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Sunshine and rain on Talat Hussain

Published Mar 19, 2012 07:55am


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English drizzle welcomed Pakistani journalist, Talat Hussain, to Cambridge this weekend. Hosted by the University’s Pakistan Society, Hussain had come to provide some insight into the media in his country. He was candid and refreshingly self-critical and he gave permission for me to write about the encounter.

Hussain began, rather defensively setting out how media had brought about positive change and how he felt that it genuinely provided a voice to the impoverished, poor, and marginalised – offering them a ray of hope. “Without the media would you ever hear the voice of the Baloch?” he said. He was perhaps right to be defensive – when I shared news on my Twitter and Facebook pages that I would meet Hussain, people urged me to pin him down on why the media couldn’t do more to support Pakistani development, and why the Pakistani media weren’t more vociferous in challenging and exposing the corrupt elite and politicians. As if Hussain needed more evidence of the cynicism some audiences might feel towards the Pakistani media, someone in the crowd pressured him to explain the special handshake between the Pakistani judiciary and the media. His response was to defend the judiciary, but wry smiles spoke a thousand words.

I shared with Hussain one challenge I felt as a writer – motivated by a desire to see Pakistan in a more balanced positive light, I am often accused of being saccharin sweet on the nation and ignoring the ills of Pakistan. My response is that I have a very straightforward mission to shine a spotlight on the better things – to combat the sea of negative reporting on the country. Hussain acknowledged that the negativity of the media had damaged the nation’s self-esteem, and even went as far as to say it had helped to plunge Pakistan in form of “collective grief”. Referencing Arundhati Roy, and her theories of “crisis journalism”, he said the media would find it difficult to turn back. He also attempted to explain how Pakistan had a different view of “balance”, with a slight distaste for a grammar of the media that had been “inherited from the west”.

What struck me was the inherent problem in attempting to get a broadcast journalist to offer a reasonable, balanced view. They will naturally seek the difficulty or flash points in any situation. The tendency is to sensationalise – and despite claiming to be driven and regulated by the demands of the consumer, responsibility should be taken to ensure that creative ways to present less negative stories are explored.

I was disappointed – but not surprised given his flotilla experience – that Hussain made generalisations about Israelis. “Israelis are…” is as offensive to me as “Pakistanis are…” – and although I haven’t lived in Israel for many years, I feel safe in my own assumption that not all Israelis hate all Arabs. It was a view that undermined Hussain’s promotion of the Pakistani view on balance.

His flotilla experience has clearly impacted Hussain – and he offered many words of wisdom on the Arab Spring. He was right to indicate that it was too soon to tell what change, if any, had been made. And he raised an interesting point that Pakistan had already had its own Arab Spring – two in fact – when they ousted military dictators in the 1960s and in 1988 when Zia-ul-Huq was killed in an air crash. Hussein pointed out that these revolutions were bloodless. My tendency (and mission) is to get excited by such a positive take, but thinking about it, in Pakistan’s short history it has seen more than its fair share of military dictators, in periods which I am sure some Pakistanis would agree were far from bloodless. Furthermore, the words “brink” and “military coup” have been used more than once in recent times not just by the media, but by Wikileaks, and the US State Department. The “we are better than them because…” argument never really works for me – and it’s one Pakistan needs to get out of the habit of.

When Hussain pointed out that Pakistan’s very beginning was forged by ordinary barristers and lawyers – not bloodthirsty revolutionaries – I thought of that “handshake” and wondered why Hussain was not acknowledging the tragic messy birth of a nation through the blood soaked soil of partition.

You see, I’m not all saccharin sweet on Pakistan. It’s not about being unrealistically, or unfeasibly positive – it’s about presenting a dramatic viewpoint that is uplifting and inspiring.

Hussain echoed my own thoughts on Pakistan being an over-diagnosed nation. He likened it to going to see a doctor, who repeatedly told you that your system was failing, but never doing anything to help. However, Hussain himself failed to offer any solutions – and given his job as one of the analysts – he is unlikely to. He did suggest that “new media” would help shape the new Pakistan, as opposed to misunderstood “mainstream media”. He suggested that the mass media had much less influence than people thought, using as evidence his experience of media use in Sindh and the Southern Punjab – and there is more than empirical evidence to back this up. Hussain cited the rise in access to mobile phones and the increased use of blogs, social networks like Facebook (now available in Urdu) and Twitter. Hussain’s own activity on Twitter (or lack of it) indicates that he is new to this means of engagement. Engagement it is – a very different media from “broadcasting” – and we should welcome him to it. The fact that traditional media pundits might struggle in this forum was demonstrated by Hussain’s apparent confusion as to how I knew what my readers thought.

Perhaps the most touching and most profound thing Hussain said, was his account of a disaster in Islamabad. Turning up to produce a TV report on a collapsed tower, he explained how he was confronted by trapped women and children and contorted bodies. Hussain’s tone changed and his gaze steadied in front of him, “words cannot describe the tradegy that my eye saw in one glance”.

Desperately frustrated by his inability to help, he handed the camera to his driver and began attempting to drag people out of the rubble. As he told the story, he lowered his gaze and murmured, “it didn’t do much good”. Flood victims, he said, were often angry that TV crews were first on the scene, when what they wanted was help: food; medical help. As a result of these experiences, Talat Hussain, the journalist, has set up a charity. He was humble about it.

So although he may have painted his own industry in grim colours – referencing the new Pakistani “mini Rupert Murdochs” who control mass media in the country, and his own “wannabe” journalist peers who like the sound of their own voice – it was the story of his compassion and efforts to pull fellow countrymen from the rubble which spoke loudest on that rainy afternoon in Cambridge.

When Hussain describes his feelings for Pakistan as schizophrenic – 50 per cent elated and hopeful and 50 per cent doom-ridden – I would ask that at least the media reflect this. Don’t simply cover the story of the collapsed tower, and the deaths and the destruction; cover too, the story of peoples’ attempts to rescue and make good. It is actually more engaging – and more likely to inspire and bring about change.

I look forward to welcoming Talat Hussain again in Cambridge – maybe one day when the sun is shining.

Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011. More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found here and on facebook.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

Irfan Mar 19, 2012 03:50pm
I Talat Hussain is the cream of Pakistan may Allah help him do even more for his country. I would love to meet him one day.
Atif Mar 19, 2012 03:59pm
Excellent analysis.
Syed Mar 19, 2012 05:16pm
Excellent Analysis indeed. Talat Hussain is one of the best TV anchors of Pakistan, however, one feels that most of his analysis are biased and not balanced as expected from an experienced Journalist. He is more of a Doom & Gloom kind. Anyways, I hope he changes his attitude and start presenting his case in a more balanced and matured manner.
ghulamrasool soomro Mar 19, 2012 05:30pm
Talat hussain is one of those pakistani anchr who has tried to express real picture of problem in pak. we hope he will continue his struggle for the rights of oppressed people of pak.
Abdul Qayyum Bhatti Mar 19, 2012 05:37pm
Pakistani media can not play the role of a referee but it have to join a side, the good one. In the government and court raw, media might have thought the courts are right and they put their weight into the court side.
ishrat salim Mar 19, 2012 06:16pm
Very good analysis of our media thru the eyes of Talat Husain....& that is what one can call " analysis " which we are yet to analyse with solution....
Riaz Mar 19, 2012 06:39pm
We are so fortunate to have one journalist at least who are not blinded by bias and truly tries to offer an objective view unlike 90 percent others. He is our best tv journalist. It is not his fault that we are governed by the worst people who can't even meet the standard of a decent human being let alone a national leader. Their vision extends to their families and their relatives and friends. Ali Musa Gilani is a brother of Bilawal Zardari, enough said.
Tariq K Sami Mar 19, 2012 08:38pm
Talat Hussain is amazing. He has never lost control of his sometimes wild and abusive hosts unlike Kashif who lets a free for all. I guess both are good and we should have that kind of a choice.
Tassawar Mar 19, 2012 08:59pm
I thank the honourable writer and Mr. Talat Hussain for their good job for mankind. Regarding media handshake; media should always try to support the truth. Even if some institution is partially right it should be acknowledged as such while highlighting the partial error. Only objective media can help improve the things. Certifications based on perceptions would again lead us to disasters.
The White Neck Eagle Mar 20, 2012 01:07am
Talat is in danger of becoming a good man! He is best described as an endangered species of journalists who report without their pockets stuffed with the mighty green-back. Pakistan today stands at the "Tipping-Point" of its history. Odds stacking high against it. A corrupt aristocracy rules roost to the silent acceptance of an even more corrupt populace. Winston Churchill so rightly said," Lies travel half way around the world before the thruth has a chance to pull up its pants"....Lying politicians, journalists, intelligentsia and talk show anchors are hard at work to saw-off the very branch they sit on....
Arif Baltistani Mar 20, 2012 01:16am
excellent analysis of pakistan.may allah give him a goog health
Iftikhar Husain Mar 20, 2012 06:07pm
Thank you Caroline for talking to Mr Hussain I have seen some of his documentary which were very informative he is a good journalist from a very difficult country like Pakistan. I also appreciate your interest in Pakistani politics thanks again for sharing.
sachughtai Mar 20, 2012 07:15pm
Excellent analysis. I am proud of Talat Hussain as an anchor.
sachughtai Mar 20, 2012 07:19pm
Excellent job. Talat Hussain has proved to be an candid and frank anchor. We are proud of him.
Muhammad Tayyab Mar 21, 2012 10:36am
The reason why I like Talat Hussain is his exception to all others in Pakistani media persons. He doesn't agree with the statements of his guests until they match with ground realities. He was the only Pakistani who dared to go at freedom flotilla unlike others whom duty is to criticize only Army & ISI.
Veqar Islam Mar 24, 2012 02:18pm
Talat Arguably is the best anchor in our country. It is interesting to note that even the best anchor/analyst in the country struggle to defend media and give solutions to the problem of the country. It is a farce in Pakistan that media is independent. These media houses/journalist/anchors/analyst in majority of cases have cut a deal with one or the other to propagate a particular brand of politics or a very one sided view. Rarely what we see in media is the real truth of what is happening in the country. Most of the journalist (this is where Talat stands out and give us some hope) are as corrupt and morally bankrupt as our politicians, army and the other ruling stakeholders. Unfortunately truth is lost somewhere in this country. Media needs to accept majority (as they got independence by a dictator - interestingly) of the blame (if not all the blame) for making Truth the ultimate casualty in Pakistan. All the owners of media houses are known corrupt, blackmailers, tax evaders. How do we expect them to project the truth through the mouthpiece they have called - Anchors, analysts, etc..
Mohammad Usama Rehma Mar 28, 2012 12:05am
Talat is indeed one of the finest journalists of Pakistan, he deserbes to be called as the Pride of Pakistan and the Pakistani NATION Furthurmore what Talat Hussain pointed out in his talk really carries weight and must be understood by the people and the Journalists as well. Journalists represent their countrymen and therefore have immense responsibility to speak, write and report accurately and rightly.
arifa saleem Mar 31, 2012 10:10pm
Talat Hussain do great job and he describs great analysis of pakistani system which going in our country
naveedas May 07, 2012 07:32pm
Very good and well-written informative article.I really like Talat Hussain because his intellectuality and evidence-based conversation.Talat Hussain is a proud of Pakistani media.