By: Nabila Pathan
British Muslim TV, a new channel aimed at British Muslims will be launching in the UK this June. Its arrival joins an already growing number of specialized, niche channels for religious and ethnic minorities in recent years. But unlike most of these channels, the program content of British Muslim TV has been exclusively funded and made in the UK.
Soon to air on the British Sky digital platform, filming has already been underway to create content that reflects the different voices of the Muslim community in the UK and to embody the tag line “Confidently Muslim, Comfortably British”. The channel has already generated interest through a social media campaign on both Facebook and Twitter.
British Muslim TV was conceptualized towards the end of last year and has been undergoing planning since the start of 2014, having quickly established substantial “pre-sold advertising” to make the concept into a reality, according to Wasim Akhtar, Director of Marketing and Communications. Other members of the senior leadership team include Aamer Naeem, the Editor in Chief, Arshad Ashraf, Director and Danny Lacey, Creative Director of the channel.
Channels for Muslim communities in the UK are not new and have been broadcasting in the UK since 2004. Islam Channel is one of this country’s most prominent and popular free-to-air, English language Muslim satellite channels. Other channels like Noor TV, Peace TV and Iqra TV have a South Asian focus, with some of the content broadcast in Urdu or Bangladeshi. More recently, Shia focused channels have also emerged like Hidayet TV and Ahlebait TV.
Overemphasis on fundraising
Whilst Islam Channel is watched by approximately 60 per cent of Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims, it has regularly faced criticisms, especially amongst British Muslims, for the lack of quality programming and an overemphasis on fundraising programs.
Speaking to Al Arabiya news, Wasim Akhtar, explained that British Muslim TV aims to be different from the other Muslim based channels in the UK by being: “inclusive of all different views and open to all different types of Muslims. So the channel isn’t just about issues of faith, it’s about practical Muslim life here in Britain.”
“We’re really passionate about bringing content that’s relative to the generations of today, so we made sure that our programming isn’t solely made up from presenters or content from overseas. As a result, we feel we will provide both Muslim and non-Muslim communities with news, views and insights into how British Muslims live today.”
Fastest growing religious group
According to the census data from 2011, Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in the UK and half of this population is under the age of 30. Marketing experts have been keen to promote the importance of exploring the needs and motivations of the Muslim market which is increasingly being viewed as important and influential. However, concerns over what it means to be British, propelled by the recent popularity of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) during the recent local and European elections have meant that the political and media landscape has been increasingly focusing its attention on British Muslim identity and its associated cultural and religious practices.
With an increasing spotlight on British Muslims and Islam, Abdul-Rehman Malik, who is programs director at Radical Middle Way believes: “In some ways British Muslim TV couldn’t come at a better time. The handwringing over what it means to be “British” and the growing unease about Britain’s place in Europe and the World, stands in sharp contrast to the reality of most British Muslims who are comfortably cosmopolitan, multilingual, multicultural and at home in Britain and the world.
Diverse, complex and messy
“British Muslim communities are diverse, complex and messy. We deserve quality media – television, print, radio, online – that is similarly diverse. We have plenty of amateurs in the media-sphere, but quality is lacking. To really be a game changer, BMTV has to present quality programming with strong editorial direction and vision. It has to be willing to take risks. It can’t be all things to all people, but it can present programming that speak to the diverse communities it claims to service.”
With the channel launching later this month, British Muslim TV has a line-up of programs that include entertainment and educational formats such as “Teenie Vision” for younger audiences, lifestyle shows like “Halal Kitchen” and political/current affairs based programs. Lauren Booth, a British journalist and sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, will be hosting her own show called “Talking Booth,” a one-to-one interview show featuring high profile guests.