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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
A Muslim 'digital ghetto'?
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

Concern has been raised over a so-called a "digital ghetto" in the UK, with many Muslims preferring to watch Asian TV channels via satellite - rather than mainstream British ones - and so not becoming attuned to British ideas. But how much truth is there in that?

satellite dish
UK Muslims are accessing Asian TV channels via satellite

Navid Akhtar is a TV documentary maker. After the 7 July bombings, he made a film for Channel 4 called "Young, Angry and Muslim" trying to explain - as he put it - "What it is about my community that has put us at the centre of terrorism?".

British, Pakistani-Kashmiri and Muslim, he lives in Walthamstow, a few streets from the homes raided last week by police.

He was given a tape recorder by Radio 4's Broadcasting House, and this was one of his observations outside a local mosque: "It's interesting to see the large media presence here because there is definitely now a digital ghetto.

"People just don't watch CNN, they definitely don't watch mainstream TV, they don't watch the BBC, because for very little money you can get Pakistani TV and people have just tuned out.

"That includes members of my own family. Often when I make programmes and talk to people, they didn't watch them because they were too busy watching something on, say, the Islam Channel. People just aren't attuned to British ideas and that's something that has concerned me enormously."

But is he right?

There are now almost 40 Asian TV channels available on the Sky satellite, ranging from entertainment channels such as Zee Music and B4U Movies to Star News, Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV.

Others can be picked up on different satellite systems on sale in areas such as Southall and Walthamstow. Some, like Zee Music, are free-to-air, others require a subscription.

When they're (mainstream media) trying to cover a particular community or issue they're doing it from an outsider's perspective
Sunny Hundal, editor

A few - including the Islam Channel - broadcast in English, but most are in other languages.

Sunny Hundal, editor of the online magazine Asians in Media, says digital TV and radio are more popular among ethnic minorities than the population as a whole - particularly among first and second generation Asians.

"Asian soaps are huge in the UK. Even Asian yoga is huge in the UK - this guy has come over from India who's a yoga teacher and there's a whole phenomenon of Asian housewives up and down the country doing yoga in front of their TV at 7 o'clock every day."

But surveys also show that younger Asians are increasingly watching, reading and listening to the mainstream UK media, not least because most have grown up with English as their first language.

A company called Ethnic Focus regularly surveys ethnic minorities and advises public bodies - including the police - about how to communicate with particular communities.

Generational differences

Saber Khan, its research director, says that while digital TV is popular among Asians there are clear differences between the generations.

"Forty per cent of Asians are under 25 and that basically means you are talking about second and third generation people. According to our regular surveys, they are overwhelmingly consumers of mainstream news - mainstream newspapers and TV."

This view is supported by Dr Yunas Samad, a senior lecturer in sociology at Bradford University, who has also studied the relationship between British Pakistanis and the media.

But he says the fact that younger Muslims now watch the mainstream channels doesn't stop them getting radical ideas.

"One of the things we kept trying to ask was 'Where did you get these kinds of views that actually mobilised you?' and they came back and said 'We just watch the TV, we just watch mainstream media'.

"What seems to be coming out is that people actually select those kinds of stories and images which resonate with their thinking and exclude those they don't agree with."

Yet we must be very wary of over-generalisation, particularly over TV viewing habits, which can divide the nation at the best of times.

Sunny Hundal says many young Muslims now prefer the web and the Asian digital channels to the mainstream media, and with good reason.

"It's a real struggle for the mainstream national media to compete because they obviously cannot reflect every single community in detail.

"This is the real problem, that when they're trying to cover a particular community or issue they're doing it from an outsider's perspective, whereas these people are British Asians, they are part of this country - they want to be part of this country."

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