UNA poised to counter media challenges plaguing Muslims


Saudi Gazette

THE director general of the Union of News Agencies (UNA) has said the newly-rejuvenated media arm of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will better serve the interests of Muslims around the world by highlighting their just causes and countering the persistent misinformation campaign against them.

“The recent transformation of International Islamic News Agency (IINA) into UNA is a landmark achievement in the media activities of OIC, which groups 56 Muslim states,” said Issa Khaireh Robleh.

The fifth General Assembly of IINA, the media arm of OIC, approved the plan to rename the pan-Islamic news agency. IINA’s General Assembly and Executive Council met in Jeddah recently under Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Al-Awwad, who is also chairman of the Executive Council.

OIC Secretary-General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen and President of the Saudi Press Agency and Chairman of IINA General Assembly Abdullah Al-Hussein attended the sessions.

The council endorsed the appointment of Robleh, a Djiboutian, as the head of UNA for a four-year term. In an interview with Saudi Gazette, Robleh said UNA would play an effective role as an international media platform serving Muslim countries by strengthening their bonds of cooperation and solidarity.

IINA was established 45 years ago with the noble mission of bringing peoples of OIC member states closer through exchange of information and upholding their just causes.

“After its creation, IINA had to adapt to new demands time to time in order to meet contemporary challenges. After I assumed the position of IINA director general in June 2016, I launched a comprehensive evaluation to diagnose the current problems and reflect on a future vision to develop the news agency,” he said while explaining the steps taken to transform it into a dynamic media organization with the support of the OIC secretariat and member states.

“This vision was based on the key issue of changing IINA’s structure so that it becomes a federation of news agencies rather than a news agency that disseminates bulletins in Arabic, English and French alone. The union also entails the greater role of coordination and consultation with the news agencies of member states,” Robleh said.

“The vision was approved by IINA Executive Council. It was a plan to rejuvenate the agency with enhanced interaction between news agencies of member countries. As part of this vision, the agency would play a more elevated role as the umbrella body of the official news agencies of OIC member states in line with the founding statute of IINA, which identified converting the organization into a union of news agencies as one of its future goals.

Robleh thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, for the great support being extended to the OIC’s premier media organ. He highlighted the enhanced role of UNA in the digital world where Islam and Muslims are more vulnerable to challenges and threats.

“In the changed scenario, UNA’s focus will be on presenting the true image of Islam and countering the smear campaign against Islam in an effective and comprehensive manner,” he said while identifying terrorism and Islamophobia as the major challenges facing the Muslim Ummah.

“In this digital age, terrorism has always been wrongly linked to Islam. In fact, only a very few number of Muslims deviated into the path of terrorism and extremism, while Islam has nothing to do with them because it never allows inflicting harm on anyone,” Robleh said.

He noted that the history of Islam was replete with myriad examples of Muslims’ peaceful coexistence with followers of other religions. “After his migration to Madinah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) established a civil society there and signed a pact with the Jews to protect each other. The Prophet fought them only after they colluded with the enemies, violating the treaty. When Muslims conquered Palestine and Egypt, they set examples of peaceful co-existence with the followers of other religions,” he said, while noting that when Muslims failed to live as true followers of Islam, they became easy prey.

Robleh said Muslims were the first and foremost victims of terrorism than anyone else, and the regions worst hit by terrorism were Muslim countries. “We, in partnership with the OIC and its affiliated bodies, will organize events and international media campaigns to highlight the true image of Islam as a religion of tolerance, moderation and peaceful co-existence. We will cooperate with the Global Center to Combat Extremist Ideology and other centers and bodies in this regard,” he said, adding that UNA will give utmost importance to countering Islamophobia, a grave threat facing Muslim communities in the West.

UNA’s focus will be on highlighting the just causes of Muslims and Muslim minorities worldwide. “The agency will strive to highlight the challenges faced by Muslims in the intellectual, media, social and economic spheres by pinpointing remedial measures,” Robleh said.

He said UNA would play the dual role of a news agency and an umbrella body of all official news agencies of member states. “We will focus on publishing special reports about various communities in Muslim countries as well as Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries, with an emphasis on the unique features and characteristics of their cultures, heritage and traditions, in addition to the successful experiments by some countries like Saudi Arabia in combating terrorism and extremism,” he said.

Referring to the poor state of Islamic media on the African continent, he said one of UNA’s major priorities was to activate the media work in Africa. “The Conference of Islamic Information Ministers held in Jeddah in November 2016 decided to support a special media program for Africa. Most of the African people are French speaking and they sometimes receive news from sources hostile to Islam and hence it is vital for us to support the news agencies of OIC member states in Africa,” he added.

Robleh also hinted at the road map for enhanced and intensified cooperation and coordination with the news agencies of OIC member states. “Several chiefs of news agencies from OIC states attended the General Assembly. Most of them expressed their willingness to extend cooperation,” he said, adding that UNA sent feedbacks to those agencies whose delegates did not attend the sessions.

Referring to the measures taken to activate IINA since his assumption of office, Robleh said these included the strategic partnership with the Rabat-based Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and the Riyadh-based DLT (Distance Learning and Training).

“We have mapped out plans to organize media activities in partnership with them, including training for media persons in translation, reporting and editing, besides scientific and intellectual debates and symposiums. IINA has launched a media training center, designed according to the latest specifications, to achieve its vision in training journalists equipped to highlight the issues of the Islamic world.”

The center conducted a course in partnership with DLT to impart highly advanced media technology to Islamic media professionals in three languages.

More than 20 journalists from OIC member states attended the three-day intensive training course on editing and writing scientific articles last month. The course was held one week after the First OIC Science and Technology Summit in Kazakhstan in cooperation with ISESCO and the OIC Information Department.

A graduate of the Islamic institute of Djibouti, an affiliate of the Riyadh-based Imam Muhammad Bin Saud University, Robleh held several key media, academic and administrative positions in Djibouti, the latest of which was as adviser to President Ismail Omar Guelleh on Arab affairs. A professor in Arabic language and literature, Robleh is also proficient in French and English. He has published many books and translations, and represented the tiny Horn of Africa state in many international conferences.

Robleh also served as the member of several university and government bodies as well as civil society organizations in Djibouti. He was the editor of Al-Qarn daily newspaper from 1998 to 2000.