Category Archives: Media

Media and crime

By Zubeida Mustafa

SEX crimes and child abuse are reported to be on the rise in Pakistan. So are mental illnesses and the reach of the media. This is not a coincidence for the correlation between them has been widely recognised the world over. The fact that has however not been generally understood, in Pakistan at least, is that many of these evils have always existed but are now being reported more extensively, unethically and unprofessionally with a lot of bias. Since the reportage is generally flawed it can be quite disturbing for a young view/listener/reader.

One may ask what has mental health got to do with it especially in children? There was a time when adults were very careful about what they spoke before children. Parents actually exercised ‘censorship’ on images whether in print or projected electronically. The simple reason for this caution was that a child’s mind is sensitive to all that it is exposed to till quite an age. How it behaves in life is to a great extent determined by childhood experiences. For instance, it is well-known that many of those who commit sex crimes have suffered sex abuse themselves in childhood, have experienced violence or have witnessed it. Add to this list the youth and adolescents who are exposed to pornography habitually.

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Posthumous works

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE world would have been denied the richness and scholarship of some of Franz Kafka’s literary work — especially The Metamorphosis — had his friend and executor, Max Brod, not decided to ignore Kafka’s instruction in his will to destroy the unpublished manuscripts he left behind. Kafka died young in 1924.

Other writers have generally been pragmatic by not leaving a will. There are quite a number of them though we hardly note it. Albert Camus’ A Happy Death as well as Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder saw the light of day when the authors were no more.

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Media mechanics

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

Recently, in the course of a nationwide ‘telethon’ we heard the PM’s views on the media, an illustrious maulana’s views on the media; and after due pause some media responses thereto on the media; sometimes we even hear viewers’ views on the media: when and how it proffers the platform. Ah there’s the rub! The electronic media’s message and the messenger—irrespective of the guiding principle—are selective and selected. In all fairness is there any way it can be otherwise? Ultimately, the viewer’s choice—his selection—is limited to switching channels or switching off. Not so the State: it can control, project, promote, expunge, exclude, omit, invent, compel.

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Time to ponder

By Zubeida Mustafa

HERE is something to take your mind off the novel coronavirus pandemic that has overwhelmed the globe. I would like to take you to another world — the world of education. It is too early to speculate about the post-virus age. We can, however, use the opportunity provided by the lockdown to ponder issues pertaining to education. The fact is that they have never received much thought.

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Amazed in the maze


By Rifaat Hamid Ghani   

Pakistan’s democratic advances and retreats are usually perceived in terms of a tussle between power-belts: a civilian establishment comprised of what– post lateral-entry– we may no longer justly call mandarins, enabled by and facilitating administration and policy for an electorally empowered party leadership: now called chors and dakkus. (Party activists, dissidents, and turncoats of lesser stature we could soon be calling raillu kattas.)  In the scales for charge of the governmental process is the military establishment.

We still term it the khakis. Notwithstanding the fact that the last military coup was essentially a day-long airborne drama, those clad in blue and white do not emerge as coup-Caesars. Perhaps what really matters is what you have on the ground — or the ground realities of the political field.  What are these and who determines them? Supposedly in the electoral democratic process the voters. But who enfranchises and disenfranchises?

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Laughter and light

Remembering Anjum Niaz (1948-2018
By Zubeida Mustafa
It was in July 2014 when Anjum Niaz, a former colleague and a friend, wrote to me: “Indeed, I too felt good after speaking with you and catching up on the past. Like you, I love delving into old relationships and events that may be pushed back in memory yet, are somehow more lucid and graphic… DAWN, like you, has a special place in my heart and the person at the centre of this universe is of course Khan sahab.” Both of us had been out of DAWN for some time, but the paper still held us together.

This comment, from the lengthy emails we exchanged for some years, sums up my relationship with Anjum Niaz who passed away on October 21 in New Jersey, USA, where she lived since she migrated with her family in 1999.

Anjum came to DAWN in 1987 as the Magazine Editor. My acquaintance with her, however, began earlier when she worked for The Dawn Media Group’s eveninger, The Star, which she had joined in 1984 after a stint in teaching. While at The Star she won the Population Institute’s Award For Excellence In Population Reporting and this being a subject I was interested in too, we found much in common to talk about.

Anjum’s contribution as the DAWN Magazine Editor was immense. She injected in it ‘youthfulness and elegance’; two attributes she herself possessed. They showed in how she carried herself and her graceful ambience. Her office in DAWN was carpeted, had pictures on the wall and lovely potted plants to brighten it up. That is how she also kept her home – whether in Karachi, Islamabad or New Jersey.


I always found her good for my morale, as she said I was for hers. Little acts of thoughtfulness reinforced will not be forgotten such as saving the page of The New York Times carrying my picture along with other awardees (IWMF). “I put it away safely to mail it to you in case you had not seen it,” she wrote in an email punctuated by many “WOWS”.


The DAWN Magazine she edited reflected her innovative skills and creativity, her love for diversity, her exquisiteness and her English language skills in crafting words and headlines. Above all, she knew the art of motivating her writers as many would testify. She understood them well and always found time to talk to them and discuss the subjects they were to write about. That is how she could take the initiative herself to plan the magazine.

Her forte as a writer emerged fully only later when she moved to Islamabad in 1993 and began to write a weekly column called Crème de la Crème. She was also reporting and the Foreign Office was her beat until she resigned in 1996.

Jaweed, her husband, pays her a rich tribute saying: “She took her work very seriously and checked and double-checked what she wrote. Can’t remember her ever missing a deadline.”

I always found her good for my morale, as she said I was for hers. Little acts of thoughtfulness reinforced will not be forgotten such as saving the page of The New York Times carrying my picture along with other awardees (IWMF). “I put it away safely to mail it to you in case you had not seen it,” she wrote in an email punctuated by many “WOWS”. Just like Anjum; so exuberant and so thoughtful. I managed to persuade her to write her memoirs. She finally agreed, so she told me, but I do not know if she ever got down to it.

She reached new heights in her journalistic career when she blossomed as a columnist. She wrote fearlessly, sparing no one who had to be chastised. She was clear about her source of information and scathing in her criticism if she felt it was deserved.

She may have been frivolous at times in order to make her writing spicy, but mostly she was solemn and very profound. This is from her column View from the US: The Enemy Within (August 5, 2012): “Fear then is the deadliest psychosis of all. Philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell rightly says that fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom… Parsing the meaning of fear, Russell says it ‘makes man unwise in the three great departments of human conduct: his dealings with nature, his dealings with other men, and his dealings with himself.’”


When we shared our despondency on the state of affairs in Pakistan, she always ended on an optimistic note. This is what she wrote once: “I too despair… I can exactly feel your pain of seeing things slide so rapidly. We all are helpless onlookers to the tragedy being enacted before our eyes. Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.”


At times we had minor disagreements, but they were never major enough to disrupt our relationship. Besides, we always respected each other’s opinion and agreed to disagree.

We kept in touch mostly by email and by phone when I was visiting North America. The last time I was there in 2017 we couldn’t talk as she wrote to say she was busy and couldn’t talk, which was uncharacteristic of her. Maybe she wasn’t feeling well. She was a private person and never shared her personal problems. Of course there was mention of doctor’s appointments or an arthritic knee or of “old age creeping up, I guess!!!” but never anything alarming. She was as warm as ever when I wrote to her to check if I could quote her in my memoir. She had jotted down her views in 2014 on the current state of the media.

“Thanks for asking about my comment that I gave you – I had completely forgotten about it. But I guess it’s still relevant if you think you can use it. I’d be honoured. Do keep me posted about the progress of your memoir and lots of good luck.”

And this is how she is quoted in my book: “It is the onset of electronic media (all those frivolous chat shows on TV and idiotic analysis (24/7) that should cause one to refer to the importance and relevance of real time journalism which was practised as opposed to the top-of-the-hat journalism that we now get in plenty by TV and newspaper pinheads. Also, with the hotting up of social media, it seems that everyone thinks himself/herself clued in to news, a sort of news hack even if that happens to be personal goings on. You need to refer to the importance/relevance of print journalism that once formed the staple of real, factual news and information. It still forms the core of authentic journalism but has sadly been pushed into the background.”

When we shared our despondency on the state of affairs in Pakistan, she always ended on an optimistic note. This is what she wrote once: “I too despair… I can exactly feel your pain of seeing things slide so rapidly. We all are helpless onlookers to the tragedy being enacted before our eyes. Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.”

The light never came for her. Her daughter Zainab wrote to me that she was diagnosed with cancer in December 2017. The deadly disease progressed rapidly and by spring, it was stage four. “She has been spared from enduring further pain and is now at peace,” Zainab wrote.

RIP, dear Anjum. Hope you find laughter where you are now. How we laughed together when we shared our stories during our tea breaks in DAWN.

Still, let’s continue to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be there someday.

Continue reading Laughter and light

The ways of media

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

 The media derives value and purpose from its audience: If no one is listening it does not matter what is being said; and if no one reads or sees it, well, for one thing, we wouldn’t need censorship! So what sort of audience do the media in Pakistan have? And then what does the media seek to do and proffer – consciously or unconsciously; voluntarily and perforce? Continue reading The ways of media

Digital dilemmas

By Zubeida Mustafa

EARLIER this year, WHO classified video-gaming as a disorder. It is defined in the draft Eleventh Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as a mental health condition. Understandably, controversy has erupted round this move as many experts believe that sufficient data doesn’t exist to support this drastic diagnosis. Besides, the symptoms defined are too broad to be applied to one particular area of engagement. Thus a person may have a strong preference for any activity that he enjoys to the extent that “he does not stop even if there are negative consequences, the compulsion strains his life, health and relationships” — WHO’s definition of the gaming disorder. Definitely more data is needed. Continue reading Digital dilemmas

Truth and Ethics Are Under Siege in Pakistan’s Media

By Zubeida Mustafa

Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of its Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who have been hailed for their courage in pursuit of truth within their countries and elsewhere. Click here and here for Nisma Chauhan’s coverage of other aspects of Pakistan’s media, produced in conjunction with this story. 

Starting in late March, Pakistan’s biggest television channel, Geo (an Urdu word for Live), was forced off the air for several weeks.

Cable operators, who reportedly shut off Geo, would not disclose on whose orders this had been done. Geo has now been restored, but only after what a Reuters report described as a deal reached with the military that required the channel to alter its political coverage.

This episode created an international furor, which testifies to the growing power of the media in a globalized world. It also suggests that in some countries where the military still calls the shots, the notion of media freedom is only eyewash. Repeated calls by PEMRA (the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) had failed to get Geo back on the air.In addition to having to skew news under pressure as in the Geo case, the media in Pakistan is not free of flaws itself. On several occasions, Pakistani media outlets have failed to follow simple codes of ethics.

Take the case of the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, who was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. He was shot by his own bodyguard. The reason? A progressive, Taseer had expressed sympathy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy. Taseer met with Bibi in the jail where she was detained. He also spoke of the need to amend the blasphemy laws.

Some conservative TV channel anchors stirred up a brouhaha over Taseer’s actions. This proved to be a spark that lit the tinder of prejudice and intolerance encouraged by the right-wing media since the late 1970s when Gen. Zia-ul-Haq seized power in a military coup in Islamabad. He launched an Islamization policy to sustain himself in power, with new blasphemy laws as an important element of that policy.

In 2011, the person who had easy access to Taseer—the man deputized to protect him—pulled the trigger. The assassination was a hate crime promoted by a section of the national media.

That was seven years ago. Today, the situation has further deteriorated. In the free-for-all atmosphere promoted mainly by television in a frenzy to get higher ratings, the major casualty is truth. Anchors, many of whom are not trained journalists, sensationalize news to the extent of presenting baseless reports as verified facts.

Take the recent case of Dr. Shahid Masood, a television commentator and a medical professional by training, who broadcast reports concerning the rape and murder of a 7-year-old child. Masood made outlandish charges against the defendant, Imran Ali, who has now been sentenced to death by the court. Masood’s list of charges against Ali was long—18 in all—and included allegations of the killer being linked to an international child pornography mafia, holding numerous bank accounts in the country and having connections with a federal minister. Mian Saqib Nisar, the chief justice of Pakistan, took notice and ordered investigations into the charges. Every charge was found to be wrong, causing the judge to impose a three-month ban on Masood’s program.

In a sense, these examples of rampant sensationalism reflect what a long way the media in Pakistan has come in the last several decades. The nation has experienced considerable loosening of the government’s grip on the press and the subsequent proliferation of numerous privately owned radio outlets and television channels.

Today the government has one television station, Pakistan Television, and one radio station, Radio Pakistan, but no affiliated newspaper. On the other hand, there are 45 campus radio stations, 140 licensed commercial private FM radio stations and 89 private satellite TV channels. The website of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society lists nearly 458 newspapers and magazines licensed in the country. Not all are being published; in some cases the owners keep their licenses valid to enable them to publish if they so choose.

This unregulated expansion of the media—especially of the electronic media—has had a profound impact on the political and social scene in Pakistan. Technology, particularly the introduction of 24/7 radio and TV, has brought the media within easy reach of the people. Even the remotest areas are connected by radio, and in the countryside you will see TV antennas on many small, dilapidated houses.

The plus side of this change is that the government’s traditionally rigorous control over the media has lessened (although the military still wields power, as evident from the Geo closure). In the past, military governments dominated the press, and the government held a monopoly on the electronic media. Gone are the days when a phone call from the Information Ministry to the newsroom could blank out even the most important news from the newspapers. It was termed “press advice.”

But today’s media freedom has a flip side as well. Any journalist who ventures to disclose the ugly secrets of the powerful must be prepared to face the music. This can take the form of “forced disappearance” by secret agencies or a mysterious death. The more fortunate are simply hounded out of the country. It’s a small wonder Pakistan has earned the dubious reputation of being one of the most dangerous countries  in the world for media workers.

Equally harmful is the insidious damage that some of Pakistan’s media is inflicting on society and the state itself. This reflects the emergence of neoliberal economics, the push toward commercialization and the prioritization of profits. Codes of conduct and sacred principles of journalism, such as truth and fairness, have been thrown to the winds, and commercialism is rife.

Adding to the media failures, some anchors and media owners are politically aligned and use their positions to promote one party or the other. This has muddied the political waters and stoked hatred and mass confusion.

Although the major newspapers still enjoy a degree of credibility and provide in-depth analysis, they cannot compete with the electronic media in the magnitude of their reach. The literacy rate in Pakistan is dismally low at 60 percent, which gives radio and TV pre-eminence over print.

In this bleak scenario, valiant efforts are being made to address the problems. A number of media studies schools have blossomed, and their programs are benefitting many journalists. Among these institutions are CEJ (Centre for Excellence in Journalism) and IoBM (Institute of Business Management), which has a strong media department.

Another endeavor is Uks, a monitoring nongovernmental organization that recently celebrated its 20th birthday. Uks is basically concerned with the coverage of women in the press and television, as well as the number and status of females working in the media. Tasneem Ahmar launched Uks because she was shocked at the poor reporting on women’s issues and at the glaring absence of women in decision-making positions in the media. Through her efforts to support the cause of the quality of journalism.

Source: Truthdig

Using the Media to Empower Pakistani Women

 

Trainees taking part in a 2012 workshop for female journalists in Islamabad. (Uks)

By Nisma Chauhan

Women are often ignored or portrayed negatively in Pakistan’s media. As one dire consequence, over the years media reports relating to women have reinforced Pakistan’s rape culture.

Twenty years ago, when women’s empowerment was not popular in the national discourse, one woman set out to change this approach. In 1997, Tasneem Ahmar started Uks, a nongovernmental organization that focused on reclaiming women’s narrative in the print media. She continues that work today with TV news channels, and she reaches out to a greater audience via Uks radio programs that boost awareness of women’s issues.

Her career in journalism and her newspaper reading made Ahmar realize that stories covering women were stereotypical and reflected the way Pakistan’s patriarchal society perceived women.

“I got a few friends together without any donor money initially,” Ahmar says. “What I would do each day [is] read a lot of newspapers, mark, cut and paste articles depicting the kind of coverage given to women. Then I started to reach out to editors with the clippings.”

She wanted to contact as many editors as she could, but she kept away from those reputed to blackmail critics and engage in other harmful practices. So she focused only on a few editors, and when they were persuaded to adopt a more woman-friendly approach, others followed suit.

Ahmar conducted training courses for reporters and subeditors. Initially the training focused on a few basic questions: Why were negative headlines given to stories on women? For example, some headlines highlighted women’s smoking habits. Prominent women, such as the late lawyer and rights activist Asma Jahangir, were often shamed for smoking.

Attitudes in news stories also encouraged Pakistan’s rape culture. Newspapers sensationalized “honor killings,” as they reported on the murders of females by their own relatives, who felt the women—even if they had been raped—had brought dishonor to their families.

News articles blamed women for horrendous incidents as well. “When they [the Urdu press] would report on a body of a newborn found in a garbage dump, they would invariably dub it ‘the sin of an unwed mother lying in the garbage,’ and I would ask how did they know that it was an unwed mother,” Ahmar says. “Why didn’t they ask about the father? Why wasn’t the blame shared?”

The questions raised during training sessions gradually helped bring about change. “When we did a comparative analysis on what we were doing and if it had any impact, we saw that headlines in most newspapers would now read ‘a body of a newborn found,’ Ahmar says. “There would be no reference to an unwed mother. We considered that to be a big success. At least the level of understanding of journalists was changing.”

To be allowed to speak in male-dominated newsrooms to men who resisted such arguments was a mark of success in itself. A change in mindset was finding its way across Pakistan, as trainings were held in conservative cities such as Peshawar and Quetta. Every city brought its own challenges.

Some trainees would question Ahmar on her “agenda” and ask who was funding Uks. She would invite her critics—journalists and agencies—to check her records. “Being transparent is something not a lot of NGOs consider to be an asset,” Ahmar says. “That is why we have a bad reputation in the media, [but] they could just come and look through my office whenever they wished.”

While her credibility grew and the small team of Uks research associates and project coordinators was breaking barriers, Ahmar’s work was far from over. The launch of 24/7 channels in 2002 made her realize that she had to start from scratch again.

“By then we felt that the print media was easy to tame. But now this new monster called 24/7 news channels had emerged. There were people who had been unleashed to talk to millions of audience [members] without any training,” Ahmar says.

The insensitivity these channels promoted was doing more damage than the print could ever do, so Ahmar started monitoring news and talk shows. Uks noted the problems and shared them with PEMRA (the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) or with personnel at the channels themselves.

Uks recently launched the women’s media complaint cell, where viewers can lodge complaints of misogynistic content. Along with content monitored by Uks, complaints filed by the public are now presented to bureau chiefs or producers of channels.

Ahmad also reaches the public—especially people living in remote areas—through a series of radio programs. The goals of Uks Radio Projects are to raise women’s profile in broadcast journalism, create awareness of social issues with a gender perspective and bring about attitudinal change in men and women.

The transmissions air in Urdu, a language that a majority of Pakistanis understand. The programs advocate a pro-woman stance on issues such as honor killing, AIDS and the water crisis in rural Pakistan. For instance, the Uks team collected stories about women who travel far distances to fetch potable water for their families. These women face mental, emotional, physical and reproductive problems owing to a lack of clean water near their homes.

As she works to educate the public via radio, Ahmar is expanding her efforts with media sources. She has succeeded in entering into a discourse with the people behind the TV cameras, but she also wants to engage with anchorpersons. “I don’t think it is going to be easy because after [they] get this kind of fame and screen presence, it becomes difficult to bring them on board for any kind of sensitivity,” Ahmar says.

She is devising strategies to deal with all media platforms—for example, last year, Ahmar held a roundtable conference with members of the entertainment industry. While the response was positive, she knows she still has a long way to convince people that “a country’s media coverage is related to women’s status and development. Women are pushed back if the media doesn’t support them in a constructive manner.

Source: Truthdig,