The challenge ahead

Journalism in Pakistan is in a spin

Kamal Siddiqi September 04, 2016
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune

Journalism in Pakistan is in a spin. In 2002, we had 1,100 dailies, weeklies and monthlies. Today we have approximately 2,000. This includes 200 Jihadi publications. Total print circulation has risen from 3 million in 2002 to over 6 million in 2015, according to figures released by the APNS and other print bodies.

We stand at 5 readers per newspaper copy, which means 30 million newspaper readers in a population of over 200 million. Now compare this to the rise in active Internet users which stands at around 50 million in Pakistan today from a measly 150,000 users estimated in 2002. These figures come from different industry sources. What is evident is that Internet users are rising steadily and by the same logic are online news consumers. Today, the ratio for print to online readers stands at between 1:10 to 1:15.

The broadcast industry has made great progress in the past decade. From 1 TV channel in 2002, we now have more than a hundred. Of this almost 40 are news channels. This is an exceedingly high number by any standard.

We also have almost 150 independent FM channels of which about 27 are owned by the government. What we have seen is nothing short of an explosion in the news media. There is debate on why we have so many news channels and whether that translates into us being better informed.

The challenge in all this lies in the number of working journalists. From 2,000 in 2002, we now estimate the number to have exceeded 18,000 at present. Tragically, only 5 per cent of these are women. Two-fifths are district correspondents. But the biggest challenge is that almost 70 per cent of this number are without a journalism degree.

If that was not enough, Pakistan is also one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist. Since 2000, more than a hundred journalists have been killed in the performance of their professional duties. In most instances, the local law enforcement administration has been unable to nab the killers. The impunity with which different actors kill, injure or threaten journalists in Pakistan is frightening.

Apart from attaining professional skills, the main issues now for journalists in present times in Pakistan are ethics and safety. When people complain about the deteriorating standards of journalism in Pakistan, what they do not understand is that like every other part of our society, here too there are some basic issues that need to addressed.

That is why I want to now focus on these. Unfortunately, that would mean my giving up my position as editor of one of Pakistan’s most exciting and talked about English-language dailies.

In 2009, when I was hired to launch the paper as its editor, there were a number of question marks over how we would be able to succeed in the face of stiff competition and a declining print market. But succeed we did, and in the process we were able to introduce new trends in the field - both in print and online.

The paper set new standards and like every good institution introduced hundreds of men and women to the profession. Tribune staffers, past and present, are amongst the best trained journalists in Pakistan today.

In terms of content, we were able to do some stellar work. With editions in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad, we had had a team of talented and hard-working staffers, from very diverse backgrounds.

We focused on covering issues on our front page that were not considered as mainstream news like health, education, poverty and population. We also went an extra mile for disadvantaged groups and vulnerable sections of society like victims of violence as well as extensive attention to religious minorities.

Looking back, it has been a roller coaster. And we are fully cognisant of the fact that we are no more gate keepers. The onslaught of social media has changed all that. Our strength now should be to give our audience accurate and informed content. That is why we need better journalists. That is why I plan to focus on training of journalists in Pakistan.

I would take this opportunity to thank everyone who has made this journey what it has been. Thank you for all the support. And goodbye for the time being.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2016.

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Parvez | 7 years ago | Reply Noble of luck. This industry needs good people like you.
Salu | 7 years ago | Reply Both pioneers who launched Tribune, Mr Ziauddin and Kamal have left the paper, I hope this newspaper will be able to continue to pursue its independent policy.
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