The roots of journalism in Pakistan can be traced back to 1857 War era, long before independence. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the founding father of the journalistic philosophy of our country. After the war, British treated Muslims with discrimination because they thought of Muslims as the main culprits of the mutiny. To fight this, lots of people took initiative but most of them had militant factors integrated into them.
Leading among those who tried to rectify the image of Muslims was Sir Syed. He was the one who made journalism the medium to communicate with the British government. He published a couple of journals such as Risala-e-Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind, Tehzeebul Ikhlaq, and Ali Garh Institute Gazette. Each of these was aimed at clearing the air between the Muslims and the British. He also used these journals to bring awareness to the Muslim community and urged them to reform themselves through education. His tone was unbiased and his style, unapologetic. The truthfulness and originality of his work did wonders for the political and social status of Muslims. He ultimately changed the way British perceived Muslims and also gave strategic sense to the Muslim community.
Early years of Pakistani journalism were filled with people from the progressive school of thought. The journalists of this era were bold and had much to say about the social issues the new nation was facing. A lot of progressive writers such as Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Hameed Akhtar, and Ibn-e-Insha also wrote for the newspapers. Their habitual uncensored style reflected in these pieces as well. However, print media was a limitation for journalists. Television and radio were present but they were used to deliver news mostly. The journalists in those times understood the sacred nature of the power their pens held and they took full advantage of it without exploiting it.
Journalism thrives off of democracy. The frequent demise of democracy in Pakistan and prolonged periods of dictatorship caused a major setback to flourishing journalism. Because of lack of freedom the Pakistani journalist went into a shell. The progressives kept their bold style limited to fictional stories and hot debates at Pak Tea House. When Bhutto came into power the conditions got a little better because of his liberal policies regarding media. Journalists in Bhutto’s era came out of their shells a little but their writings reflected strong political biases. And finally, Zia’s regime turned out to be the extreme low for journalists with practically zero freedom.
The trend of playing it safe continued long after Zia’s demise. The events of 9/11 changed the international political situation of Pakistan and this reflected in Journalism too. With rising terrorism internally and America exploiting Pakistan in the name of cooperation the journalistic trend shifted towards patriotism. Negative sentiments against America and terrorist organization originating from Afghanistan were vivid. This era also marked a shift from print towards digital media. TV talk shows also became common at this time. For the first time, women also started anchoring talk shows and giving insightful analyses on political topics. With Musharraf’s resignation, the long dictatorship spell broke and the Pakistani journalist finally took a long deep breath in the air filled with intellectual freedom.
With democracy back, journalism started flourishing again and never looked back.
Forward to today, after almost ten years of democracy, the journalists in Pakistan have much more liberties. The mediums have increased also; along with print we have television, radio, and social media. But is the Pakistani journalist making full use of these opportunities? To answer this question we only need to take a look at any TV channel. Talk shows aired on these channels are disastrous. With a few exceptions, anchors instead of talking about issues prefer to mock the political personnel and the guests. It is the norm to use biased words and spew out uninformed opinions in political debates. There is utter lack of respect for others’ opinions and it is considered “bold” to speak rudely.
Moreover, some journalists in Pakistan today, instead of speaking the truth, endorse personal prejudices. One example is Dr. Amir Liaquat who crossed all the boundaries in his new TV show and has bashed people over and over again. Pemra also banned his show on accounts of hate speech recently.
The dramatization of the smallest issue to create havoc is a common trend. There are several examples of journalists who are corrupt to their core. The exposing of Mubashir Luqman and Meher Bukhari’s planted interviews are an embarrassment to the dignity of the profession. The increase in freedom also enhances the responsibility of the Pakistani journalist to not exploit the freedom. Unfortunately, the trend is going in the opposite direction. There are people who have the potential to recreate the revolutionary impact of Sir Syed’s journals. Unlocking of this potential can occur if journalists ignore personal biases and produce content, which is honest and insightful.