‘Democratisation of information has given voice to people’

Published June 26, 2022
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhary speaks to conference participants while Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Malik takes notes as journalist Hamid Mir looks on.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhary speaks to conference participants while Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Malik takes notes as journalist Hamid Mir looks on.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: An animated discussion on ‘Foes and Friends — Media Laws and Regulations’ on the opening day (Saturday) of a two-day conference on ‘Extreme Reporting: Conflict and Peace in the Digital Age’ organised by the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) had the attendees’ undivided attention.

The moderator of the conversation was TV anchor Maria Memon, who put questions to former information minister Fawad Chaudhary, Minister of State for Petroleum Musadik Malik, journalist Hamid Mir and lawyer Zainab Janjua.

Mr Chaudhary on the love-hate relationship between the media and politicians said it depends on how things are panning out.

“If they’re happening in your favour, you’ll like it, if not, you won’t. The issue is that the boom that the media is witnessing has not much to do with the media itself. Gen Musharraf’s morality was the morality of an educated Mohajir family. He decided to give freedom to the media. The mistake that he made was that he didn’t introduce any regulation. Now most of the [TV] channels that we have, they, apart from one or two, don’t come from a media business [background].

Two-day conference at CEJ opens; Fawad gives Musharraf credit for media freedom, Hamid Mir disagrees

“There are two problems. On one hand, the powers that be use regulation for censorship, and on the other lack of regulation enables the media to insult people (logon ki pagdiyan ucchalney ke liyey). We need to achieve a balance between the two,” he said.

He also mentioned three main challenges: no regulation, the (mis)use of censorship and the technological revolution.

Hamid Mir didn’t agree with Mr Chaudhary that it was Gen Musharraf who gave freedom to the media. “If you read our history, there are two authentic books: one, The Press in Chains by Zamir Niazi and the other by Ahfazur Rahman [Sab Se Badi Jang] on Pakistan’s press history. They tell us how after the inception of the country press advice began, how journalists resisted it, how the PFUJ was established and how the resistance against Ayub Khan’s attempt to suppress journalists through his Press and Publication Ordinance, 1962, started… In Gen Zia’s rule, the resistance movement against dictatorship began from the Karachi Press Club led by Minhaj Barna and Nisar Usmani. So the struggle of journalist came first followed by the struggle of politicians.

“When Benazir Bhutto became prime minister of the country for the first time, she allowed CNN and BBC to be shown through cable networks. In her second tenure, FM radio stations were allowed to function. Then a process kicked off whether [private] TV channels should be allowed to operate which was opposed by PTV. When the Kargil war happened there were documents which claimed that it was Indian private TV channels that played a major role [in the war], so Pakistan should also have private channels. Gen Musharraf’s government used them on a limited scale,” Mr Mir said.

He agreed with Mr Chaudhary, though, that media regulation (with varying degrees of implementation) takes place everywhere in the world.

Musadik Malik said to him there’s no difference between politicians, the media and institutions.

“These are the elites of this country. They have panicked. They are in utter shock. This conference also has to do with it. We are all frozen [in shock]. We are old elite structures of the broadcasting days in which a broadcaster would relay something to you and you would listen to it. Nobody could speak in between. All of a sudden the broadcasting industrial model changed. Just like politicians and politics have gone bankrupt, the media has also gone bankrupt, and so will the other institutions.

“This conference proves the fact that the elites are shaken. Who has done that? The masses who were once voiceless now have a new platform though the information revolution. Through that platform they have reacted against our elitism. The common man has got a voice through the democratisation of information and he says he doesn’t give a hoot about the elites (elite ki aisi taisi). On social media they’re saying ‘tumharey sach ki aisis taisi.’ The old lazy elites are not prepared to face up to that attack (yalghar). They don’t understand what’s happening, so when they form a government they capture people to gag them,” he said.

On regulation, Mr Malik commented that it’s a control mechanism to suppress people’s voices. “In our time there was PECA, the next [PTI] dispensation also tried to come up with something. When a government comes up with something like that [regulation], it means control; when the judiciary comes up with such a thing, it means compliance; and when politicians bring a regulation, it means exploitation. But when professionals [from the media] introduce a regulation, it means ‘standard’,” he added.

Zainab Janjua said the state should not regulate because it wants to have control over things, rather it should regulate because it understands the phenomenon. The kind of information that’s coming in the digital age does need regulation to a certain extent but the problem is of the intent. The focus of the regulation has to come within the media.

Earlier, the day began with the speeches by Amber Shamsi, the CEJ director, and the Executive Director of IBA Dr S Akbar Zaidi.

Ms Shamsi hoped that the conference would find a direction to move in for journalism in Pakistan.

Dr Zaidi claimed that out of the five or six centres at IBA, it was the CEJ which is recognised the most.

Hamid Mir delivered the keynote address.

He responded to Dr Zaidi, who in his speech had talked about a master’s course in journalism with reference to CEJ and the issue that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) had with it.

Mr Mir told the audience that he has a master’s degree in journalism. Expanding on it, he said his father died when he was very young. At the time he saw an advert for a sub-editor in a newspaper. He applied for the job and got it. He had by that time had graduated from Government College. Once getting the job, he decided to obtain a master’s and realised that the easiest subject to get the degree in would be journalism. It would help him to continue with his job as well. His late father was a professor of journalism. When he became head of the journalism department at Punjab University, he wanted to change the syllabus because it was outdated. But he was told not to do so and was removed from his position.

Coming back to his own professional life, Mr Mir said when he became editor of a newspaper, during the hiring process of a reporter or a sub-editor or a copy editor, he had an ‘unannounced rule’ that whoever had a degree in journalism , he’d throw their application into the bin. One day a senior asked him why he didn’t hire journalism students, to which he replied, “I myself have that degree. I know journalism students don’t study.”

He agreed with Dr Zaidi that if someone has a PhD in journalism, it doesn’t mean that s/he’s a good journalist.

The first formal session of the conference was titled ‘Do We Need Journalism’ moderated by Shahzeb Jilani.

Journalists Zeeshan Haider, Benazir Shah and Badar Alam Khan answered the questions that he asked them.

The participants were of the view, after a detailed discussion, that journalism is needed. In fact, for authenticity, “we need more of journalism’”.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2022

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