Making better journalists: Think like the land mafia when you report on them, advises NGO Shehri

‘Reporting on trends, and not specific events, is better’.

Express April 07, 2011


A reporter covering land grabbing must read the mind of the perpetrator and this can only be achieved when a reporter presumes he is part of the land mafia. This astonishing advice came from Dr Noman Ahmed, an NED University professor, who was speaking to a group of journalists on Wednesday at a capacity building workshop organised by the NGO Shehri - Citizens for a Better Environment.

“[We need] a sugar-coated brand of reporting on land issues, in the same way as the military is covered - polite in reading but rock-hard in impact,” he said. Sensationalism is the buzz-word today, he said. “And what I would suggest is that the reporters revert to the ‘5Ws’ theory - who, what, when, where and why.”

His solution includes reporting on trends rather than specific cases of encroachments. Land grabbing or squatting involves big names and usually that takes precedence in media reports rather than the actual information, he pointed out repeatedly during his presentation.

Why is land being encroached upon? The answer is very simple, said Dr Ahmed. Land is a highly contested asset “which is now being transacted as a commodity.” What makes it an easy asset to occupy is that digging out facts on property is very difficult.

“For example, the National Highway Authority headquarters on Drigh Road has been built on railway land yet no one is questioning it.”

Dr Ahmed also gave the example of the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) balloting industrial plots by using technical expertise from the National Bank of Pakistan a few years ago. According to him, that balloting was done in a “pre-determined way to facilitate a few people”.

He urged reporters to contact government agencies and regulatory bodies, such as the Karachi Building Control Authority and the cantonment boards, when digging out information. Reporters usually ignore local stakeholders when they are reporting on land. Surveys conducted by universities can also be used during investigations, he added.

The workshop turned into a ‘grievance-sharing’ platform. Even after a panellist, Sahar Ali, said again and again to speak of solutions, reporters refused to stop talking about the “internal issues” they face. The biggest constraint they highlighted was that stories on land are “twisted to suit the people in question” or “mostly, discarded”. “At times there is political pressure on the media houses or on journalists themselves,” said one reporter.

According to Dr Ahmed, reporters should also follow a yardstick to differentiate between right and wrong. A graveyard is a place for the dead so there should be no other building, not even a religious seminary or a mosque, near it, he said. The reported material should be creative, with boxes, diagrams, caricatures, etc, to attract readers.

Referring to the bus terminals set up in the city, Shehri general secretary Amber Alibhai said that this resulted from the ambiguity in chartering a route permit for the intercity bus operators. Normally the route permit says that the bus would rotate from Karachi city to Dadu so the operators take advantage of that ambiguity and establish a bus terminal at the city’s busiest locations.

It was concluded at the end of the session that rather than running after scoops, ‘changing trends’ in land management issues should be investigated and analysed by reporters. “Moreover, there is a need to think out-of-the-box,” said Farhan Anwer, a Shehri member. “The approach has to change now so that even the readers know what to do.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th,  2011.


Salman Orangiwala | 10 years ago | Reply @ Arsalan Bilwany .... and the biggest ever Foreign Currenty scammer is : Khanani and Kalia and co . Nobody bothers to talk about him and what goes on in the name of "business " of the so called busniess community .
arsalan bilwany | 10 years ago | Reply The NGO's & the media should first get the courage to name the biggest land grabbers in karachi & then hold seminars & talk shows on this issue.When the media people are scared of ending up as a bori band laash for naming the biggest land grabbing party, then there's no hope for this country.
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