Friday, March 31, 2006

# Posted 6:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

REFLECTIONS ON THE PAKISTANI PRESS: While in Karachi I have had the opportunity to befriend many journalists; in a country where parties and parliaments are weak, its press is surprisingly strong, its employees independent and cognisant of the sanctity of their profession. The Agence France Press's man in Karachi has not tried to have me killed at all, but rather has bought me food. The lovely Samina Perozani, whose nuptials I shall with the grace of God return to attend, took me to the presses where pots of ink become words, and round every office of that great newspaper, the Dawn. Poignantly, I have received from afar the kind advice and an admonition to stay safe of Asra Nomani, a generous woman whose work from these lands and after I have long admired.

In addition to retaining an independence remarkable for a press situated amidst such political tumult and a polity not yet free, it is also a press capable of self-criticism. Go to their more reflective members and call the Dawn a world-class newspaper, as I did - sincerely, as I had read it since coming up to Oxford. They will tell you that to their mind, their staff perform too much statemental journalism, taking the press releases of government and opposition but not moving past the telephones to conduct the investigative work which informs the dreams every westerner who has ever watched films or read of Woodward and Bernstein. The bribery scandal, of Australian magnates seeking preferences for their wheat exports, dropped still born from an incurious press even once acknowledged by the government of Pakistan. While this government boasts of having built new schools and clinics in their four thousands, these same facilities are empty, unstaffed, with chronic absenteeism from doctors, nurses and teachers who cannot be bothered to commute to slums or rural areas yet continue to draw the wages of their contract. But you will not read of this in the news; though I would like to return to a fishing community near Karachi to write a story on the subject with the lovely filmmaker Rakshanda Khan.

Here, it is television and radio newscasting which is referred to as 'new' media, and 'electronic'. And they are new; television stations such as Geo broadcasting full fares of reportage have arisen only within the past several years, and provided a new space for political argument and expression. This has quickened the news cycle, and made both government and opposition generate their statements at least a bit quicker. I've been asked more than once to stay and be a newsreader; looks here one gathers not being so important, or perhaps in a way it pains me to think of.

I should note in postscript that I make these observations from a perspective now somewhat inside. After touring the Dawn offices, their editorial staff kindly asked me if I would like to contribute occasionally to the pages of their literary section. I accepted with gratitude. And am now a Pakistani journalist.
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