The death of English news in Pakistan

The death of Express 24/7, Dawn News and Geo English has denied the student a teacher.

Ovais Jafar December 01, 2011
During a job interview in Lahore, at the purpose built headquarters of a soon-to-launch news channel, I was asked how I felt about hosting an English language program to cater to the expats responsible for many important decisions.

My response back in 2008; the ones who matter already have the means to get the information they need. The idea of an English language news program was great, but not to satisfy the appetites of expats. It was important, first, to satisfy the needs of our own people.

The most common response to my idealism – as it was usually considered – was the fact that Geo English had not launched and Dawn News was a failing product from the get-go.

I still maintain, had Geo English launched, Dawn News would have understood the difference and gone Urdu a lot sooner and Express 24/7 would have never seen the light of day.

To understand why, it must be noted that from the team that was trained for Geo English, many became the faces of Dawn News. Many more worked behind the scenes as producers, reporters and copy writers.

When the time came for Express 24/7, it was launched – again – by most of the core team that was trained for Geo English (some of the ones who were part of the core team from NewsDay – Geo’s first English bulletin – till GE’s death)

The people who went to Dawn were mostly foreign educated, western influenced individuals. The ones that fell in 24/7′s lap were the thoroughbred Pakistani brains.

The mix of those groups of people together had been the winning combination, a real Pakistani English news team. Their target audience was not limited to the whiskey-sipping, cigar smoking, Chanel-adoring Pakistani.

The viewer in Nazimabad, the one tucked away in Anarkali, and the young students who would sit at the dhabba in Shadi Khan, were also GE’s target audience.

I write this, as an obituary, for the one who was aborted in 2008, the one who denied its existence and the one that died just days ago.

The death of independent English language programming has denied the student of a teacher; who would rely on the English News to improve his own.

Before you disagree with my argument; let me tell you about Usman, a colleague who speaks English with a strong American accent.

The first time I met Usman, I had approached him to inquire what such a westernized individual was doing in the graveyard shift at an Urdu channel.

It turned out that Usman’s English was the product of watching lots of Hollywood movies. He didn’t just enjoy his movies, he learned from them. After years of copying and training himself today he can speak fluent English, with an American accent.

I myself have done the same. Only in my case, it took me 20 minutes to read a 2-inch story in the daily Jang back in 2009 and I took a full 10 minutes just to say the word ‘haq-e-khud-iradiyat’ (that’s ‘right to self determination’ in Urdu).

Today not only can I type in Urdu, I often correct grammatical mistakes in my colleagues’ copy.

To whom do I owe the credit for my achievement? All the Urdu news channels that I have learned from and the many newspapers and Urdu periodicals I have read.

In case you’re still having difficulty accepting my argument, let me remind you of a show called Sesame Street. Over the last 4 decades, it has taught millions of children, the alphabet, numbers, how to share, and play together. 74 million people in the US alone have learned the basics from this TV Show

If a pre-schooler can learn his alphabet from TV, why can’t an adult learn English the same way?

There are many examples out there similar to Usman, if it weren’t for them, the call center industry might not have thrived here.

Let’s now observe a moment of silence, on the death of independent English Language programming in Pakistan.

Its not just a loss for the burgers, the bun kabab has lost more.
Ovais Jafar A broadcast journalist who currently works at Geo News.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.