Media counters and encounters
As senior journalists and anchorpersons from India and Pakistan argued over the role of the media in creating harmony or discord between the two countries, the audience impatiently waited to throw questions at some of the stars up on the stage.
The venue was a large room at Avari Towers, Karachi, converted overnight into a studio by the Geo team filming this interaction. What the people sitting in the jam-packed hall wanted to know was, what type of Pakistani content is present in Indian newspapers and TV channels, and why the Indian media rarely focuses on other issues besides terrorism that concern Pakistani society.
"Of course we focus on sensational issues, my newspaper, for instance, is a tabloid," responded Bharat Bhushan, Editor of the Daily Mail Today (a joint venture between India Today Group and Associated Newspapers of UK, publishers of Daily Mail). "But it would be wrong to say that there isn't any news related to Pakistan."
"We have a Pakistani correspondent who reports regularly on issues of the society, mostly subjects he chooses to write about," added Bhushan. "Also, every week, we have a page devoted to Pakistan, in which columnists from Pakistan write on matters of their choosing. When major incidents take place in the neighboring country, we dedicate sufficient space for those stories too. For example when a suicide bomber struck the Marriot hotel in Islamabad, we gave it prominent display and covered all angles thoroughly."
One editor commented that the daily suicide bombings and terrorism in Pakistan get less play because of their everyday nature. This statement triggered off comments from the audience who said that the daily violence should not detract from its significance, but at the same time, positive aspects of Pakistan should also be covered.
There were questions pertaining to the exchange of inter-cultural issues and the vibrant traditions of both the countries, which the editors agreed should receive more coverage.
Arindam Sengupta, Executive Editor of the Times of India pointed out that when the Aman ki Asha campaign was launched on Jan 1, 2010, his newspaper published the words "Love Pakistan" in a full page ad on the front page, a move that many Indian readers appreciated and supported.
There were plenty of comments and suggestions from the audience for media coverage that can help to promote peace between the two countries. Zain Hasan, one of the administrators of the Aman ki Asha Facebook group, commented that some people seem to derive some strange satisfaction from being nasty or expressing violent thoughts.
Someone asked why the media doesn't focus on issues such as case of fishermen languishing in jails in both the countries. This is something that actually gets quite a lot of media attention, responded the panelists. Shaheen Salahuddin of Indus TV said she had in fact interviewed Indian fisherboys imprisoned in Pakistan and they told her they didn't know when they were following the fish on the high seas, whether the fish was "Pakistani or Indian".
"We need to transcend our national identities and sit as South Asians," suggested Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research who was in the audience. "Pakistan is never going to hand over criminals to India and vice versa, so why don't we us the Saarc framework and establish a tribunal in Nepal where we can try criminals wanted by the other country."
One reporter questioned the editor-in-chief of the IBN Network Rajdeep Sardesai, about a story his channel did on the "demolition" of a temple in Karachi. The reporter's investigations revealed that it was a matter of encroachment, not demolition.
Sardesai admitted to the mistake. He and others on the panel expressed their resolve to be less 'lazy' as Barkha Dutt of NDTV put it, about fact-checking and to draw on resources on the other side of the border particularly when it came to potentially inflammatory material.
"Everyone knows that terrorism doesn't define Pakistan," said Dutt. "There are many Pakistans, and we need to remember that."
"We were one once. We may not be one again," said moderator Kanak Dixit, concluding the session. But there can be peace and harmony between us."
Participating Editors and Anchors from Pakistan
Arif Nizami (former editor, The Nation), Arifa Noor (Editor, Herald), Azhar Abbas (Managing Director, Geo News), Ejaz Haider (National Affairs Editor, Newsweek Pakistan), Hamid Mir (Executive Editor, Geo News), Imran Aslam (President, Geo TV), Kamran Khan (Group Editor Investigations, Jang Group, Geo TV), Mehmood Shaam (Group Editor, Jang), Mohammad Malick (Editor, The News, Islamabad), Rehana Hakim (Editor, Newsline), Shaheen Salahuddin (Director News, Indus TV), and Talat Aslam (Editor, The News Karachi).
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
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