KARACHI: “We have tried our best to crush our culture in the past 70 years,” said dramatist and former minister Noorul Huda Shah during a panel discussion about the media, specifically the electronic media, and the role it plays in promoting the softer and literate image of a nation organised by the Arts Council of Pakistan in collaboration with the Electronic Media & Aesthetic Committee here on Friday.

“We see culture only in those school fancy dress shows now where one child is dressed in Sindhi attire and one in the respective dresses of the other provinces,” she said.

“See how the people in neighbouring India own their culture, and see how they export it through their films because they are proud of it unlike here where we have just crushed our culture due to our own intolerance. People here know about the culture of Lucknow, Hyderabad Deccan or Agra but they may not know the culture of Sindh so well,” she said.

“When writers like myself started highlighting issues of Sindhi society, people here started mistaking it with Sindh’s culture. They would say that karo kari is part of Sindh’s culture or getting girls married to the Quran was part of our culture, which discouraged writers to write about such issues,” she said.

Speaking about art and culture and its coverage by the electronic media, senior journalist and managing director of Geo, Azhar Abbas, said that news channels do cover art and culture, for example literature festivals and conferences such as the Urdu conference. “But if you see how art and culture is covered by news websites, you’ll see that even though they are covering too, there are far fewer hits there when compared to something sensational like some celebrities divorcing,” he said.

“Still in difficult or frustrating times it is art, which comes out as resistance,” he said.

Jahanzaib Haque, editor Dawn.com, said that traditional media was not as important or big than what was currently happening online. “Social media is a level playing field where a big news website such as Dawn.com can be as big as an independent Instagram account or YouTube channel which can have over a billion subscribers,” he said.

Former information minister Javed Jabbar said that just because it didn’t get 500,000 hits did not mean that art was any less important. “So please don’t look at numbers when talking about art and culture,” he said.

“State policy towards art and culture is not what it should have been, but Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan have played a role in uplifting both. Yes, the buck stops with the people but that does not invalidate the art,” he said.

“Also the word ‘flop’ is misleading. Because some of the best movies have turned out to be flops at the box office. So art is viable, art is a very tough process. It means struggle and sacrifice,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2019