Nasty, brutish and sometimes short

Published: September 13, 2010
The writer is executive director for news and current affairs at Aaj TV

The writer is executive director for news and current affairs at Aaj TV [email protected]

Life in Pakistan has become exceedingly hazardous for journalists. There is too much to report on, and too little protection available against threats to life and limb. The sad events in Quetta last week indicate how fragile the fourth estate’s defences are. While the parties involved in the incident blame each other for the firing spree, triggered by the suicide attack, the mutual recrimination is useless for the driver and the cameramen who lost their lives. Just as bad is the roughing up of a senior journalist from Islamabad by goons who, till the writing of these lines, remain untraced.

The other hazard relates to the task of determining news priority. It is certainly preferable to getting mowed down or being blown away but it is still hugely problematic.

The first problem relates to big stories that pour like rain. In the midst of raging floods, match-fixing allegations have come to complicate news judgement.  The media focus on whether the national team is indeed involved in the scam is intense. So intense that, for a while, it knocked out flood devastation from the front pages. Private channels studios, known for vibrant and noisy debates, are devoting more time to the cricket crisis than to the flood.

Further dividing the media’s attention is endless political speculation about the future of this doddering government, the tales of whose corruption and incompetence are now the stuff of legend and folklore. Every day questions are raised about a possible military takeover and the end of President Zardari’s political career.

A recent statement from Altaf Hussain that the generals should kick out corrupt leaders has unleashed a media storm. Overnight millions facing starvation became a minor concern. A few trite political words became news obsession.

And as if this was not bad enough, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is losing its tense calm to terrorism. Attacks in areas where the supposed closure of military campaign has happened is adding more stress and trouble to the media’s work in the field. Which story has to be given greater attention tests news selectors nerves every-day.

Some journalists chose the immediate and not the important news, because that is the done thing and because there is a public demand for this kind of a choice. Almost all media is based in big cities. The urban elite want juicy scandals and high political drama even if played by the same redundant cast. The urban marketing myth is that media persons who do not feed this powerful urban elite a variety of news lose popularity, ratings and revenue for their media outlets.

But even when journalists have gone through the difficult process of surviving in the field and selecting news stories for detailed focus, they face a national environment that is bitter and fragmented. These days quite literally one man’s honey has become the other’s poison. Vested interests want to hold news agendas hostage to their biases.

Sectarian mafias, urban terrorists, party workers, business tycoons, separatists, fashion models, social butter flies, flood victims, foreign donors, debtors, khakis and muftis — everyone wants media as a mouthpiece, and nothing more. Independent, objective critique and feedback, if unfavourable, is trashed as ‘yellow journalism’. The more thunderous among the thugs don’t mind teaching the errant ones an unforgettable lesson. This is why anyone with a gun maintains a hit-list of journalists. The less resourceful among them – those who do not have the capacity to kill, kidnap, burn, maim or thrash – have their hate-lists that they take out and trample upon at the sight of the slightest show of disagreement.

In this distressful scenario, the only thing going for the journalists is unnatural but inspiring public trust that, out of the lens of the camera and the nub of the pen, shall somehow flow the fountain of hope for this country. And just as unnaturally, for most of us, this is enough reason to keep striving harder, praying, as we prepare for the next assignment, for our fallen colleagues, and thinking that we could have been in their place.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2010.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (42)

  • Sep 13, 2010 - 11:56PM


    when you write: Life in Pakistan has become exceedingly hazardous for journalists. i am forced to ask you to define a credible ‘journalist’ in the pakistani context.

    do you consider everyone with a byline in print or a host on tv a credible journalist?Recommend

  • Sep 14, 2010 - 12:09AM

    IF life is so atrociously ugly for journalist. Then well why are you complaining here? JUST get another PASSPORT. Recommend

  • Azka
    Sep 14, 2010 - 12:32AM

    that was… harsh.Recommend

  • Adeel
    Sep 14, 2010 - 1:19AM

    Looks like it’s your turn to get another passport, Talat. Love Pakistan uncritically or leave it. Either you are with us or against us!!!Recommend

  • Saif M
    Sep 14, 2010 - 2:40AM

    Just as bad is the roughing up of a senior journalist from Islamabad by goons who, till the writing of these lines, remain untraced.

    You are a journalist. Why don’t you try to investigate this? Why don’t you do a program on this? Why don’t you write a whole column about the roughing up that journalist, and who he thinks are the probable culprits?Recommend

  • Muneeb
    Sep 14, 2010 - 3:00AM

    Why is everyone so “touchy” these days about facing the truth about what goes on in Pakistan? First people went after Fasi Zaka and now Talat? I can understand that Fasi’s writing was hard to digest because people don’t react well to reverse psychology. But what Talat has written is actually very insightful and it conveys the state of journalism very well. The country is in the hands of a few not-very-good men…they are running it into the toilet every day…the public is hopelessly looking for clues and means to grasp the multi-faceted problem and its solution. The media, independent courtesy Parvez Musharraf who probably just did this one good deed, is our only bridge to what is happening and how the world and other Pakistanis view the situation. Talat has highlighted the risks they are running and has also, reading my mind it seems, given some insight into why the media does not focus on the important, but more on the immediate, news.

    From where did you all pick the clue that he wants to leave Pakistan or is lamenting the state in order to justify leaving Pakistan? He is one of our most respected journalists so instead of lashing out at him for speaking the truth, learn to look into our national giraybaan and feel a bit of shame for how you are allowing your country to be run. Maybe you will eventually start doing something about it.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb
    Sep 14, 2010 - 3:16AM

    As you said earlier, Get another passport!Recommend

  • Zameer
    Sep 14, 2010 - 3:54AM

    Sir jee, follow your own advice and get another passport, unless you already have one!!! Pakistan is full of roaches who don’t get surprised any more by these things. You can complain all you want. I hope you don’t ever get touched by the non-liberal lynch mob because then the liberal lynch mob will be your only supporter and if they have read your other article, they may have gotten another passport and moved out of Pakistan. Then what?!?Recommend

  • Jakob
    Sep 14, 2010 - 4:31AM

    Why would Talat get another passport?

    Its in his benefit tp stay here, he makes extremely good money from reporting ther miseries of the country.

    Lastly, Talat dont you think that the important stories include commenting on the prejudice in society and gradual violence outside of terrorism that has become acceptable?

    No, anyone who does that should leave the country because your ego decides what can and cannot be reported. Actually we would be better off with Talat getting another passport!Recommend

  • murassa sanaulla
    Sep 14, 2010 - 6:32AM

    life of a journalist has been made difficult not by anyother but by the owners of newspapers and channels. jounalists have made life of their fellowmen hell ,they want to make every news an headlines .they want every news to be sold like hot cake. they only write that version which is sensational. do they know media of other country knows how to be selfcontrol our media has become like a mafia.Recommend

  • Sep 14, 2010 - 8:28AM

    You have rightly pointed out the threat to journalists these days. What remains to be seen is whether journalism, and the media these days, are doing the right thing in positively highlighting the problems and directing public opinion towards a constructive goal ?
    If we are to point out the faults in our government and institutions, lets first start from within. The hunger for viewership and advertisements in the media is just one more kind of corruption plaguing our society and would not solve any of out problems. Recommend

  • Babar
    Sep 14, 2010 - 8:46AM

    get another passport or another professionRecommend

  • Sep 14, 2010 - 9:24AM

    @ The goon squad in the first three comments:

    Unlike some others who generalized and denigrated all Pakistanis and made frivolous claims about the personalities/culture of Pakistanis based on violence in a handful of movies, Talat’s article is a serious piece on the hazards of journalism. There is no painting of entire communities, nations and peoples with a broad homogenous brush, In fact Talat points out how journalists face diverse pressures, and respond in diverse ways.

    Perhaps the harsh truth from Talat’s past columns debunking the ‘cockroach and the dissapointed’ still rankles. Too baad.

    Quite frankly people like you really do need to ‘get another passport’ since all you really care for is over the top inane rhetoric and self-loathing, rather than deeply contemplative pieces and discourse such as that in this piece.

    Excellent article Talat – count many of us, especially those not in the KKK and primarily catching our news in Urdu, as those with ‘inspiring trust’ in journalists like you.Recommend

  • Jamil Uddin
    Sep 14, 2010 - 10:04AM

    I, myself, did not like Talat’s comment when he suggested passport but I would request that both Talat and George are better Pakistanis than us. One has the moral courage to look upon his adopted nations faults and comment like a native and the other loves his country so much that he retorts uncontrollably. Having said this, I have a slight doubt whether Talat is one of those people who think Punjab is the only Pakistan. Am I right guys??Recommend

  • mussarat ahmedzeb swat
    Sep 14, 2010 - 10:04AM

    Life not only for journalist,s but every one has become difficult especially living in the rural areas.SOCIAL BUTTER FLIES i like the name.Recommend

  • SA
    Sep 14, 2010 - 11:03AM

    Hahaha The Only Normal Person Here, very well said .. Talat how do you percieve the journalists? Something out of this world?? When an average pakistani complaints he’s suggested to get another passport!! LIfe is exceedingly hazardous for each and every person here.. and we’re talking of journalists. Duh!!Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Sep 14, 2010 - 11:48AM

    Talat you are my favourite TV anchor after Mehar Bokhari, of course.
    Now that’s out of the way. If feel your write up has not touched on the point that as in most businesses “bigger the risk bigger the gain”, holds true for the media as well.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Sep 14, 2010 - 11:53AM

    Talat let me say that you are my favoutite TV anchor after Mehar Bokhari, of course
    Now that’s out of the way. I like to point out that as in most businesses “bigger the risk, bigger the gain” , is also true for the media.Recommend

  • Patriot
    Sep 14, 2010 - 12:35PM

    Like many others above…please Get another passport… we would be more than happy to let you go!Recommend

  • Rashid Saleem
    Sep 14, 2010 - 1:15PM

    A free, independent and responsible media isn’t possible until a journalist is guaranteed security. If we continue to have incidents like Umar Cheema continue to happen, then the dream of a free media will always stay a dream.Recommend

  • Jakob
    Sep 14, 2010 - 1:32PM

    Talat needs to stop whining and get another passport already.Recommend

  • Cynut
    Sep 14, 2010 - 1:45PM

    life is hard for journalists but life is also hard for the victims’ family when said journalists give ‘sensationalism’ a new name by repeatedly showing pictures of the sialkot lynching. it may jolt the government into action not that I see any of that happening yet but there is a very delicate balance between numbing the public through repeated exposure and jolting them to pay attention and ACT. Reality unfortunately seems to have become exclusively grey.I miss the comforting black & white…..Recommend

  • Sep 14, 2010 - 1:55PM

    :) Talat…………Get another passport……………….You yourself realise that our conditions are not good…Just think about female they are harassed by men. (the things and issues they write against)……….So,,,,,you admit that life is tough…………for a journo here……….Agreed………Not only journos, life is scary for every normal citizen of Pakistan……..Those people who die in suicide bombings, attacks, blasts, are not journos, but life and times are uncertain here…………….Recommend

  • Raza Niazi
    Sep 14, 2010 - 2:56PM

    It is really shocking to see the views of some of the readers over this column. They started passing litnay of snide remarks aginst the Talat without comprehending what he wanted to say. Like Fasi and George, he did not generalise and blame the whole nation for the wrongdoings of few individuals . On the contrary, he praised people of Pakistan when he concludes “…the only thing going for the journalists is unnatural but inspiring public trust…..”. Recommend

  • abid
    Sep 14, 2010 - 2:59PM

    get another passport brother :DRecommend

  • Ahsaas Wasti
    Sep 14, 2010 - 3:20PM

    Lo and Behold! Backlash is the only critical acclaim an unbiased journalist would ever get after the threats Mr. Hussain. For all those who are offering their precious advise to Mr. Talat Hussain of getting another passport should remind themselves that he probably is the only Pakistani Journalist who put his life at stakes for the Muslim brotherhood which our dear patriots and jakobs and the normal persons would not even care about. Remember Israel??? It was not KKK nor former Mr. 10 percent who stood for the cause of palestinians.
    As for the critics of this excellent piece they should atleast get their facts straight that despite Pakistan being the exceedingly hazardous place for journalists Talat is not only living here but living as a working journalist who like most of us does not move with an armored protocol convoy.
    Yes Jakob he does get good money and he gets its through legit means. Reporting Social Violence and social degradation or calling ourselves cockroaches is literary fiction its not Journalism. Offering anti-national elements another passport to have their fill at the civilized societies is a valid suggestion and if u remember the column it has been placed most unbiasedly and objectively.
    If by any chance you have got the privilege of having a journalist for whom personal issues are secondary and who is considered the most unbiased journalist both nationally and internationally then own him don’t sacrifice him to your personal grudges. Recommend

  • s. nazir mohmand
    Sep 14, 2010 - 3:27PM

    I agree what Mr Talat has uder scored as “vested interest want to hold news agenda hostage to their biases;the urban elite want juicy scandals and high political drama even if played by the same cast;and independent objective critique and feed back, if unfavourable, is trashed as yellow joulnalism.”

    These are the punch lines of his theme.but let me add some chillies to the pie;it is the media which is insulting the intellegence and political /acumen of the people by sujecting them repeatedly to the same old political jockers and turncoats who have no scruples,thus reinforcing statusquo rather than a change.

    2ndly it is projecting the analysis of few selected arm chair analyists/think tank who are far away from the ground realities and fed by the agencies.

    And finally the anchor person considers himself more wise on the subject then the expert on the subject and talks more than the guest/analyst.

    It is to the detriment of the cridible media that the new blood and the bold minds and speech is muzzled by the media itself, barring few exceptions. Recommend

  • Yousaf
    Sep 14, 2010 - 4:59PM

    Get Another Passport… !!

    From your both articles one can understand how bluntly Joournalist change their words…. Why we have to bothered about the journalist who have put this country into mess, by supporting lawyer’s movement and independant judiciary and demise of the ecnomonically strong reign of Musharraf.

    You honestly tell us, how many journalist are sincerely doing their duty? Merely few… If I know anyone credible journalist I must say Late Mr. Haqqani and Hassan Nisar.

    We are reading the journalist since childhood and watching them how they are changing with people or with the government.

    Trust me, all of you are connected to benifts, money & fame, that’s your reality. Recommend

  • Sep 14, 2010 - 6:00PM

    Reading the snide tripe against Talat posted by the many self-loathing liberals on this piece it is obvious that the Talat’s advice to this crowd of groupies who have nothing to do except exult in inane rhetoric making derogatory generalizations about an entire nation and wallow in pity and self-loathing, was, again, correct.

    Try, just try for a moment to have some intellectual honesty and understand the difference between the absurdities published by George and Fasi, and this contemplative piece. You will likely fail, as have you so far in pushing a liberal agenda through insulting the other side, rather than actually engaging in civil discourse.Recommend

  • ashfaq afridi
    Sep 14, 2010 - 7:05PM

    whats wrong with the people? instead of being shown the facts and realities, we still insist on being inspired by the ostrich’s method of dipping its head underground , and keep shuting our eyes at the current scenario..
    Sir talat…. u are an inspiration…..
    glad to have such great and loyal pakistanis!!Recommend

  • Waqas Al-Shafi
    Sep 14, 2010 - 7:10PM

    Well! An interesting and thought-provoking piece by talat. This is no surprise that media has become an essential part in our lives. Afterall, it provides us the latest news coverage and entertains us with routine poilitical chaos around the country. It provides those pakistanis a greater hope of survival, who’s land has been annihilated by unmerciful flood. It exposes the true colours of our political party workers, especially the ones in government today, of their fake college and high school degrees. It enlightens our nation of the ever lasting swiss cases on our president Mr. 10% and the attempt from the PPP to vanish them and escape from the deserving punishment. Moreover, it shows us how in difficult times our overseas paskitanis have helped their brothers and sisters by providing food, shetler etc funds for the flood affected victims. Media constantly encourages everyone to do more for the society and that our country is always in the midst of brave national crisis and in desperate need of national solidarity. The good deeds the media does totally outcasts the bad it posesses.
    i think we should appreciate and encourage them for their regular hard work which Mashallah has always paid them off in the form of nation’s trust and likeness. Recommend

  • Jakob
    Sep 14, 2010 - 9:21PM

    If Talat is truly honest and sincere for his journalist brothers and sisters, how come he never said anything about the hamid mir incident, the tendency of media houses not to pay their journalists, the suicide that happened because of this.

    Why is he silent? Because they could give him a paycheck someday should he move, he wont bite the hand that feeds him.

    Get another passport. Recommend

  • Talat Haque
    Sep 14, 2010 - 9:38PM

    Aww !!! ……….. that’s not nice …………. giving people a taste of their own medicine ……… or throwing their words back at them…… “Get another Passport” indeed ! ……… stuff like that (that may stick so well!)……… I am forced to take his side …………… you know its not so easy to get another passport nowadays (for Pakistanis) …………. live and bear it !Recommend

  • Jumma Gul Khan
    Sep 14, 2010 - 11:12PM

    Flotilla Hulk, get another passport. You know the recipe of that formula pretty well!Recommend

  • shahid
    Sep 15, 2010 - 1:12AM

    Talat bhai what we need most nowadays are a few credible unbiased journalists.i think you are one of the candidates.please don,t loose grip.Recommend

  • Salman Arshad
    Sep 15, 2010 - 1:29AM

    Following the recipe, I would begin by clearly denying and stating that Pakistan is NOT the only country where journalism is dangerous.
    I would ask everyone to please support my argument by googling “dangerous journalism countries”
    and then give a brotherly advise to get another passport.Recommend

  • Masood
    Sep 15, 2010 - 12:18PM

    Forget about getting another passport. ET should get another writer. Recommend

  • Farooq Khan
    Sep 15, 2010 - 12:32PM

    Talat does need another passport. So what if he failed to conquer palestine in his first attempt. I am sure he will give it another try. Conqurers do not need passport. Saty here Talat. Just make sure that your program timings do not coincide with aziziRecommend

  • Riaz
    Sep 15, 2010 - 1:13PM

    30,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in the terrorist attack conducted by people whom Talaat once supported.How many of these were journalists? Some Anchors have played a major role in creating this environment of uncertainty.Every one is unsafe,so why talk about journalists only.Find out who trashed Cheema,if it was PPP Government Talaat by now must have conducted a number of shows.Please try to read,understand the system of government,how different departments function.You are misleading the urban middle class,and indirectly harming the country.If you get another Passport i have no doubt that you won’t get a decent job in any country.Recommend

  • Feryal
    Sep 16, 2010 - 12:47AM

    Life is so tough – Talat and anchors get Rs 1m – 1.8 Million per month in salaries plus fame and VIP treatment. His life is very different from the poor cameraman and reporter he pretends to care about. Recommend

  • Saleha
    Sep 16, 2010 - 9:34AM

    Great column Talat, I salute what your reporters, cameraman and those at other channels do everyday. Risking their lives to bring us the latest is no mean feat. However I also feel the real heroes of the newsroom, reporters and cameramen, are too underpaid, overworked and unappreicated. Instead of brining brainless girls fresh out of university to anhor and host channels should celebrate their real heroesRecommend

  • Yousaf
    Sep 16, 2010 - 12:52PM

    is this Journalism – do u want us to support this kind of Journalism…..!! RealityRecommend

More in Opinion