Does Pakistan need journalism?

Karachi, June 25, 2022: When journalist Shahzeb Jillani was asked to moderate a session at the two-day conference on ‘Extreme Reporting: Conflict and Peace in the Digital Age’ held at the Centre of Excellence in Journalism at the Institute of Business Administration (CEJ-IBA) on Saturday, titled: ‘do we need journalism’, he felt the topic was quite grim.

“When I thought about it, I realized that it is an existential question for all of us – especially those who started in print/radio then went on to TV and now digital,” he said.

Turning to his panel, Mr Jillani asked: Who here believes that we do need journalism?

The panel – Lok Sujag’s Chief Editor Badar Alam, BBC Urdu Editor Zeeshan Haider and Geo TV’s features editor Benazir Shah (who quipped: “is this a trick question”), all agreed with Mr Jillani. 

Taking this conversation further, Mr Jillani asked CEJ-IBA Director Amber Rahim Shamsi to present a UNESCO survey conducted by Media Matters for Democracy on media development and viability indicators to see what consumers of news had to say about the need for journalism. 

The survey looked at who was consuming news, where are they consuming news, advertisement revenue, how journalism was perceived and other indicators which showed that yes, journalism was needed.

To bring that creative tension into the conversation, Mr Jillani shared that he had stopped his newspaper subscription six months ago. “I didn’t have time to properly read the paper and the news was old. So I would argue…mainstream media is compromised and I don’t trust it. I prefer my phone,” he said.  

BBC’s Zeeshan Haider dived into this and said that it wasn’t a question about creditability but trust. “A user is now basing news preference on if they like/dislike the person sharing the news (which is essentially their opinion). Verification of news or fact is secondary for them,” he said.

“What is journalism: what we learnt is how cross-check, verify, double-source and that a story should have both versions. On social media and digital media, this is not done. If a story does have all these things, then it is ‘angled’ in a certain way,” he explained.

“News consumption is now on your phone – news channels/YouTube, it for people to decide if they like the information that they are getting not that its true or correct. And you need journalism for this,” he added.

Taking the conversation further, Mr Jillani said: “Of course a journalist works for an organisation and if the organisation is compromised then what can one do? We saw what happened in 2014 at the dharnas… sure, there is a need for journalists but what do we do when the corporate media is compromised?”

For Geo’s Benazir Shah while journalism is important and needed – the quality of what you read in the newspapers had gone down.

She shared the story of how nine-year old was reading the newspapers and found them boring. “It was then that I realized that it was boring when I read it too. The hierarchy of the news…the grammar, tenses, images…there is a decline in the quality of news but I don’t think the demand for good content has gone down,” she said.

“The problem with consuming news on social media is that there will always be doubt — is this accurate and authentic? I get a lot of messages from my friends who will send me a link and ask if this is fake. There is also a misconception between a journalist and reporter. A reporter provides information and a journalist will provide it in context. There are a lot of layers in a media organisations which get eliminated in social media,” she added.

According to Ms Shah, social media had shaken the media industry. It forced the newsrooms and journalists to find new ways to share news.

Ms Shah also spoke about how the media needs to realise their women audience. “Female representation is important. The media is a representation of society and society is polarized and you can see this in the media,” she said.

Former editor of Herald, Badar Alam, said that he owed his entry into journalism to Hamid Mir. “I met him in 1993 and asked him what I should do to become a journalist. He told me not to go into Urdu journalism and not to do a Masters in Journalism and I did what he said,” shared Mr Alam. 

“When CEJ was starting up, I was a member of the board and we were debating the same thing then: this place was great because people who come here really want to be journalists. They attend these trainings, these workshops and most importantly, they want to do journalism. Even when they find out it’s a difficult field to work in, they still want to do it. But it needs a lot of training and patience,” he said.

According to Mr Alam, journalism does not exist in a vacuum. “Conflict is essential for what we do. The conflict Pakistan is facing right now is not being resolved in a democratic way and so journalism cannot survive in an undemocratic atmosphere. There is no real democracy in this countsy so journalism right now is distorted and mutilated. If people don’t trust the media, you can’t blame them. Even within that, image in we have done good journalism and are still doing it,” he said, adding that while the future of journalism might not be bright but was there.

The panel went on to discuss different mediums for journalists, editorial policies, guidelines and Twitter trends.

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