A recurring topic on my blog is how fatwas are reported through newspapers and social media. Usually I explain or dissect fatwas circulating through English audiences. One of my recent analytical briefs for Tabah Foundation looked at it from a different angle: the confidence Sunni Muslims place in the validity of fatwas based on how they are communicated. I alluded to some of the findings and recommendations earlier on when discussing Mars One fatwa media distortions.
Reporters and newspapers with Muslim readership might want to take note, since Muslims have very little confidence in anything they write related to fatwas.
For this piece, I conducted a survey to measure the confidence Sunni Muslims place in the validity of fatwas communicated through a variety of communication scenarios. The scenarios included common communication channels (in person, TV, radio, newspaper, website or social media), with the sender being the source of the fatwa (the mufti) or a non-mufti intermediary reporting the fatwa (such as colleagues, reporters, or bloggers). I used these measures to rank confidence for the scenarios given in the survey.
Analysis of the rank of confidence that respondents have in the validity of fatwas produced the following order (from most confidence to least): the mufti communicating a fatwa in person; through an official website or social
media account; through TV; through radio; through a newspaper or a non-mufti intermediary reporting on a fatwa in person; a non-mufti reporting through TV; through radio; through a website or social media account not affiliated with the mufti; and, lastly, through a newspaper.
In general, the ranking agrees with common sense expectations that Muslims seeking fatwas are more confident when the source of the fatwas they receive is the mufti rather than a non-mufti intermediary reporting on the fatwa.
The ranking also agrees with common sense expectations that confidence is related to the cues a communication channel provides. But the ranking does not explain why official websites and social media rank second highest for fatwa producers and second lowest for fatwa reporters, nor why muftis communicating fatwas through newspapers engenders so little confidence in the validity of fatwas.
The incredible low-levels of confidence placed in fatwas disseminated by newspapers should be worrisome for Muslims hoping to obtain reliable religious information through newspapers, muftis trying to communicate fatwas through newspapers, and newspapers hoping to retain their Muslim readership.
In the brief I discuss some of the factors that might be behind the very low confidence placed in newspapers. In the end, I recommended that TV, radio, and newspapers use muftis or area specialists to increase confidence in the fatwas they communicate. I also recommended that newspapers focus more on fatwas that will be of practical benefit to their Muslim audience, especially if they wish to attract advertisement revenue from the growing Muslim consumer market.
You can read the full text of the brief here.