Showing posts with label Pak-Afghan border Media. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pak-Afghan border Media. Show all posts

Journalists: Are we driven by facts or egos?

 ICFJ Alumni  Group Photo at Media Summit  held  in Islamabad on Feb 1,2,2013. Photo taken by Alumni fell

My inner critic is always haunting me with this burning question: am I objective and unbiased as a journalist?

I found the answer in the first week of February, at a media summit organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in Islamabad. More than 80 journalists from all over Pakistan, who are alumni of ICFJ attended this summit. Speakers shared their views on important subjects, like the state of media in Pakistan, and how the USA and Pakistan see each other through media. It also gave us a chance to get to know each other.For me, the most interesting part was a session where journalists quizzed the speakers. That’s where my burning question was answered.

From (L-R)Muhammad Ziauddin, executive editor express tribune, Muhammad Malik, senior anchor Dunya TV, Rana Jawad Islamabad bureau chief Geo TV. Photo taken by ICFJ Alumni fellow
A journalist issued a challenge to Rana Jawed, bureau chief of Islamabad Private Television. Why had the station “fanned” the controversy over a provocative YouTube film about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by repeating the clip dozens of times, and calling upon government to ban YouTube? And why did the station later boast – via breaking news – that it was responsible for the YouTube ban? Rana Jawad replied, but the journalist wasn’t satisfied. Neither was I.

Zia-u-ddin, executive editor of Express Tribune, joined the discussion. He explained that television is part of mass media, so its priority is set by people’s emotions and expectations. If you ignore this reality they will switch to another channel. This made sense, but the journalist was still not satisfied.

Enter Muhammad Malick, editor of The News. His view was that no one is perfect in the media business, so we should learn from each other and develop professionalism throughout the industry.

But the journalist was still unwilling to let the issue drop. Later, I learned that he works for a rival television station. The episode made me realize how difficult it is for journalists to move from fixed angles. We stick to our position at any cost.

When another journalist – this time from Quetta – raised his hand to ask a question I gave him all my attention. I was keen to learn about the situation in Quetta, and the ongoing violence which is related to ethnicity and Baloch separatists.
But it was not to be.

“I am impressed by you, Mr Zia-u-ddin,” the journalist began. “You challenged the dictators. You did an excellent job during the Zia regime (and so on), and my question is: should I continue in print or switch over to television?”
I wasn’t expecting such a personal question. Neither was Zia-u-uddin. As soon as he sensed that the issue was superficial he leaned back in his chair and smilingly accepted the admiration. I am a hundred percent sure he wasn’t interested to hear flattery in such a public place. It’s well-known that he is a serious journalist.
This made me realize how important it is for us to ask questions on behalf of the people we serve, instead of just following our own needs. And, as the session also showed, journalists need to understand the difference between making comments and asking well-designed questions. Good questions generate news. The ability to ask good questions is the essence of journalism.

A journalist from FATA fell into the trap of confusing comment with question. “We are thankful to Pakistan for military operations, we are thankful to USA for drone attacks and we are thankful to the Taliban for destroying schools because you all taught us the importance of education,” he began. Personally, I didn’t like this attitude. 

But then the journalist redeemed himself with a strong question to Hamid Mir. Why, he asked, couldn’t he come to cover tribal issues? Hamid Mir explained that he is not allowed to enter tribal areas. He described how his DVR was snatched and smashed by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) while he was covering a drone attack.
At this, another journalist from Khyber PakhtunKhwa (KPK) pointed out that Hamid Mir had interviewed Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan. Why, then, couldn’t he cover issues in tribal areas?
I liked the question but not the challenging tone. Later, the KPK journalist told me that he had been “infuriated” by the “disrespectful” way in which Hamid Mir had responded to his colleague from FATA. Emotion had spurred him to join the debate. See? Egos are driving our journalism.
An ICFJ Alumni, Gharieda Farooq is asking a question. Photo taken by Alumni Fellow

I thought seminars were for listening and analyzing. But this one turned into a television talk show. It seemed some people were desperate to pull others down, just so they could enhance their own reputations.

Another interesting observation: those who were keen to ask many questions were not equally keen to report the answers. Yes, they were free to ask but they didn’t feel the need to write. Surely then, they had lost sight of journalism’s aim: to pass on information to the people, through traditional and social media.
So what did I learn from this summit?
Most importantly, that journalists should be clear about what they want to ask, and should have the skill to design their questions coherently and simply. Our questions must be challenging, but we should ask them in a polite way that shows we’re interested in information – not defamation.

Short Bio of Radio Mullahs in North Western Pakistan

The Individuals, who rode airwaves in the North Western Pakistan used radio as an effective tool to get people support for their imposition of ''Sharia'' (Islamic Law) in Swat and Khyber Agency.  Here is the short bio of those:

Maulana Fazlullah started an illegal local FM channel in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's Swat Valley in 2006. He preaches forcing vice and virtue and has an anti-Western Jihadi stance. He is considered pro-Taliban and a very powerful figure in the area. Though he considers most communication based electronics as "major sources of sin" he transmits broadcasts of his sermons on an illegal local FM radio channel, hence the nickname "Radio Mullah" or "Maulana Radio".
FM signals are relayed from mobile transmitters mounted on motorcycles and trucks. During nightly broadcasts, prohibited activities are routinely declared and violators' names announced for assassination, which often includes beheading.                                                                                                                        Maulana Fazlullah (born 1974) nicknamed the "Radio Mullah" or "Mullah Radio", is the leader of Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a banned Pakistani Islamic fundamentalist militant group allied to the Pakistani Taliban, that aims to enforce Sharia in the country. He is sometimes referred to as "chief" of the Swat Taliban and is the son-in-law of the TNSM's founder, Sufi Muhammad. (Source

Mufti Munir Shakir (birthdate unknown) is a religious figure operating in northwestern Pakistan, and the founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam. Shakir worked in Kurram Agency until 2004, when he was ejected by tribal elders following a mosque bombing.
Shakir's fame increased after he moved to Bara tehsil, Khyber Agency, where he established an FM pirate radio station. Using this vehicle, he began to promote his religious beliefs, based in Deobandi theology. Among his more controversial pronouncements was his alleged statement that opium is halal, provided it is produced and used for medical purposes.

Mengal Bagh is said to be a successor of Mufti Munir Shakir, When Shakir was ejected from Khyber Agency, he turned over his radio station to Bagh, a local driver, and Bagh then formed the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam.[3] Nowadays he is somewhere in the Vally of Tera. But members of LeI are still in Bara and areas of Khyber Agency. (Source

                                                                                                       In 2005, Pir Saifur Rahman, a supporter of the more moderate Barelvi school of Islam, established his own FM pirate radio station to compete with Shakir's station. Rivalry between the two clerics increased, causing tribal elders to denounce the two in December 2005 for fomenting sectarian tension. Both clerics then went into hiding, with Shakir handing control of his radio station and Lashkar-e-Islam organization to Mangal Bagh. The hostilities peaked around March 29, 2006, when "hundreds" of Shakir's followers gathered in the Badshahkili neighborhood of Bara tehsil to attack Rahman's followers. (Source

Ansar ul Islam (AI) was founded in June 2006 in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency by Qazi Mehboob-ul Haq who also belongs to Deobandi theology but had difference with Lashkar-e-Islam.  It was founded to counter the expansion of Lashkar-e-Islam who believes in strict implementation of Sharia.  Qazi Mehboob-ul-Haq used his pirate radio to counter the ideology of Lashkar-e- Islam and his radio is very famous in the Tirah Valley bordering Afghanistan. (Local Source)

In Tribal Area: Radio Sensitize Public For School Education

A local radio station in Pakistan’s unsettled tribal areas has shown how important the media can be in spreading awareness of the importance of education. About 180 new students turned up at one government school in the town of Razmak in North Waziristan after the local radio station broadcast announcements telling parents that education in government schools was free. Most local parents thought they would have to pay for schooling. 

                                    The freshly admitted students are taking lessons from teacher.

North Waziristan is believed one of the main bases for militants causing instability in both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

The Razmak radio which was established in 2006 to bridge gap between people and government has started Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) campaign to educate people on development issues. It has, in this scenario, designed PSAs in March and broadcasted it throughout the month to motivate local people to enroll their children at the schools. Razmak town is relatively safe unlike other fata schools where schools were blown up regularly. Local media sources say that more than 300 schools have been destroyed or damaged by militants in the tribal agencies in the past few years. The government school in Razmak is more protected because the town has one of the main government military bases in Waziristan.

Bahadur Nawaz, principal of the Government High School Razmak said that his school used to have only 30 students. There is little tradition of formal education in the fiercely conservative tribal areas, and few parents send their children to school. When the Razmak radio broadcasted PSA, he has started receiving good response from people of the locality .It is conveyed to listeners that their children will be taught freely and they would be provided free books. After broadcasting the PSA, large number of parents has started coming in for admission. ‘In less than a month, the number of students at School have raised to 210’’ Bahadur Nawaz added. Most of the students, he had admitted in school were fresh and brought in by parents who were poor and couldn’t bear little expenses in the form of admission fee.

Bakhtawar Jan, station Manager at Razmak Radio said that this message has been repeatedly broadcasted over a month and he has received tremendous response from listeners, who calls to station; asking for further information about free education.

He added that those, who called in station, were first suspicious about the authenticity of this announcement but when they realized that its true then they questioned the qualification of teachers whether they are qualified . ‘You can see the curiosity and interest of the public from this’, he told. He has never imagined such a response to PSA which brought 180 students to a deserted school.

Gul Khatem, the father of eight years old Junaid said that he heard this message from radio and took his child straight to school for admission. “It was exactly free of cost as was said by radio” he told. His son was studying in 1st class when he pulled out his child from a private school because of expenditure, said Khatem, who hails to Sola Borakhel Village of Razmak sub division.

The principal said that still people are coming regularly for admission and even today he has admitted more eight (8) students. Apart from fresh students, he has also admitted those students who were migrated from private schools.

Mr. Abdul Haseeb, resident of Shankie village at Razmak told that his two sons have been studying in fifth class in a private school but when he heard this message; he couldn’t resist bringing in his children to this school for free education.

The principal added that people who are Internally Displaced from South Waziristan and living in camps at Razmak and Shawal have also responded very well and they brought their children for admission.

Radio Is The Lifeline in Tribal Areas of Pakistan

people listening to rado Miranshah.

In FATA, Radio is the only Voice, Published by Express Tribune.

Twice, I missed cadet college tests during my school period because the only source of news was newspapers and the admission news failed to reach me in time. But even today, students and people of the FATA don’t get news in real time.

An International media development organization in Pakistan has trained Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) broadcasters on public service announcements (PSAs) in a training held in Islamabad Pakistan. Broadcasters from local radio stations have attended this five day hands on training on PSAs. While PSAs are used widely elsewhere in the world, they have never been used by these stations in Pakistan before. “I have done my Master in journalism but I have not learned on how to produce PSA,” said Asadullah who attended that training along with 10 other colleagues at February 2012. The use of PSAs and other Public-oriented media trainings is crucial to help Pakistan Local government in FATA to establish relationship with its militancy affected people located at Pak-Afghan border.

Asadullah and his colleagues wasted no time putting their new training to good use. They immediately returned to their stations and began developing PSAs, the first of which was about the ongoing voter registration process in Pakistan. After broadcasting the voter registration PSA on Radio Miranshah, the station started receiving a number of calls and letters from listeners congratulating them. According to listeners they are providing them guidance on voter registration and other important social issues. Asadullah a young reporter who has risen quickly to the ranks never thought that he would be bridging gap between government and local people.
A media development organization has engaged five partner radio stations from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to train them on professional broadcasting. The partner radio stations have been provided with professional equipment in order to improve working capacity and trainings to strengthen their production skills for the benefit of the local population. These radios are the only government voice in the tribal areas to inform listeners about government development activities. That is why Asadullah and his other colleagues from the same partner radio stations have also been trained in PSA production.

Mr. Fazal Rahman, station manager of the radio Miranshah and who also attended that training, regarded this training very fruitful. He has also produced PSAs about local government and has solicited applications from students to attend a free skill development program. Fazal, who remained my colleague during our four years broadcasting in FATA, told me that as soon as he broadcast that announcement, he received many calls from listeners inquiring about this opportunity. He was surprised to see how fruitful this activity was. He never experienced this kind of broadcasting which is very short and concise, and he was happy to see that he has engaged destitute local people in constructive activity.

The impoverished tribal regions have no other option to learn about any opportunity provided by the government or non-government organizations except these radios. Twice, I missed cadet college tests during my school period because the only source of news was newspapers and the admission news failed to reach me in real time. Cadet Colleges are special colleges established by government with subsidized fee and high standard and they admit those students who cleared their tests. They every year announced admission with limited seats for general students who can make their way into college. But even today, students and people of the FATA don’t get news in real time.

So, the broadcasting of these five radio stations working in Northwestern Pakistan Tribal areas has attracted large audiences, especially students and women who are more interested in education and health programs. This practice has converted lot of opportunities either from government or non-government into public announcements to reach to larger audiences of FATA. These radios also requested local government to give them permission to start commercial broadcasting in tribal region.

Though, the government has started number of projects to provide basic facilities to public such as health, education, but those were going unnoticed because, there was no mechanism in place to disseminate information to large audiences. The local government of FATA usually issued information to newspapers and televisions and both the mediums lack access to large audiences in FATA, mainly because of illiteracy and power shortage. Therefore, the information failed to reach concerned people, most of the time, which have been living far away in the mountains. For instance, I have heard commercials given by local government to Peshawar FM channels despite knowing that it is not being heard fully in the FATA. Today, most of the scholarships are advertised in the newspapers meant for fata students while knowing that newspaper circulation is few hundred in the whole of FATA.

The Fata radios since its inception are totally dependent on donor’s money and local government has not yet design commercial plans to make these radios financially sustainable. But Asadullah is confident that sooner or later his radio would get permission of commercial broadcasting and then he could be able to utilize his skills for making commercial spots. He said he would be happy to become part of that broadcasting too.