What is a Muslim media outlet supposed to provide?

A recent social media scrolling session led me to a post by Twitter user @x__mariah: “I still think about how BET really still missed the bag with creating actual meaningful content such as black cooking, home improvement, crafting shows and not just black people embarrassing themselves or baby boy being played everyday.”

If you don’t know, BET is the Black Entertainment Television network. It has been around since 1983 and, no, it has not always done the best job of providing meaningful content. (Sidenote: As a longtime BET watcher, I’ve somehow never seen Baby Boy.) A typical day on BET used to consist mostly of music videos, but now it heavily involves sitcom re-runs, vapid reality shows, and lots of Tyler Perry.

In that sense, BET isn’t very different from a lot of TV networks. Look at Bravo, TLC, VH1, USA, and others. The difference is that BET not only caters to a Black audience, but also it’s the most popular network that caters to a Black audience. BET could be considered the face of Black television as the community’s most visible media representation.

And so @x__mariah brings up a valid question: Does BET have a duty to provide meaningful content? Should it provide more than just breezy entertainment?

Bravo could morph into 24 continuous hours of Real Housewives spin-offs, but Bravo is just one of countless networks that is catering to or representative of a more mainstream population. BET is in a different boat. As the most prominent network of its kind on basic cable, should BET be responsible for producing content that isn’t simply entertaining, but is also educational and enriching?

If your answers are yes, yes, and yes, then such a request doesn’t have to be too daunting. I don’t think anyone reasonably expects BET to be bogged down for 18 hours a day with intense documentaries about the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. The network doesn’t have to mimic the Hollywood film industry and go into the business of peddling Black trauma with a deluge of slavery movies. But would it hurt to, between the Madea sequels and Martin episodes, throw in a CNBC-style financial advice show? To drop in an HGTV-style show about restoring homes in historic Black neighborhoods? To include some A&E-style biographies that don’t just highlight people who got famous through crime or entertainment?

Maybe that is too much to ask. Maybe your answers to the earlier questions were no, no, and no. That’s fair. Many would argue that TV networks, even if they are aimed at a minority or niche audience, don’t have any responsibility beyond providing entertainment. There’s a whole internet out there for anyone who wants educational, enriching, and more meaningful content, and everyone knows how to use it.

One valid argument against the “meaningful content” idea is that going down that road could turn a lot of people away from watching the network. A lot of people prefer the breezy entertainment; they want TV to be an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life. And if a network like BET starts losing too many viewers because it’s trying to get too serious, the network could go under — and then the Black community would have lost its biggest TV representative altogether.

I can see both sides of the argument. And in doing so, debating BET’s responsibility (if any) to the Black community made me think about this site and its purpose.

Soccer teams from Morocco and Azerbaijan compete in the Islamic Solidarity Games

As its name suggests, Muslim Sports Talk — formerly Ummah Sports — caters to and is ideally representative of a minority audience; one you could call a niche audience.

From the time I launched this site, the goals were: to focus on Muslim athletes and figures in the sports world; to highlight issues in sports that might be of interest to a Muslim audience; to examine certain issues in sports through an Islamic lens; and to perhaps reach non-Muslims through a universal medium (sports) to which people of all backgrounds and beliefs can relate.

As it says in the header, I want this site to be an intersection of sports and Islam. In navigating that intersection, is there a duty to provide meaningful content that goes beyond simply entertaining an audience, but also educates and enriches an audience?

Sports is an entertainment industry, and not just at the professional level. That is why elite athletes can make millions of dollars and obscenely out-earn people who hold more important positions in society, such as teachers and doctors and social workers. People are willing to pay a lot of money to be entertained, and sports is one of our favorite forms of entertainment. And the athletes who make sports so entertaining deserve to be compensated fairly based on how much money their industry generates.

Sports media, then, is by nature another form of entertainment. Sports media has made some people just as rich and famous as the athletes they cover. Many sports media personalities have become bona fide entertainers themselves — to the point where there’s a vocal segment of the population inside and outside the industry who dislike what the industry has become. Many sports media outlets have been accused of focusing too much on being entertaining rather than being educational and enriching. Many sports media outlets have been accused of focusing too much on capturing the attention of “casual” fans with cheap tricks and tactics; of focusing too much on the sizzle and not enough on the steak.

Again, though, I can see both arguments. Sports media has the capability and opportunity to be more thoughtful and provide more meaningful content, but at the same time, each outlet has to make business decisions to ensure their survival and build/maintain a strong following in a highly competitive field.

Running a sports media outlet (albeit a small one) that is made for and about a minority segment of the population, I do feel there’s a duty to make meaningful content. I feel there’s also room for breezy entertainment and light-hearted (perhaps even mindless) content.

I’ve had many stops and starts over the years with this site. Some due to life changes (when I launched this site I had no kids; now I have three), professional obligations (some jobs are busier and more mentally taxing than others), and ups and downs in religious commitment (I’ve found that the stronger my deen, the more effort I put into this site). Recently I rededicated myself to being more consistent with producing content, along with a rebranding/name change.

I’ve also crafted a slightly different vision for Muslim Sports Talk. In the past, I didn’t leave much if any room for general sports discussion. I wanted everything to be very specifically focused on Muslims and issues within Islam, which often left me without a platform to write about things I really wanted to write about, and left me lacking for those Muslim-specific sports stories to populate this site. Moving forward, expect some more general sports content that may include tie-ins to Islam but may not always be exclusively about Muslims or Islam.

The goal is that finding that balance between meaningful content and purely entertaining content can draw more readers to the site, thus more effectively achieving the original goals for the site. Still serving as that intersection between sports and Islam, but providing an overall better experience for both writer and reader.

Categories: OPINION

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