The survey took place before the Arab Spring, but as of early summer 2012, Egyptian journalists were under renewed siege from the Supreme Military Council and, aside from Tunisia, little had changed elsewhere in the region.

4. Asking survey respondents a series of questions to measure religiosity, such as mosque attendance or frequency of prayer, is the preferred method of determining religiosity. However, when the survey instrument was initially tested among a small group of Arab journalists, there was a strong negative reaction to such questions. Therefore, participants were asked to self-declare their level of religiosity, which is an accepted practice in survey research.

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