Telling different tales

In my opinion, journalists are gradually becoming the victims of their own work

Kamal Siddiqi October 03, 2017
The writer, a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA. He tweets @tribunian

In the media, we sometimes feel that as journalists we have our fingers on the pulse of the nation. Possibly true in some cases, largely false in most.

In my opinion, journalists are gradually becoming the victims of their own work. From being observers, many have become participants in news stories.

In some cases, they are even stakeholders. This is somewhat true of the Pakistani media, where some journalists, owing to their individual talents and traits, have moved on to greener pastures.

While most journalists continue to slog it out in the most adverse conditions, a random few have courted fame and fortune and become advisers or gone for political appointments. Of this lot, there are a select few who continue to survive by jumping one ship after another. They can best be described as the dregs of our profession.

Many of those who look good in the public also go for the occasional favour as and when required. That means one should be careful when senior journalists start giving their opinions. Do take with a pinch of salt.

I recall being invited some years back when Mr Zardari was president to a briefing in Islamabad in my humble capacity as columnist. With me from Karachi on the invitation list were Cyril Almedia (he hadn’t moved to Islamabad by then and this was possibly his introductory trip to that city) and the indefatigable Amir Zia.

As we landed, we were told by our minders — officials from the information ministry that there was some delay as one “senior journalist” from Lahore had thrown a tantrum. The problem was that he refused to be accommodated at the comparatively more simple Islamabad Hotel instead of the Marriott. Eventually the ministry obliged him.

If there is a worst job category created for Pakistan, I think uppermost would be that of government information officers, who have the unenviable task of dealing with “senior journalists” whose egos and attitudes have to be seen to be believed. One mistake on the part of the officer and the minister is called in.

Coming back to the Zardari briefing, once it was over we had to wait another hour in the sweltering van as a couple of columnists — household names, I assure you, had gone on to meet the president personally only to have certain favours done. I am told one had asked for money for his son’s study abroad, another wanted a plot of land and a third wanted the government to pay for his medical treatment in the US. So much for these persons being impartial or independent. I believe they all got what they wanted.

On the topic of the pulse of a nation, if there is any profession that truly understands what is happening in our country, it would be teachers. Given an opportunity, one must ask them about their work and the children entrusted in their care. There are stories worth listening there.

Over the past couple of months, I have had the pleasure of talking to over two hundred teachers through a platform created by a local NGO called Society for International Education. SIE is introducing the concept of citizen journalism to hundreds of teachers and students as a channel through which they can express their views and work towards the concept of peace journalism.

Sounds far-fetched, but it isn’t. I have been asked to talk to these teachers in my capacity as a journalist and an academic. More than anything, it is the questions that they pose and the stories that they share which gives one some idea of what is happening in our schools and our society.

Most are tales of lost opportunities, corruption, inefficiency and negligence. And this comes from teachers in the private sector. The biggest worry, however, is that many teachers genuinely feel that they are being overtaken by their students in terms of knowledge and technology. In other words, students are becoming smarter than their teachers. This is cause for some worry.

But there is also hope. Concepts like citizen journalism hope to overcome both the bubble in which many of our journalists live and the frustration that our teachers face. Given the right tools and direction, teachers and other citizens will be able to report better and more effectively on stories that our mainstream media ignores. Could this be the future of our journalism in times to come?

Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2017.

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