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Monday, April 15, 2024

Pakistani Media: Prisoner of Cross-Media Ownership?

By: Zainab Assad

I am a student of journalism and currently studying in one of the most prestigious women colleges of Pakistan. I often scare my friends by my vocal behavior, but I believe in standing up against the wrongs in my surroundings. This piece of writing is coming straight from my heart with a hope that this new platform would not disappoint me by not publishing it. I have tasted Pakistan’s conventional print media – and I expect Global Village Space to be different.

Trust me, I have poured endlessly on media theories over the past three years and I am still unable to figure out which theory explains our media?

I see TV channels crossing limits against some politicians, parties and celebrities and yet I see them collapsing under pressure from other quarters, other powerful individuals, so I wonder: Hoont ray hoont tehri kaun si Kal sedhi?

They say all life consist of stories; and what made me write this today too has a story behind it, so tighten your belts and read carefully.

Iqrar ul Hassan, a leading investigative journalist who works for a renowned TV channel, ARY News, was invited by students, few weeks ago, to my college for a talk, to explain his work, his challenges; it was followed by an interactive session. Students were excited to interact with him, cameras flashed, thousands of selfies captured; it was a memorable event. Since I, as President of the Media Club, was instrumental in organizing his talk, so in order to thank him and to mark the event I wrote an article to be carried by newspapers. Little did I realize what I am landing into.


My article had mentioned few incidents; purpose was to prove his good intention in order to fight the social evils of the society. My writing focused on his personality, praised him for what he stands for and his boldness in exposing the powerful mafias. I had no interest in the channel he is working for. In no way did my article talk about the program he conducts, because I was sharing my personal experience after meeting him, seeing him in real life, away from the TV screen.

After I was done with it, I sent the writing to the four leading Urdu newspapers of Pakistan. I called one of the editors for letting me know if it meets his standards. Frankly, I was worried that may be I praised him too much; may be editors will like me to trim it down a bit.

But the answer I got was “Buhat acha likha hai ap nay par yeh humari policy k sath nahi jaata, dekhain na ap akhbar humara istamal kar rahieen hain aur projection ap kisi aur banday ki kar rahieen hain jo kisi aur channel k liay kaam kar raha hai. Mazrat kay sath, hum issay publish nahi kar saktay”

I ended up calling the other editors, but more or less they all told me the same; their words, their tones, their mannerisms were different. But their substance, their stand point was the same.

I was made to understand that subject of my writing – modern day Hercules or Odysseus to young college girls he may have been – belongs to a different media group.

I was told: publishing this piece is tantamount to free publicity for that group, and this is against our policy.

I argued, I explained, I created options of not mentioning his group, and finally I protested but all in vain.

Word “policy” has assumed new meanings in my lexicon. Before this I had heard this in the context of governments not having a policy or bad policies or policy failures. But little had I realized that owners of private TV channels and print houses – Media Seths of Pakistan – have property rights over the young professionals, the emerging intellectuals of Pakistan. I am not claiming innocence, I am not naïve; I knew, there are media houses which are working neutral, or media house that work for or against the government, but I didn’t know appreciating someone who is working for a better Pakistan, for fighting social evils, could be a threat to country’s media houses, for the simple reason that he is not working for their group.

But every interaction offers learning. This is what life is about. After this encounter, I too sat back and started tapping my forehead, started figuring out what made all of them – four different editors, different age groups, different backgrounds – united on one agenda. Eventually I got the answer. “Cross-Media Ownership” it is. Those media houses that had newspapers have magazines now followed by their “TV and Radio Channels”.

All the four newspapers to which I had sent my article, have their own TV channels between which they have a tough competition. Suddenly the words flashed in my head: “Cross Media Ownership”. Our faculty members used to talk about it, there were articles in newspapers few years ago, I never bothered, never understood, now like the mathematician Archimedes I had my “Ah moment” My Eureka!

I believe media owners have a right to expand their business but claiming that they are the “Ultimate Voice Controllers” should not be their mandate; this cannot be their policy. State and society should not give them this power.

For media owners to claim that they have a public cause behind them is the worst possible abuse of “public interest”.

This is very sad for a person who may not have any political affiliation but writes about ordinary people doing extra-ordinary work. Media is apparently – at least this is what is told in universities – the watch dog of our society, so if a writer wishes to write about the good things that are happening around he or she should not be sacrificed at the altar of business rivalries.

I am sure enough, had it been an article or a news item against Iqrar ul Hassan, it would have been published. We have all seen how any news item regarding any media person falling into trouble or infamy is immediately picked up by all rival media houses. This has become a sport for them – but not a few words of positive appreciation. Na! this is against policy?

I wonder how Pakistani media claims to be independent, when its not even free to report achievements or appreciation of journalists working in other media houses?

I like thousands of other students like me intend to join media, intend to become a journalist but I wonder if I am joining a media that has reduced itself to nothing beyond ratings and war between the channels?

If we are journalists, trained to observe and report then how can we justify our hearts and minds failing to recognize efforts of the other journalists, just because they are not serving “our” channel? I think it’s high time for us – as editors, academics, intellectuals, students and media owners – to set our priorities right and should raise our voice against this “Control in the name of Media Azadi”. I hope this piece reaches out to some editors of the media houses and their “Media Seths” Amen!

“Lab Aazaad He Thay Magar Kehna Wohi Jo Kaha tha”

Zainab Asad is President Media Club at Kinniard College for Women in Lahore; Email: Zainab@kinnairdmediagroup.com.

GVS may not necessarily agree with her opinions and analysis.

An earlier version appeared on Global Village Space under the title: Media Aazadi, magar Barayay Naam!