A leader of a country that has the death penalty for "blasphemy," a leader who says he is a proud antisemite and a leader who threatens to invade foreign countries have united to push for a TV channel that will "fight Islamophobia." Pakistan's Imran Khan, Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad, and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan met to propose a "BBC type English language TV Channel" that will "highlight Muslim issues," Imran Khan said.
Khan tweeted that he met with his two counterparts on September 25 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The three decided to "jointly start an English language channel dedicated to confronting the challenges posed by Islamophobia and setting the record strait on our great religion." It's unclear when he says "our" great religion if he means including other Muslim groups, such as Shi'ites or Ahmadis, both of which are routinely the victims of attacks in Pakistan. Khan again tweeted about his meeting on September 30, claiming that this channel would be a "BBC type."
Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia all have problematic human rights records toward religious minorities.
However some have pointed out that the BBC has criticism, whereas it doesn't seem this channel will have critique or varying opinions, rather it will be more like Al-Jazeera, RT or TRT, channels that tend to push progressive ideas abroad while being more nationalist, far-Right or conservative at home.
The model that Mahathir in Malaysia has perfected is to support antisemitism as "free speech" abroad while claiming "Islamophobia" should be stopped. Turkey has invaded part of northern Syria, causing more than 100,000 mostly Kurdish Muslims to be displaced in Afrin, and yet intends to support a channel about "Muslim" issues. It is unclear if that will include positive depictions of minority groups in Turkey such as Kurds and Alevis.
One of the issues facing Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia is that all of them have problematic human rights records when it comes to minorities, including Islamic minorities. By measures of attacks on Muslims there are more violent attacks on members of the Shi'ite Muslim minority in Pakistan than on Muslims in Europe, which raises the question whether the proposed channel will highlight Islamophobia in Pakistan. For instance, Al-Jazeera noted in July 2018 that far-right religious extremists were on the rise in Pakistan. "Since 2017, a number of far-right religious parties have run credible campaigns in Pakistani by-elections."
The article goes on to note that one of these groups is a "Sunni hardline group which has been linked to sectarian violence that killed more than 2,300 people, most of them Shia Muslims, since 2007." The murder of 2,300 Muslims is a form of Islamophobia, but it is unclear if Pakistan's newly proposed religious channel will highlight those abuses.
How exactly will three countries with problematic human rights records, including the largest jailer of journalists in the world, a proud antisemite and a country where Muslims are persecuted by the far-right, succeed in creating a channel devoted to discussing issues affecting Muslims? How can countries that refuse to have freedom of the press at home run a channel abroad? They will likely take cues from the other state-run media operations, such as Iran's Press TV, that is in English solely to spread one message.
Seth Frantzman, a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum, is the author of After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East (2019), op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post, and founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.