Pakistan’s media restricted to reporting on urban centers, media can’t report on half of country

“Journalists in Pakistan need to be trained on the fact that a small local story is very important than the religious narrative of anti-Israel and anti-India international content.” 

Hamid Hussain01Community journalism is an essential part of contemporary society and is the lifeline to help resolve issues that affect a community. A good democracy is the one which devolves powers to grassroots levels to empower people. Similarly, good journalism in any society is the one which focuses on issues of communities and does not report only bigger issues to increase ratings.

The concept of community journalism is lacking all together in Pakistan. Though, there are small newspapers, radio channels in almost all regions of the country but in reality people working in these media organizations are not even considered as journalists. Most local newspapers publish few copies because no one reads it. People read and watch national media which mostly focuses on national issues. In such a situation, the smaller issues which directly affect communities in remote towns and even in urban territories go unnoticed.

Pakistani traditional media has transitioned to electronic and social media, and it is still changing, but the concept of community journalism is still in the infant phase. Media in Pakistan generally operates in a culture of haste often compromising journalistic standards.

As far as community journalism in the west and United States is concerned, it is very strong because people care for their local issues with a great sense of community in their neighborhood. People want to know for example, if there is a change in subway train schedule and some kind of new rules for pets in a community.

“The element of social responsibility in Pakistani journalism is lacking and to be successful, a Pakistani journalist is bound to adapt to state narrative which is anti-India and pro-rightists,” says Iftikhar Hussain

Washington-based broadcast journalist at the Voice of America, Iftikhar Hussain says pick up a local newspaper on a metro station anywhere in America and you will find the smallest news of the area, which is an example of how important it is for media to focus on the issues that directly affect people.

Hussain says “The element of social responsibility in Pakistani journalism is lacking and to be successful, a Pakistani journalist is bound to adapt to state narrative which is anti-India and pro-rightists.” Pakistani media is restricted to reporting few urban centers, area-wise it cannot report on more than half of the country; Baluchistan and the tribal region,” he explained.

He says “Journalists in Pakistan need to be trained on the fact that a small local story is very important than the religious narrative of anti-Israel and anti-India international content.”

Along with this, the smaller media houses need to be supported so that they can survive and play a role of real watchdog on local authorities.

Sharing his experiences of journalism in America, he said the U.S media trains their journalists on media ethics journalistic standards and social responsibility as a broader requirement for the job. “Journalists are refined and groomed in their newsrooms and are considered clean people and expected to demonstrate neutrality,” he explains.

American journalists are trained on objectivity, especially on including versions of all the parties involved and focusing on smallest issues. The hallmark of American system is individual freedom and every individual including journalists internalizes this value as part of education in schools. Journalists clearly know their dos and don’ts. They are trained on the worth of good journalistic work but as well as told his/her safety comes first. Journalists as a virtue learn what makes a good story which is not necessarily a scoop.

Hussain further says in the United States, newspapers and televisions gave too much importance even to smallest issues. Journalist do not work just to get publish their news report in their newspaper but to help resolve an issue which is affecting the local folks. The journalists own their society/community and have a sense of responsibility for raising voice for their folks.

Ohio-based American journalist at the English daily The Cincinnati Enquirer, Jeremy Fugleberg says community journalism is critically important in the United States. Every day journalists produce news on which their communities rely. They hold local lawmakers to account, which strengthens democracy. National media covers national issues, which are important as well. But only community journalists tell the story of their community and ensure even the smallest level of government remains accountable to taxpayers.

The concept of community journalism is lacking all together in Pakistan. Though, there are small newspapers, radio channels in almost all regions of the country but in reality people working in these media organizations are not even considered as journalists. Most local newspapers publish few copies because no one reads it. People read and watch national media which mostly focuses on national issues. In such a situation, the smaller issues which directly affect communities in remote towns and even in urban territories go unnoticed.

He says the role of mainstream media is to keep an eye on the government’s policies of policies but local media is supposed to hold local authorities accountable and this is where the community journalism becomes crucial.

Sharing his experience as a young reporter when he joined the media field, he said he started as a freelancer for a local newspaper, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, writing short profiles of local business. Then he attended South Dakota State University, and took classes in political science and journalism.

Fugleberg says “My first journalism job was working for the English newspaper Argus Leader as a reporter intern and I was treated very well there which encouraged me. I sat next to some of the newspaper’s most experienced reporters and they taught me a lot, and I learned much just by sitting next to them and listening to them interview sources over the telephone.”

He says in the United States very few media outlets have their own training programs for people who want to become journalists. But it is common for media outlets to have a close relationship with universities who train journalists. In America media outlets provide internship opportunities to young people who want to become journalists. Much of the best practical training is learned on the job where the culture is that the senior reporters help the young ones.

He said Pakistan journalists who have been part of professional trainings in America should train their fellow journalists on the importance of community journalism. It is their moral obligation to share their experiences with local journalists so that they can produces good news which might help resolve issues that affect people of a community.

Community journalist and President Battagram Press Club, (Battagram is a remote town in northern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Abdul Rehman says he has been working as a local journalist for the past 20 years. He says the concept of community journalism does not exist in Pakistan. Only mainstream media is considered as media. Most community journalists do not know how to use laptops, smart phones or any other latest technologies that are being used for reporting. They still work with decades old traditional methods of reporting.

He says “Unfortunately local journalists in Pakistan are only doing politics-oriented statement journalism and very few issues are discussed, adding that the media outlets, civil society and international media organizations can help train journalists working in remote towns of Pakistan to enhance reporting standards.”

Rehman urged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to take measures for strengthening community journalism which is necessary for holding local officials accountable to taxpayers. “The government can introduce training programs for journalists, establish press clubs at tehsil level wherever needed, the press clubs should be equipped with modern technology for journalist which in return would improve journalism standards,” he added.

Zahid Khan, correspondent of several national Urdu dailies and member district Hangu press club says even small local newspaper do not report the real issues of their localities but rather they are focused on what is happening in the major cities like Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi. No newspaper or television channel has ever reported that why post graduate college in Hangu, or a girl’s college in Kalat district of Balochistan are faced with shortage of teachers.

Another community journalist from district Mardan, Abdul Sattar associated with daily Surkhab sharing his experiences said the mainstream cannot pay attention to small news which carries great importance for the locality from where the news has come. To address this issue, the local newspapers owners and community journalists should be trained to focus on real issues instead of only reporting and publishing statements of local politicians.

Sattar suggested that “The journalism schools in different universities in the country can start small diploma programs for working journalists so that they can learn the basics and ethics of journalism and latest technologies that are being used in contemporary journalism.”

Writer: Hamid Hussain

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist. He tweets at @Hamidlawangeen

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