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Mass Comm students have a guide to Pakistan’s media industry

SAMAA | - Posted: Oct 1, 2019 | Last Updated: 8 months ago
Posted: Oct 1, 2019 | Last Updated: 8 months ago
Mass Comm students have a guide to Pakistan’s media industry

If you are looking for non-fiction books on reporting, journalism, television or media in Pakistan, you do not have much to choose from, which is ironic given how many TV channels, newspapers and websites we have.

The most serious books on Pakistan are on the CIA, Taliban, Partition or Politics with a capital P. There are some excellent cookbooks and plenty of fiction.

But on the news front, the best we seem to have is the work of some international correspondents who have, after spending time in Pakistan, written about their beats. But they again fall under terrorism and politics. Kim Barker who used to be the bureau chief for The Chicago Tribune, wrote ‘The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan’. Carlotta Gall of The New York Times wrote ‘The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014’. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mark Mazetti has written ‘The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth’. You get the picture.

Books with a textbook feel include Dr Muhammad Abrar’s ‘Pakistani Media Law: A Comparative Study’. ‘Satellite Television and Social Change in Pakistan: a case study of rural Sindh’ by Mohammad Ali Shaikh is another option. By far the best book on television is David Page’s ‘Satellites Over South Asia: Broadcasting, Culture and the Public Interest’ which is pegged to the transformation of the 1990s, but this is by now two decades old.

If you want to read more of a story, your best bet is to turn to a memoir and the most well-known one out there in English is ‘Stop Press’ by Inam Aziz translated by Khalid Hasan. Aziz was the editor of the London edition of Jang and chronicles the dark days of Zia ul Haq’s Pakistan and beyond. (This article does not dwell on Urdu literature that is available.)

Also eminently worthy is Prof. Sara Suleri-Goodyear’s tribute to her father, Z. A. Suleri, a political journalist in the slim volume, ‘Boys will be Boys: A daughter’s elegy’. And if you want to have more fun check out reporter Saba Imtiaz’s ‘Karachi, You’re Killing Me!’ that really gets you close what it is like to survive a newsroom.

But beyond these options, there are slim pickings.

It is thus news-worthy that a media house owner has published what is possibly the first book on the industry and his experience. A disclaimer is in order here. Zafar Siddiqi is the owner of SAMAA TV. However his book ‘TV News 3.0: An insider’s guide to launching and running news channels in the digital age’ brings together his experience of working in Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East.

Siddiqi is a chartered accountant by training and was with KPMG for 18 years but he branched out into television by starting Telebiz, a private production house that created business shows. Many people in the industry today started their careers there. After Telebiz he started CNBC networks in 18 countries and most Pakistanis will be familiar with another of his endeavours, SAMAA TV.

The book ‘TV News 3.0’ is thus an addition to the small range of literature in English specifically on the media in Pakistan and might be of interest to the students of journalism or mass communications.

Here are some fun stories from it:
When Britain’s BBC launched its TV news in July 1954, the first bulletin did not even use moving film and just had a series of still photographs and maps with the newsreader heard but not seen on screen. It was only the emergence of a rival service, Independent Television Network (ITN), in 1955 that compelled the BBC to rethink its approach.

When CNN first started, people made fun of it as Chicken Noodle News because of the lack of resources and on-air mistakes it made. CBS’s president scoffed: “Why would anybody choose to watch a patched-together news operation that’s just starting against an organization like ours that’s been going for 50 years…” But by 1986, that smugness wore off because CNN was the only 24-hr network to provide live coverage of the disastrous launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which abruptly disintegrated 73 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew members.

Zafar Siddiqi watched Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 in Buffalo, New York and was so impressed that he decided to buy distribution rights for Pakistan. At that time only the State could distribute foreign films. But United International Pictures, the owners of the film, invoked a contractual clause declaring the film ‘special’. This effectively gave Steven Spielberg the power as the producer to appoint a consultant (Siddiqi) to distribute it, rather than the government. When it released in Pakistan, it ran for more than a year and broke box office records.

In 2012, SAMAA’s top-rated breakfast show ran into trouble when the host chased unmarried couples in a park and filmed them without their consent. Siddiqi was travelling in South East Asia when the complaints started to pour in and he told her she had to immediately apologize. But when she did it in a wishy-washy way, saying she was sorry “if” she had offended anyone, he sacked her and her entire team and issued an unconditional apology.

Siddiqi got the idea for SAMAA TV and its programming grid at a restaurant in Australia. He sketched it out on two napkins and completed it on a 10.5 hour flight from Perth to Dubai.

When Siddiqi initially set up his business, he was “control freak”. “My fear was that if I was not in charge, the business would collapse or someone else would take it over and force me out entirely,” he writes on page 72. It was only when he moved to Dubai in 2000 to set up the Middle East Business News, which later morphed in CNBC Arabiya in 2003 that he began to relinquish control and appointed a CEO.

Siddiqi is relatively honest about the flub-ups. He says he carries “scars” from each of the four channels he has launched. Here is his tip on how not to do it. When it came to CNBC Pakistan’s launch, it was an encrypted channel and, therefore, every cable operator in Pakistan had to be provided with a set top box, which by the time of the launch in Islamabad in 2005, Siddiqi had been assured had been done. President Pervez Musharraf was the first guest on the station, appearing live from the presidential palace in front of the select audience. Much to Siddiqi’s mortification, two things went wrong: they lost the link to London for 15 seconds during the show and not all the boxes had been delivered to the cable operators.


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