Preparing for the day after COVID: notes from a short talk by Adil Najam

Event invite sent on my personal email. Najam sb advertised the talk on Twitter. There were roughly 110 participants in the discussion hosted on zoom.

Based on his experience & analysis about the novel coronavirus so far, Najam sb speaks on the magnitude of disruption & rehabilitation effort, rethinking human & global security, role of poorer nations like Pakistan, changes in higher education & dealing with anxiety. I missed the first 10 minutes of this roughly 50 minute session. Following excerpts are mostly from the Q&A. Although I have quoted him as accurately as I could please treat the following content as a paraphrasing. If you want to quote Najam sb publicly from this post, I suggest you drop a line to Aga Khan University requesting permission to do so.

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Given the scale of disruption related to the novel coronavirus experts that I know agree that the recession will not be of the usual kind. 

The closest example that comes to our mind is that it will be like the Post-war reconstruction, i.e. after the Great Wars.

That’s the bad thing.

Good thing is that you now have time to think.

Think about how I can make that big change (that is required)?

Social changes are the most uncertain. How work will happen, how our communications will happen, how education will change etc.

How society will think about its understanding of security?

We will have to rethink security. If security for us is important than what is it that makes us insecure?

For instance, front line work has become dangerous for medical staff. Nature of (security related) work is changing.

We find ourselves unprepared for calamities like health emergencies for instance. Why was that?

Human arrogance is a big issue.

But right now we have time where billions of people are introspecting. 

This is not just about health. After this we have the issue of climate change. We were already aware of these problems before but now we are forced to act. 

I don’t believe in conspiracies when truth is already so strange.

Governments versus people

This virus won’t be beaten by government action. It will be beaten by personal action. 

This is a test for people. Not governments.

The crisis is not just that we don’t know much about the virus itself. The crisis we are facing everywhere is the crises of the health system. Don’t have enough beds, enough trained people, field camps are coming up, stadiums are being transformed. This is a rethinking of security.

But we are far prepared to kill each other than save each other. 

Why is it that when someone dies because of enemy is declared a martyr/patriot but when someone dies due to drinking dirty water it is not as important? I’m not saying taking a bullet for your country is not important. But it makes you wonder. This doesn’t mean making defense less important but making health security more important. We must think this very seriously. 

Will there be a World War III ?

With the technology of destruction available to us my hope is that we would not need bullets to fly. 

Some experts believe that we may be already living in a third world war, or even fourth or a fifth. That the third war already happened somewhere around the Cold War era. 

Have you noticed that in the last few months we have been talking about availability of mask, instead of oil? Our conception of what is valuable is changing. It may be that nations with food stores, medical doctors (which Pakistan has many), will become important. 

Regarding IMF & poor nations like Pakistan

Imran Khan (IK) statement requesting aid is very understandable. It should have come earlier. There is a major IMF meeting happening next week. I’m convinced there will be debt relief. IK is being polite, but poor nations should be asking more because the scale of crisis is so huge that even aid won’t be enough. 

Now what will happen with Chinese Aid, I don’t know. 

But we need to decide what kind of work matters, what relationships matter. Basically, what are our priorities.

Is there a power shift from West to Asia? & what is the role for Pakistan?

Shift was already happening. Rise of Great Power China & the reaction of US was already happening. COVID 19 has just put this shift on high momentum.

Pakistan should chart an ‘even’ ‘even’ course. We should keep out of it. There are those who are still advocating playing this game but we should not become a playground for Great Powers. We must make ourselves economically, socially, politically stronger when Great Powers are in transitions. When you are not a Great Power yourself and play these games, you become fodder. There is a saying in Africa that when elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled. 

Impact on higher education

It’s clear that big changes are around the corner.

In education there will be difficulties in the short term. Value of higher education will increase. 

Nearly certainly classes will go hybrid. 

An army of professors in US are findings new ways to teach. Many are using online classes for the first time and have realized that it works. On the other end, students are becoming more open to online learning. 

In the US another issue is what subjects people will want to learn?

The corona generation will create a new kind of intellectual environment. For those set to join higher education in their lives now things are about to change completely. These people maybe even more important than generation before or even after this period. 

Older generation of professors like me will not be in the forefront because our minds are wired in a previous era.

Dealing w/ anxiety

With all that is happening every day. There is not a night in the last month where I didn’t go to bed with at least these two thoughts; 1- how small my problems are in comparison to other people problems, that student of mine that is cramped in a two room apartment that now has to be converted into a class room, those students who may have contracted COVID, those who have lost loved one; 2- gratitude, a sense of how lucky I am. That there is someone standing at the grocery store who will serve me rice, or at the hospital who will treat me when I’m sick. 

Because I’m so lucky I owe it to everyone to be a more responsible person

(Mis)information in the Coronavirus Crisis – A Roundtable Discussion at the HKBU School of Communication

The coronavirus storm has hit many parts of the world and generated tremendous impacts on people’s lives. In crises like this, people seek information to assess the situation and to protect themselves and their loved ones. However, there are concerns about the credibility and neutrality of information circulated in the virtual space. The Center for Media & Communication Research at the Hong Kong Baptist University invited three speakers to share their observation with participants in a virtual format on April 3, 2020. Here I share excerpts and resources from the discussion useful for journalists, health professionals, fact checkers, educators, organisations engaged in civil/information literacy and interested public at large.

Moderator:

Leanne Chang, Director of the Centre for Media and Communication Research, Hong Kong Baptist University

Speakers:

Summer Chen, Chief Editor of Taiwan FactCheck Center

Masato Kajimoto, Director of Annie Lab; Assistant Professor of Practice, Journalism and Media Studies Centre, University of Hong Kong

Rose Luqiu, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University

Summer’s talk:

We are certified with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) for the second year now.

After covering the Taiwan Presidential Elections we are fighting against Coronavirus misinformation.

Last December we became an independent foundation. We cooperate with popular social media in Taiwan which includes, Facebook, Google Claim Review, Line, Yahoo.

We have a large database of fact checks on COVID 19. We have already debunked 110 myths.

Battleline in Taiwan:

1- interview experts, scientists & doctors, 2- support from Science Media Center Taiwan (Academic support is important to build our own knowledge gap on the virus), 3- fact-checking Central Epidemic Command Center (since we are independent from government we do not just report Taiwan government suggestions). 

Battleline around the globe:

1- The IFCN comprises of 65 fact-checking organisations from 45 countries. They have collected more than 1500 fact checks under the umbrella of CoronaVirusAlliance. See their Poynter database below: 

Misinformation timeline in Taiwan (what we have debunked so far):

Jan (first case in Taiwan) – Remedies, Cures, Measures, Virus character.

Feb: Mostly news stories, conspiracies mixed with science papers.

March: Taiwan government is losing control (debunked almost 10 ‘facts’ about this topic). We did digital literacy campaign for the public to help identify this kind of information.

March – now: Virus is from US, or Italy not Wuhan (probably China propaganda). 

March middle: Italy thanks China (also propaganda by China). 

March middle-end: Lockdown policies. US is losing control (misinformation regarding this subject, 9 fact checks).

Current misinformation: #Malicious message “go stock pile supplies”, #Remedies #Cures.

Interesting academic ideas/topics she recommends for research/stories:

  1. There are now two database, IFCN, TFC. Any database can be used for research how one piece of misinformation spreads around the world. For instance, Garlic Soup can cure COVID-19 or Windy data proves there are 40,000 corpses burning in Wuhan. You can see that many other countries reported similar false information. https://www.poynter.org/ifcn-covid-19-misinformation/?search_terms=corpses. https://tfc-taiwan.org.tw/articles/2366.
  2. Study on health misinformation about COVID-19. Specially, reports claiming to quote celebrities, relatives, other influencers. 
  3. China’s propaganda; corona virus is not from Wuhan but US or Italy. Italians appreciate China; research on how these misinformation networks are built, how they spread etc. 
  4. If we compare misinformation about Hong Kong protest and COVID-19 we can find similar patterns of misinformation, conducted by China. One pattern: Spokesman + state-backed media + other materials spread on social media.
  5. Comparison of misinformation on COVID 19, specially on social media, to examine how some is debunked while other is not.
  6. Researching on misinformation about COVID 19 being spread also from other political actors such as Falun Gong (a movement banned in China).

Masato’s talk:

I have some observations based on my experience but not based on specific research:

  1. Knowledge gap amoung us (ordinary citizens, the news media, media experts). We all have some knowledge but the gap means misinformation spreads rapidly.
  2. Relatedly, “legit” traditional media not just “bad media organisations” that are amplifying fears and misleading claims. Something not discussed enough. 
  3. Misinformation is a problem, fact-checking helps but this is as much a public health communication problem where we must address the larger information ecosystem on COVID 19.

Knowledge gap

– Experts and journalist often ignore misinformation. They do not see news value in digging through it, since they are able to see through it quickly dismiss it. In other words, experts that are normally critical thinkers, may not see how the ordinary audience is reacting and sharing misinformation. 

For instance; warm water can kill coronavirus. Has become a huge international phenomenon. A popular remedy being reported on social media in Canada, Philippines, India, Cambodia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Spain, Venezuela. 

A small claim that has universal appeal with potentially dangerous consequences for management of COVID 19. 

Journalist think this misinformation is harmless. But if you are in fact-checking field, you realize how many people actually believe in it do not take other precautions. They don’t wash hands. They go out freely. Then they are telling their friends on social media how things are all ok. 

– I run the database Annie Lab. http://annielab.org.

We are in talks with Google as well to take into account our database. Hopefully you would not have to visit our database and can identify information organically. 

Role of journalists

This map was going strong in many parts of the world. It came from a university in the UK. I forgot the name. It was used along with a research paper to illustrate how people travel around the world by airplane.

But many people interpreted it as how people have travelled the world from Wuhan before the city got shut down in January. News organizations in many countries carried the story.

– There are five types of COVID-19 misinformation in my view. I think many fact-checkers would agree:

  1. Origin
  2. Symptoms
  3. Miracle treatment/cure
  4. Reactions (panic, abandoned bodies, violence, etc.)
  5. Government responses (stats manipulation, lockdown, etc.)

– Fact-checking ‘future’ is not possible; example, a story on how China will close down its factories that make toilet paper. 

– If you are a journalist reporting a story, not fact-checking, but reporting, an instance of people panic buying toilet paper is now a story.

We detected early on Annie Lab that this rumour on toilet paper is going viral in Hong Kong. I work from home now with my students since university is closed so when my students initially pointed this out, I ignored them thinking who will believe such a rumour. But people were posting videos of empty shelf, people queing, etc. These were reshared online and covered by traditional media. 

As one result, news organisations report on toilet paper shortage actually pushed people into panic buying since they believed in the shortage. The huge spike in demand obviously effected the supply side in Hong Kong. The story that was rather groundless became true. News organisations are partly to blame. 

COVID 19 episode tells us that news presentation style is important. It operates at a psychological level. 

Misinformation

What to do about it?

Time to think about responsible pandemic news coverage. We have an industry guideline for suicide reporting in many countries already. Why not a similar guidline for health communication/pandemic reporting? Currently, this is a wild west. 

Finally, reporting, fact-checking on epidemic is not easy when even experts sometimes disagree on subjects. For example, should we encourage or discourage aircon use? Fact checking can be misleading too.

I recommend these must read articles for journalists:

Useful comments during Q&A:

Masato says that’s there is no way to fight misinformation through fact-checking. Purpose of fact-checking is not to correct everyone who has read misinformation. People move on from one rumor to another. Many rumors are created all the time. 

Fact checking does help to straighten the historical record. 

But it is better understood as a digital literacy program. By fact-checking we are showing the public how to handle information. If news consumers are doing fact-checks on the demand side, then this problem can be improved. 

While it’s news media’s responsibility it’s the public’s responsibility also. 

Summer says that many of the claims that are received at the Taiwan Fact-Check Center are by the general public. So it’s important to bring the public into confidence. When we fact check, we are not focused on conclusion. Our articles are detailed with interviews, counterclaims etc. We want to show the public the process of reading our articles and the content itself. This will also help ordinary people to learn fact-checking.

We want people to see fact checking as a social program. A social movement.

How can we separate fact from opinion?

Masato says I give my students statements to verify. For instance, Japanese Food is better than Chinese Food – is it an opinion or fact? If this is a fact than based on what data? Is it the medical literature, scientific literature, what is the definition of Japanese Food? Is fried rice Chinese or Japanese. I give my students such exercises.

Summer says fact checking can also backfire when people upon learning about a false information may still choose to believe it. They may think for instance a fact checked story is against values of Taiwan.  

Summer also says that news reports on the pandemic may also make more sense in one context compared to another. Such as the limited use of face mask in Texas, United States. Perhaps open spaces mean people are not wearing masks. But in Taiwan such advise would be nonsense. These reports have more to do with field of journalism rather than fact-checking. 

Other resources:

Recommended article on mask debate: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-airborne-go-outside-masks/609235/

Resource on information literacy by Prof. Masato: https://medium.com/@MasatoKJ

This six-week course developed by the University of Hong Kong and State University of New York will help learners develop their critical thinking skills to enable them to better identify reliable information in news reports: https://www.coursera.org/learn/news-literacy

Links to the cloud files on the original discussion:

https://hkbu.zoom.us/rec/share/wu5yd52pzWBOT4Hn02HAUL8ILL-9T6a80SkZqfAKzR0CG4Jd20UHA7PCHY0Qt16F?startTime=1585893985000

https://hkbu.zoom.us/rec/share/wu5yd52pzWBOT4Hn02HAUL8ILL-9T6a80SkZqfAKzR0CG4Jd20UHA7PCHY0Qt16F?startTime=1585899129000

Extremist religious protests highlight the dearth of civic education

Khadim Hussain Rizvi founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Photo – Wikimedia Commons.

A religiously fuelled violent protest that brought the nation to a standstill has subsided. For now.

Once again ordinary Pakistanis are left scratching their heads.

We understand something rotten has happened. However, the symbols of ‘Islamic oppression’ and religion inspired vocabulary used by the protesters appealed to our emotions in ways that confounded who or what is to be blamed.

The Prime Minister deserves credit for speaking out against the protesters threatening the writ of the state. The prohibition on news channel to provide coverage was another commendable response to fear traders hell bent on pushing divisive voices into the mainstream. The response of the government shows that while intentions were sincere, it lacks the capacity to deal with this menace. It needs our support.

The menace of hate speech is a growing problem the world over. It is slowly corroding democratic life in both industrialised and emerging countries; be it through the activities of the Islamophobia network in countering a perceived threat from Shariah in a secular America; the uproar over ‘killing of cows’ created by the Sang Parivar in a Hindu India; or, the threat from minorities in a Muslim majority Pakistan.

Hate speech can be defined as the vilification of a group’s identity in order to oppress its members and deny them equal rights.

But here is where the similarity between Pakistan and other countries (irrespective of economic status) ends. A poor understanding of civic life and humanism (Haqooq Ul Ibad), lack of public etiquettes and persistence of tribal values, has meant that Pakistanis are particularly vulnerable to the kind of politics that social scientists refer as the ‘dark side’ of democracy.

It is imperative that Pakistanis of all income, ‘nationalities’, class, education and sect understand that hate speech is a cancer. Similar to the cancer of corruption, if left unchecked, it eats away the social contract between the state and the citizens by extorting unfair advantage in public life for select groups.

Worse still, if not eradicated, it has the macabre potential to dehumanize entire segments of population. Recently, the world watched in horror at the genocide of Rohingya Muslims. What the state (and public opinion) did to the Rohingya in Myanmar could one day happen to minorities in Pakistan. And it won’t stop there. Right now, our ‘fight’ is against Christians and Ahmedis, soon it will be between Sunnis and Shias (oh I forgot, it is already there), between various Sunni sects, between various ethnicities.

In addition, there is now ample evidence to suggest a causality between hateful propaganda in the name of identity, and genocide. Researchon the genocide of the Tutsi sect in Rwanda in 1994 found that radio was a critical tool used by the Hutu led majority government. For days, local stations fanned the flames of hate urging the Hutu’s to “weed out the cockroaches”, meaning kill the Tutsis. In 100 days, some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists, BBC reports.

We might mistakenly assume that such a catastrophe is only possible in a poverty riddled weak African state. But let’s not forget the holocaust during World War II keeping aside for a moment our traditional animosity with the Jews. The rich and powerful Nazi war machine used hateful propaganda to justify the genocide of not only Jews, but also minorities, the disabled and political opponents it deemed inferior to an Aryan race.

Mounting research on social movements has shown that violent protests in the name of religion appear to address a profound moral wrong. But observe closely and we find skilled middleman – politicians, elites, etc. – managing these protests, often using genuine emotions of the people, for their own short-term gains. In his recent book Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy, Professor of Journalism Cherian George explains this using case studies of the Islamophobia network in the United States, the Sang Parivar in India and the Islamic public sphere in Indonesia.

Critical for this understanding is to accept as a fact that hate speech is a crime. There should be no alternative opinion on this. Same as the fact that the sun rises from the east and sets in the west.

George urges us to observe political actors that benefit through fear mongering instead of wasting our efforts dissecting the psychology of protesters out on the streets. The real hate traders in Pakistan are not those stealing bananas or smashing cars but resourceful rational actors skilled at harnessing hate to achieve their political ends.

The illegal actions of those like Khadim Hussain Rizvi and Mumtaz Qadri, have a foothold in our society partly because many Pakistanis, irrespective of income and education, either believe in their cleverly crafted messages uncritically or prefer to stay silent out of sheer confusion.

The gravity of this challenge shouldn’t be underestimated for a nation born partly out of religious fervor. If our religious leaders stoke the flames of hate, we are also partly to blame. The crisis of morality is in our DNA. However, while the abstract question of Pakistani ideology is too complex to resolve yet, it’s easier to wrap our heads around the menace posed by hate speech.

Consensus about this issue has finally emerged in the shape of the National Action Plan but recent events highlight the tremendous collective effort that is required. Civic education from the grassroot all the way to the top is imperative. Measuring progress through number of erected schools though commendable on its own, is not enough. Civic education is a special kind of literacy that is desperately lacking in private, state and madrassah school systems across the board.

Also read: 5 ways to counter hate speech in the media through ethics and self-regulation

To this list I’d also add our everyday conversations with friends, family, neighbors and staff that cater our homes and businesses. We must encourage conversations on humanism at a personal level to chip away the audience for hate mongers.

It is critical for us to understand hate speech not only as a crime but also as a menace that prevents us from co-existing with mutual respect and harmony in practice.

A resource for humanitarian reporting in Pakistan

Aerial view of a destroyed bridge in Upper Swat valley during floods in 2010. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Most of us have travelled by road to Northern Areas alongside the twists and turns that characterise the spectacular banks of the river Indus. The lush scenery was not so pleasant in the aftermath of flooding in Pakistan.

“When we visited Swat (a popular destination along the route) in 2010, most bridges connecting the valley were found destroyed,” says Arif Bilgaumi, a well-regarded architect and urban planner based in Karachi.

Arif was alluding to the risk of debris from illegal construction such as dhabas, hotels and restaurants, along the river banks which gets dislodged during natural calamities and destroys everything in its wake. He was talking to reporters from a wide array of news organisations across the country attending a workshop on humanitarian reporting recently organised by the Centre of Excellence in Journalism at IBA in Karachi.

I was auditing the workshop for a day and found it personally exciting for two reasons. It brought me back to the ‘roots’, or a professional teaching environment in Pakistan, since I haven’t stepped foot in a local classroom in nearly ten years. Secondly, the training program was well thought out between experts who kept the sessions engaging and informative. Mind you I was not appraising the workshop for which I’m neither qualified or inclined. Think of my role as a participating observer.

Workshop participants. Photo: author.

It was refreshing to interact with marginalised media workers; a reporter from Quetta, the capital city of the restive Balochistan province, for instance told me how their head office in Karachi is often not interested in anything but terrorism and crisis related stories. As if people in Balochistan have no other life. Pakistanis of all shades and colours complain about similar treatment by the Western media.

The combination of expert knowledge and its professional delivery came in to stark focus on the issue of crisis reporting in areas where the state lacks infrastructure. A senior member of a development organisations talked about their role in creating national awareness. Aid is often the first organised collective response in such areas. Reporters of resource constrained media organisations often rely on ‘aid vehicles’ to reach effected areas.

Understandably, this part of the session was off record. Often these areas consists of non-state actors engaged in their own development efforts and agendas. The remaining session was on nurturing a ‘situational awareness’, safety, strategies to negotiate the demands of various stakeholders, traveling to and across the terrain and of course reporting in those conditions.

It was a welcome change to be in my country and talk constructively in Urdu on sensitive issues. It reminded me of a sharing session on the controversial Tiananmen Square Protest I attended in Hong Kong few years back.

The workshop program, classroom facilities and visiting experts wouldn’t be out of place in any of the conferences or universities outside Pakistan that I have had the pleasure of attending. Near the end instructors sneaked in an ‘anonymous questionnaire’ that was in fact a psychological well-being test presumably for reporters often working under stressful conditions.

By the end of the day I was nostalgic of my time as a sub-editor at The News. There is after all a charm and a sense of purpose when doing good old fashioned journalism; a powerful method of storytelling in the service of the public.

Some resources recommended by Arif Bilgaumi for reporting on natural disasters in Pakistan.

Journalism education in Pakistan must break out of the liberal mould that shaped it

Media liberalisation in Pakistan was ushered during the presidency of Gen. (rt) Pervez Musharraf in early 2000s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Recently scholars at the opening meeting of the premier International Communication Association conference, cautioned against the role of ‘fake news’ in elections around the world.

The menace can be observed in democracies from the most to the least mature. It highlights the changing paradigm in journalism dominated by liberal principals to one where context specific factors form the basis for journalism practice and development.

However, many journalists in Pakistan continue to benchmark dated Western ideals about the profession. Perhaps because of a bout of arguably unfettered liberalisation of the media economy that took place after state policies in 2002.

The overt reliance on liberal ideals

They speak out against any curbs on press freedom by seeking refuge in the liberal market place of ideas. The argument goes that truth reigns supreme in an environment of unrestrained and free flow of information. Their opponents are quick to point out how the press in even the most liberal media markets, such as the United States, ‘tow-the-line’ during national crisis.

In the Asian context we have seen that a rampant growth of the media industry in the absence of civic norms flooded the market place with partisan voices. The liberalized media in the Philippines after the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986 is a notable case in point. Rather than enlightenment that facilitates a much needed national consensus a rambunctious media further disoriented the public.

Closer to home commercialization is also strongly associated with the erosion of editorial integrity by marketing departments or owner’s private agendas, as is documented on the Indian press.

The overt reliance on liberal ideals may ultimately polarize the debate in emerging media contexts where there is limited public space for fact based informed opinion, such as in Pakistan. Worse still, it allows societal elites that are contemptuous of public scrutiny to justify curbs on truth on grounds of a press perceived ill equipped to report it.

We must break out of the liberal-authoritarian binary in our public discourse where anything that goes against the state perspective is labelled ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ by the media. Just as any critique of religious extremism is seen as a past time of a ‘civil society crowd’

The problem with an unwavering faith in liberalism was starkly visible in the polarization of the American press during the election of President Trump. A large segment of the liberal media that had historically supported and preached impartiality and fairness in news reporting, more so than the conservative press, deemed it in the public interest to do away with an important journalism ideal.

Else where: why is liberalism failing to ignite imagination?

Implications for journalism education in Pakistan

Reality is a complex interplay of myriad factors. Not a zero-sum game. Consequently, journalism students must be taught to appreciate nuances of reporting in relation to factors such as institutional configuration, commercial and political imperatives.

To be sure, journalism is a profession, practiced and learned through participation in the routine activities of a news room. Journalism schools therefore re-create that environment in their training studios and production labs.

However this technical training is based on a strong theoretical foundation. Top journalism schools around the world are also very active in academic research. Professors offer special topics designed to arm students with a capacity to adapt context specific differences in practice with the democratic ideals upon which the discipline stands.

Comparative media research, for instance, shows that sustainable professional journalism can exist in pockets even in the harshest political environments. Just as democracies can exist in sustainable hybrid forms rather than an ideal (read Western) type on a continuum from low to high quality.

I was involved in one such study, at the Hong Kong Baptist University, that investigates ethical best practices among media organisations in five Asian territories; China, India, Indonesia, Philippines and Taiwan. We found that reputable organisations here are usually run by journalist-publishers with a strong ethos. Management policies facilitate a democratic culture in the newsroom itself. They understand branding but set their professional ethos as the value proposition.

The project published in the well-regarded journal Journalism shows the importance for Pakistani media to observe journalism in contexts beyond the American and British benchmarks. Media practices in regions with whom we share commonalities in socio-cultural and economic development are more useful to understand and improve our own.

Why does this matter?

This won’t be easy. It requires updating curricula in our media schools and the particularly difficult task of designing pedagogy that can operationalize such knowledge to the unique requirement of the news industry in Pakistan.

This doesn’t mean that liberalism is inherently bad. On the contrary, liberal education is desperately needed for young Pakistanis to understand their role in society and learn to co-exist in harmony. Only that a liberal press is not necessarily professional and certainly not the most effective.

Else where: what is a libertarian press?

If we do not arm our journalists with the state of play in the field they will struggle to stay relevant in democratising Pakistan. A key function of the press. Media students will face a disconnect between classroom learning and the work place upon graduation. Non-democratic forces will continue to encroach upon the vacuum left by our media institutions.

Introduction to university teaching

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This term I’m teaching an elective under our MA in media management program at the school of communication. It has been a tremendous experience so far engaging with young Chinese students from the other side of the class desk.

The course is titled Communication Technology & Media Organizations. I have developed an outline meant to brief students on some useful concepts communication researchers have to characterize new media impact on media organizations and society more generally. I’ve tailored it to match my own interests in information society, media studies, public relations and advertising.

My immediate challenge was to relate with students from a context dramatically different from how I was born and raised, live and work and to do so in an engaging manner. Understanding a students frame of reference is a key concern of paedagogy (or the method of teaching).

My teaching strategy thus incentivises class participation and collective learning. For instance by making it clear that there are no right or wrong answers; only useful and not so useful ones. I also bring examples to class that show similarities in media development in Mainland China, Hong Kong and rest of the world, including Pakistan.

This ultimately is in line with my own philosophy of finding meaning rather than ‘winning’ and rhetoric. The course is also a starting point for an online course I’m developing for students and young people living in Pakistan.

 

The overemphasis on the digital divide in Pakistan

There is an on going debate in Pakistan echoing global concern about the extent to which social media is simply replicating moribund and traditional impulses of the society.

The young ones are optimistic. With some reason. Just take a sample of the rich tapestry of awareness and advocacy currently on social media; a campaign to push for peace between India and Pakistan on Change.org initiated by folks on both sides of the hostile border; a funny viral video by fans of an opposition party around the recent ouster of the Prime Minister on corruption charges; accusation of stifling a story on injuries from an incident during a TV program shot in Pakistan’s premier gated community by a popular blogger, an online furore over a television anchor who had verbally abused a female guest on ‘patriotism’ during a live transmission.

More senior journalists and informed observers are cautious at best. A report by Bytes for all, a local Internet advocacy group, last year highlighted the increase in arbitrary government blocks on websites. While this year marked the first reports in the press on state-suspected attacks on online activists.

But going beyond the human rights perspectives on a restricted public sphere commonly associated with closed societies, question remains whether a more connected Pakistan will be conducive to deliberative and representative discussions en masse to begin with.

I want to bring attention to the copious amount of abuses and barbs traded by partisans on social media. Be it the progressively inclined fans of opposition parties, the conservative activists of the government or some combination of both. These ‘echo chambers’, to borrow a term from political communication, are by far the most prominent aspects of political discussions online. The notable journalist, Najam Sethi, goes as far as to refer to a thriving ‘anti-social media’. Where discussions are rich on emotions and rhetoric, little on substance and reminiscent of crazy talking heads on television.

Consider Youtube.com.pk, an open online public space, in a similar vein, setting aside for a moment the government’s absolute authority to ban it. Even a cursory look at the weekly trending will reveal mostly sensational television news stories regurgitated online, South Asian television soaps and films, ‘item numbers’ (bawdy dances of women on a background of Indian songs) and a sprinkling of Islamic evangelical content.

It appears that the roughly 28 million strong Internet user base, which by the way is no trivial figure (the entire population of Hong Kong is roughly 7 million), of highly educated Pakistanis, according to a recent survey on her Internet User’s Perspectives, seem mostly concerned with entertainment values in all their variants we usually associate with the ‘old’ broadcast age.

And while there is hardly any research on the quality of discussions Sethi isn’t far off the mark either. They fit our understanding of authoritarian emerging media conditions where most online content is used for broadcast purposes, traditional media successfully co-opts online spaces and a civil society voice is further confined or lost in the cacophony of misinformation.

Evegny Morozov in his cynical, albeit astute analysis, cautioned against cyber-utopianism; “a naïve belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to acknowledge its downside”; that instead of serving as a panacea in the market place of ideas there is a growing fear that Internet in Pakistan is becoming a game changer for established individuals, politicians, television personalities and (retired) generals who now find it even more convenient to build on their offline persona.

How far has Pakistan’s emerging online culture succumbed to Morozov’s worst fears? My on going research aims to answer this question partly by examining the logic of her social media for civic engagement.

Figures 1 shows a social network analysis (SNA) I conducted based on the Facebook Page ‘like’ networks for two major political parties – the Pakistan Muslim League Noon (PMLN) in the government, and its nemesis the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the opposition. SNA uses mathematical tools to understand the relationship (‘like’) between nodes (Pages) and the overall structure (Network) they are embedded in. It is often used to understand online organisation. The analysis reveals that the PTI has five times the online presence, 319 Pages, of PMLN, 66 Pages. Although offline, the former commands a much larger share in the National Assembly. In fact the situation is reversed; PMLN has roughly five times the seats of PTI!

 

 PTI PMLN
Figure 1. PTI Facebook ‘like’ network (left) & its PMLN counterpart (right). The size of labels represents level of activity of pages. Thus overseas pages are most active on PTI network. Similar colours reveal pages that depict similar patterns of connectivity or community. For PTI; green = Azad Kashmir related, Black = Insaf Student & fans related, Purple = KPK related, Blue = Karachi related. The much smaller PMLN has been disproportionately enlarged for clarity’s sake. No clear communities are visible likely due to network mostly formed by techy savvy politicians as opposed to activist teams. Note: SNA visualised on Gephi using publicly available Facebook data. The latter is the most used social media platform in the country.

This shows the considerable disconnect between on-ground (offline) and online reality and could be of some consolation; notwithstanding the limited importance of online campaigning in Pakistan the gap means that there is some way to go before the ills of patronage and dynastic politics completely colonize online. An uncertain window that the marginalized exploit and the youth are optimistic about.

But for many it is primarily the digital divide that has limited marginalized voices to the fringe of public opinion proper. As if more Internet is just what is required to keep the window open or for more people to support progressive causes. Pick any recent report mapping media trends in Pakistan and you find a similar introduction emphasizing the poor state of Internet development.

The PTI case is illuminating here as well; its largest constituency lies in Khyber Pakthunkhawa (KPK). Those familiar with South Asian geography will recognize this rugged province, that shares a border with Afghanistan, as having very low Internet penetration compared to the rest of Pakistan. Clearly there are factors beyond simple voting considerations that seem to inform the party’s online strategy; reviving overseas Pakistanis, creating awareness among urban youth, supporting advocacy causes (see figure 1) and raising funds.

Similarly, the digital divide is but one factor, and not necessarily the most important one, Pakistani policy makers should bank on if they are serious about diversity in the online market place of ideas. Media literacy; critical thinking; the capacity of journalist and bloggers for investigative work, contribute equally, if not more, in this equation. It will be an uphill battle. These concerns require novel solutions that go beyond simply paving and clearing information highways.

Looking at Cyril Almeida’s story through the lens of press-state relations

Editions: since I first published this essay here, I have made some minor editions which the reader will come across in line brackets.

These days a story Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military written by a Pakistani journalist and Dawn newspaper staffer, Cyril Almeida, has created quite a buzz in the Pakistani media sphere. Naturally when stories any where on critical policy matters of national interest enter the public sphere they are usually met with considerable scrutiny, analysis and some form of controversy. What makes the Pakistani case so compelling in my opinion are firstly the actors involved; a sitting government, a military establishment and a well reputed news organisation, and secondly; a highly speculative buzz most of which ignores journalism practice as a basis to ground analysis. In this essay I attempt to examine the controversy through the lens of a theory of press-state relations in the United States. Resulting analysis won’t be a precise or the only explanation of the incident. But by using established knowledge it may offer some viable explanation on the veracity of the story and what that implies.

 

It is widely established that journalist look mostly to government officials as the source of most of their daily reporting. There are many explanations for this but Lance W. Bennett (1990) classical hypothesis neatly summarises its major consequence, that:

Mass media professionals, from the boardroom to the beat, tend to ‘’index’’ the range of voices and viewpoints in both news and editorials according to the range of views expressed in mainstream government debate about a given topic. (p.106) 

Now Mr. Almeida’s story is controversial for two major reasons; first due to sensitive timing the story seems fabricated, as from a theoretical view its assertions fall outside present debates within government and policy circles. Relatedly, second, the government believes the story to be ‘speculative’, ‘misleading and factually incorrect’ because it has no source. And to my knowledge no public statement has been released by the ISPR to dispel these notions.

Lets start with the issue of the elusive source.

Indexing applies to ‘behaviour of prestige news organisation that set professional standards and influence news agenda’ and exclude those that can have an ideological sway due to small audiences and/or specific tastes. So for instance it can more credibly be applied to Daily Dawn a newspaper well regarded internationally and locally. Notwithstanding its vehement defence of information that was “verified, cross-checked and fact-checked”, indexing and every day journalism norms leads us to conclude with some confidence that Mr Almedia’s story indeed came from government and/or state officials. [Which raises doubts and questions about the governments claim that the story is fabricated and why the military has chosen to remain silent.]

Next,

It’s not enough to simply hold the norm as true if theory says so. The context matters. Political unity over Kashmir in these troubled times matter. Mr. Almeida’s story perhaps does not represent opinion within policy circles? It’s a fabrication that hints of mischief. The theory’s assumptions can shed some light here.

In setting the range of acceptable voices and opinions such a newspaper will allow on an issue, it will select official sources likely to influence outcome of events rather than isolated and extreme voices. The assertions in the story, such as disagreement over state policy on militants, could have only made it to print because they came from powerful sources. Not that powerful voices are credible by default. Source selection is based on a newspaper’s understanding of the current political calculus and a stable majority opinion within government and other policy circles. It stands to reason that matters of vital national interest would only warrant relevant powerful voices through the news gate and exclude deviants.

And had the official policy on militants – including disagreements – as reported in the newspaper actually included deviant views, or fabrications, the ‘circumstances surrounding such inclusions usually involve civil disobedience, protests, or lawless acts that establish negative interpretative contexts for those voices’ (p. 107). So had the report not represented mainstream opinions in policy circles, the story would have proceeded or preceded by a volatile situation. So far this has not happened publicly, at least in how we Pakistanis understand volatile situations. Other than Mr. Almeida being intimidated through the Exit Control List.

So, is the ‘potentially ground-shifting exchange between the ISI DG and several civilian officials’ as portrayed, accurate? Theoretically they are insofar as, a) the newspaper indeed carried professional norms of reporting it is regarded for, b) the story reflected present tensions in official policy circles that the newspaper was able to exploit and c) when the story landed there was no serious law and order situation surrounding it. [Not yet any way.]

[Unfortunately we don’t have more information to make an accurate judgement here. My hunch is that a meeting on those issues did happen but the ‘ground shifting exchange’ as depicted, among the most senior leaders of our country, seems a bit unreasonable.]

There are limitations however to these explanations and indexing to some extent accounts for them. For instance, the kind of issue determines applicability; ‘everyday events, crises, and policies (are more applicable) than…“special coverage” of things like elections that may have a normative-ritual order of their own’. [So unless we are going through unusually special political times this limitation is invalid. Although, considering the PTI rallies just around the corner one could think otherwise. Which would imply that we are in for those nazuk times yet again.]

 

In concluding I would simply add that all actors involved in the story including Daily Dawn may claim to act in the public interest. But if that requires bringing the voice of ordinary Pakistani’s on militancy to print, it would hardly happen. Indexing implies that professional news reporting operates independent of expressed public opinion.

Reference

Bennett, W. L., (1990) ‘Towards a theory of press-state relations in the United States’, International Journal of Communication, 40: 103–127.

On reflexivity of our[1] research process

This post will illustrate some of the institutional and methodological issues I have faced in my research process and explain how by being reflexive and critically aware of such challenges, I have come a step closer to provide meaningful answers to my research problem. This restructuring of my approach – as opposed to drifting in a free flow of consciousness in year one – I suspect has come about, of course through the very tackling of these challenges, but more importantly by learning to contextualise myself within my research in year two of the PhD.

Lets start with the institutional hurdles first which in this case refer to the legal, administrative and governmental challenges I have encountered namely; the strain of limited funding, outrageous visa processing issues (by virtue of ‘the green passport’) and vexation from bureaucratic red tape.

Funding puts certain limitations on research since it determines the resources available to accomplish projects. Intuitively, we can say funding effects the quality of work. So it was difficult for me at first to accept when my funding was cut down by an year. A constraint not to be taken lightly considering the formative stage of my project and my profession.

Speaking of constraints those from the global south would be quite familiar with the tedious visa processing and various traveling restrictions. It is rather unfair that in a competitive global job market many face issues by virtue of their birth place. The problem magnifies in academia when the ability to produce meaningful work hinges on extensive field visits, conference networking and other myriad opportunities that quick and easy access provides. It adds[2] another layer of  exasperating administrative work during hours which otherwise could be spent reading and writing.

Now, although these were specific instances of how institutional constraints may effect my work it is imperative to understand that they are generic. By being reflexive I realise that such constraints can fall under a class of research limitations called structural limitations. Going beyond my petty grievances, imagine budding scholars from developing countries producing interesting and impactful fieldwork only to find that there aren’t many Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) journals available that could publish it. In such instances a scholar may be pressured to comply with the status quo by for instance changing his/her methodology, orientation towards the problem or even theoretical framework (in extreme cases) to publish. It can be argued that the SSCI criterion are time tested benchmarks for quality research out put. But can it also be argued that heavy concentration of Western scholarship over time privileges certain kinds of criterion over others? Debates like this go on forever, the point is to be aware of such limitations and find meaningful ways to explain them in order for future scholars to carry our progress forward.

Lets look at a different set of issues. Methodologically, I face two major challenges so far; issues of physical access which results, again intuitively, in limited data points, and reliance on elite interviews (as I did in my MA) which creates reliability and validity issues for my findings. My initial response to counter these issues was the use of a stakeholder map to increase methodological rigour and data points. However there were some misleading findings[3] as a result. I only realised the fallacies once I started working as a journalist in Pakistan. But in-depth elite interviews – a method of data collection based on the stakeholder methodology – do serve a very important purpose and this is where my reflexivity comes in again. For starters elite interviews are excellent for exploratory work. It systematise our efforts to explore and this reflexivity on my research process led me to choose methodology classes in other institutions in Hong Kong[4]. The goal was simple; make conscientious efforts to find more data points and get training to increase reliability and validity of existing ones. My limited field work over the summer helped as well.

Somewhere along the way interesting things started happening. My simple goals changed instead to, saturate existing data points and methodologies to test them. Could I possibly have multiple stakeholder maps that could triangulate ‘against’ each other? How about filling the gaps with non-fiction (local literature)? In this sense ethnography classes were an amazing find where I am now learning to utilise the potential of thick descriptions and in-depth accounts. John Postill (2006) in the introduction of his book Media and Nation Building: How the Iban became Malaysian, writes:

‘What we lose in scope, we gain in focus: by studying in detail the Iban uses of state media over time, we can gain an appreciation of analogous processes in other parts of Malaysia and elsewhere.’

The quotes sets the context for how I am framing my problems now.

The location of the researcher with respect to his/her research project is one of the pillars of the qualitative paradigm; ethnographers for instance often immerse themselves in the ‘field’ and must ensure their voice and that of ‘the other’ i.e. the subject, is distinguishable when they write descriptions of them[5]. By embracing the notion that prevalent structures within the research environment and our biases constantly shape the choices we make, that constraints of access and funding effects methodology and politicise the choice of research topic respectively, in other words by believing that knowledge and therefore reality construction varies for everyone we accept the heterogeneity of our world. For me and as I am sure for the reader there is a beauty in this orientation that celebrates the diversity on our planet.

Notes

[1] ‘Our’ here implies doctoral students in general, however those outside the academy may also find this essay useful. It is my belief that we are all researchers in some ways albeit at various levels of training.
[2] A bit of trivia: I remember once during a casual conversation an American colleague upon learning the tedious travel paper work I am required to file remarked how it brings her ‘big’ scheduling conflicts in to perspective.
[3] For instance, the conclusion that electronic media due to its political economy can exert considerable influence on the Pakistan government.
[4] PhD students in Hong Kong can take courses in other institutions. This is quite a marvel of collaborative learning and I doubt even happens in United States.
[5] This was the traditional and formative period in qualitative methods in early 20th century, riding along colonialism where anthropologist such as Malinowski and Levi-Strauss studied remote ‘savage communities’ based on scientific values of truth and objectivity. Postmodernism had a huge impact on ethnography and the qualitative paradigm as a whole and we now make conscientious efforts to highlight the inherent structures of power prevalent within discourse and methodology.

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie (1998) and Khuda Ke Liye (2007): a critical review

The Pakistani film industry is experiencing a come back riding the tide of globalisation and media liberalisation. It is the contention of this essay that one important impact of changing political times and indeed turmoil has been on Pakistani culture. A notion ably depicted by the changing narratives, production values and identity crisis in Pakistani films. It is a truism that the country since independence in 1947, has been characterised by hybrid forms and an unresolved struggle between authoritarian legacies and democratic aspirations (Malik, 1996), thus the changes in cinema can be taken as a cultural manifestation of this inner conflict. In order to illustrate this the essay will hi light two very popular works of director Shoaib Mansoor; one a television drama Alpha Bravo Charlie (1998) based on the lives of officers in the Pakistan army and two, a post-911 highest grossing Pakistani film, Khuda Ke Liye (2007) (In the name of God). Since both films were supported by the Inter-Services Intelligence Public Relations (ISPR), the propaganda arm of the military intelligence, the author intends to further two lines of arguments; firstly that the authoritarian establishment has used cinema as a medium to legitimise cultural hegemony. Secondly, the author explains how the increasing sophistication of the second film requires a poststructural analysis of the film produced in a nation state reacting to global changes.

Background

The praetorianism of the Pakistan armed forces is a well established phenomenon analysed as it’s political economy by Ayesha Siddia (2007) in Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Political Economy.  In the book she gives a detailed empirical account and consequence of ‘Milbus’ the definition of which is;

military capital used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, which is not recorded as part of the defence budget or does not follow the normal accountability procedures of the state, making it an independent genre of capital. It is either controlled by the military or under its implicit or explicit patronage. (Siddiqa 2007, p.4)

In her study she makes the assessment that Pakistan army’s increase in economic activities has been directly proportional to its political power and the widespread securitisation of the society. Indeed its two major welfare organisations are also the two biggest companies in the country. It has major assets and investments (monopolies in certain cases) in fertiliser, cement, banking, highway construction and ports. These ‘new land barons’ have preferential decision making power which is detrimental to free-market economics. This has made the Pakistani army among the ten largest armed forces in the world and its officer cadres and retired forces personnel the most powerful fraternity in the country. Moreover, other societal elites have become coalition partners with the Milbus forming what is referred to in the media as the Establishment. Why the Pakistan security state has morphed in to such an existence is beyond the scope of this paper. What is important however are the cultural manifestations of a state dominated by a militarised ruling oligarchy since it tries to shape the state according to a blueprint that suits the interests of a handful of people. And the power to continue shaping the ‘modes of production’ is even more pronounced in postcolonial states like Pakistan. Although the military establishment comprising mainly of the Army and the bureaucracy have been firmly entrenched in politics, economics and foreign policy it wasn’t until the the 1980’s that it came out as an all encompassing financially independent institution of the Pakistani state. This was due to the Soviet-Afghan war where the state became a crucial partner in the United States Cold War. What followed was an influx of American and Saudi weapons and money in to Pakistan with the ultimate aim to train the mujahideen in their guerrilla war. The country became as Tariq Ali has said a ‘U.S Satrapy’. But it was the acquiring of nuclear weapons capabilities in 1998 and the resulting adventures in Kargil in 1999; a move to take over occupied Indian Kashmir by force, that really set the conditions for certain cultural products to take shape.

Alpha Bravo Charlie and Gramsci

The series, Alpha Bravo Charlie was aired on 8pm prime time on Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), the dominant state station, between May to July 1998. It quickly became the most watched drama serial at the time, not least because of lack of choices for the audience. It was a story of the lives of three young and ambitious recruits in the Pakistan army. Faraz Ahmed a handsome intelligent son of a rich land owning Punjab (largest province of Pakistan) family who after graduating is not assigned to active combat duty but is relegated to a dignified three-star General rank as he opens up a charity school from his resources. Kashif Kirmani is an active duty son of a two-star General. Brave, bold and with a high sense of humour he is promoted to the rank of Captain. Upon graduation he is assigned to a post on the Siachen glacier, one of the highest battlegrounds in the world and an area of strategic importance in the Kashmir dispute. It was also one of the battlegrounds during the Kargil conflict. As the series builds up, Kirmani takes a dangerous mission and destroys the Indian enemy but is wounded during the skirmish. He spends three days in the snow before finally getting rescued but tragically has his limbs amputed as a result of injuries. For his valour he is given an honourable discharge which he refuses and continues to serve in the army. Lastly, Gulsher Khan is a shy, mild mannered Captain and a son of a petty officer in the army. Occupying a rank higher than his poor father and clearly coming from a modest upbringing Khan’s story is that of the coming of age of a young man on a steady upward social mobility. Khan is sent to Bosnia on a U.N peacekeeping mission where he launches rescue operations to protect Bosnian Muslims held by Serbian forces. There he starts to command the respect of the locals and one Bosnian woman proposes to marry him which he respectfully refuses being already a married man. As the series unfolds Khan is captured in a Serbian ambush and gets killed while attempting to escape.

Lets first establish the notion that cultural hegemony has been an important aspect of state narrative of Pakistan’s history and ideology as a home for Muslims of the Subcontinent. The architects of Pakistan, most of which belonged to the landed gentry in the patronage of the British Raj realised that religious sentiments could become the only political slogan that could unite what Partha Chatterjee has termed the ‘political society’ in subaltern literature, under one banner in the fight for independence. This nation-state narrative has been controlled by the elites of the Pakistani society since then. Thus the revision of history books, discouragement of alternate national discourse in the media, indirect control of the Urdu newspapers by intelligence agencies due to its widespread readership and heavy censorship imposed on English newspapers (the preferred newspapers of upper-middleclass), suppression of provincial nationalist voices and minorities has becomes a necessary outcome of the ideological apparatus. Viewed form this light, the Establishment is a physical and metaphorical representation of what the societal elites have come to be understood in Pakistan, its most powerful player being the army. Siddiqa’s work as a military strategist has been of empirically grounding the exact nature of the expanding politico-economic reach of the Establishment. Her work sets the ground for a critique of an ideological state apparatus and indeed for this TV series as an important propaganda tool deployed as a ‘soft power’ initiative to legitimise states ventures in Kashmir. It is hard to dismiss the timeliness of broadcast as mere coincidence. Antonio Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony is a good starting point to conceptualise this:

One can say that not only the philosophy of praxis (Marxism) not exclude ethico-political history, but that indeed in its most recent stage of development, it consists precisely in asserting the moment of hegemony as essential to its conception of the state and to the accrediting of the cultural fact, of cultural activity of a cultural front as necessary alongside the merely economic and political ones.

The incursions in Siachen and its possible repercussions, a critical analysis of the perceived threat to Islam in Bosnia, the pervasiveness of the military in general gets lost within the static of a beautiful portrayal and slice of life depicted in the TV series. Instead, we have a ‘good will’ TV series with a superb production value and cannot help put invest ourselves emotionally in the characters; Faraz for his charitable appeal, Kashif for his patriotism and tragic loss, Khan for his ‘nice-guys-finish-last’ aura. The death of Khan in the final episode is particularly unsettling as it portrays him as a poor victim caught between events outside his control. He really becomes a martyr, a saint and ultimately symbolises his institution. We must venerate him, we must absolve him for any sins he might have committed. With its firm grip over any and all forms of media broadcast and distribution it became that much easier for the state to promote this cultural product. Since only four television channels existed in the country, all state owned, before 2002 and since internet was barely present the series faced zero threats from competing television programs or critical reviews from the civil society.

It is really the liberalisation of the Pakistani media industry after 1999 following, but not limited to, what the then Minister of Information Javed Jabbar has attributed as “counter(ing) increasing Indian propaganda”1 which demonstrates for us the continuity of this cultural hegemony. But very soon we realise that cultural hegemony is no longer an accurate term of the functioning of the ideological state apparatus and I will explain why in a bit. Here I would like to bring to attention two significant events relevant to our discussion. Firstly, ‘liberalisation’ here means not just of the media industry but the liberal market policies adopted by the dictatorship of President General Pervez Musharraf2 which included privatisation, opening of Pakistan economy for international investment and of course unprecedented investment in the telecommunication, news media industry. The economy managed by a cadre of experts in a highly centralized bureaucracy did indeed experience rampant growth within the first few years of military rule and achieved some modicum of stability. It is my contention that this period marks Pakistan’s formal entry (if ever there was such a thing) in to globalisation and postmodernity. Secondly, the September 11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of the U.S in Afghanistan had widespread repercussions for the Pakistani establishment; it now found itself forced to dismantle the same mujahideen network, founded to fight the Soviets, by the same allies that had funded it. The same mujahideen network that was now labelled in the U.S media as a terrorist network. This resulted in a massive dissonance within not only the Establishment but the rest of the society; in the 80’s the narrative of the mujahideen (transliterated here as a ‘religious freedom fighter’) went well with the Pakistani nation-state identity i.e. a state for the muslims of the Subcontinent and thus appealed to the popular sentiments of the subaltern. Ultimately this combination resulted in the adoption of a puritanical Islamic thought since it served as a convenient method for the Establishment to set in motion an ideological state apparatus. Indeed, the period in the 80’s is colloquially known as Islamization of Pakistan. Now however in participating in the ‘War on Terror’ and the various financial opportunities it provided the ideological state apparatus found itself in need of a recalibration. President General Musharraf then attempted to introduce his ‘Enlightened Moderation’ policy and drew many parallels of Pakistan with Turkey. However, this time around the ideological state apparatus did not work as ‘effectively’ due to creeping globalisation and mediatization3 of the society. By effectively I mean that this conceptualisation of cultural hegemony is inadequate. In a sense, I want to argue that globalisation has brought with it an increasing salience of postmodern/poststructural theories as a lens to look at some aspects of Pakistani society. Which brings us to our second film.

Khuda Ke Liye (In the name of God)

The plot follows the lives of a family of upper-middle class Pakistanis across three countries. A handsome duo, Mansoor and Sarmad are brothers who are part of a rising musical band in Lahore, Pakistan. Sarmad becomes increasingly influenced by the rhetoric of a prominent local muslim cleric who had earlier played an active role in the Afghan War and is now running an insurgency against the Americans in Afghanistan. He starts sporting a beard, drops out of the band, starts attending religious sermons and even pressures his free-spirited family to also follow his new lifestyle. Mansoor, not deterred by the inner conflict of his brother, travels to Chicago to pursue studies in music. He adjusts well with the diverse community of students and is celebrated as a talented musician. He also falls in love with a girl called Janie who quits alcohol for him and they eventually get married. Meanwhile in England, Mary/Mariam is a young Pakistani girl born and raised in Britain whose first generation progressive albeit hypocritical father brings her to Pakistan on a pretext and forcefully marries her off in a village. The story then unfolds as the world witnesses 9/11. Mansoor is taken in custody without trial by the U.S intelligence agencies and is tortured to Insanity. Sarmad reluctantly travels to Afghanistan to fight a ‘holy war’ and returns traumatised. While Mary, now rescued by the Pakistan Army under orders from the British government takes her father to court. The court scene is the essence of the film where an argument unfolds and where another religious cleric explains how a particular brand of Islam is being exploited to instigate hatred while the message of tranquility and peace is getting lost in the clutter.

Reception

The film was released to widespread critical appreciation and fame in 2007, squarely in the middle of military operations being conducted against the by now belligerent and dangerous Islamic militancy in north west of Pakistan. It quickly became the highest grossing film in Pakistani cinema which is a feat that must be emphasised; a cast of popular television stars, script by acclaimed director Shoaib Mansoor, promotion by Geo Network (a byproduct of media liberalisation), shooting done on location and many other firsts, were a testament to the high production value. Most importantly many Pakistanis were indeed proud of a film that resonated with their identity crisis and moreover, its positive reception around the world was viewed as an empathetic acknowledgment of this identity crisis and marginalization. The film however does seem to be an anomaly since the cinema industry in Pakistan had all but vanished, due to unfavourable economic policies and Islamization by the time of its release. Also many Bollywood veterans have been concerned about the films actual market value if left on its own in a South Asian market; the film performed average at the Indian box office where an audience is used to grandiose, item-numbers, big stars, spontaneous dancing and idealistic notions of love. Finally, the film was aired for free on Geo Television, which is now the most watched television after PTV, which raises doubts regarding profit motives behind its production; most independent and international Pakistani film directors do not release their films in the fledgling Pakistani market.

A new framework of hegemony?

Did the film work if it had a political purpose? I would argue that the film itself is a political message. By tackling issues of gender discrimination as in the case of Mary, issues of identity crisis experienced by upwardly mobile Pakistani families and the ideological clash between certain sects of Islam the film successfully hi lights the symptoms of societal fissures in a young nation state. But because this political message is limited to this humanist projection it will never appeal to our critical senses as it falls just short of explicating possible causes for societal fissures, gender discrimination and ideological conflicts. Although in one sense, if we look at it through the ideological state of Gramsci, this does represent progress because an overt categorisation of a ‘root-of-evil’ and hence propaganda, as depicted in Alpha Bravo Charlie, is absent. However I would argue that precisely because of this nuanced approach to sensitive issues, the film hints at the inevitability of such societal fissures. In other words by taking the cause out of the equation the film absolves the embedded power structures which otherwise may be revealed as the cause of this inevitability. I should not be too harsh on the director though after all this film represents an important cultural milestone in Pakistani history, riding though on the back of mediatization, and having an almost emancipatory effect on the Pakistani consciousness. However one can’t help but reflect on the complete involvement of Pakistani armed forces in every sphere of the security state (see discussion of Siddiqa earlier) which also happens to be a transitioning democracy and is perhaps giving new forms of socio-political and economic structures that haven’t been conceptualized yet. Perhaps the term Establishment as it was understood 20 years ago does not hold currency any more. It is no longer strictly an elitist super structure, with a rural population at its base; there is now a middle class that now stands at 28% many members of which are connected to varying degrees with the Establishment. I realize this is a rather reductionist viewpoint and has been mentioned only for illustrative purposes. This is a similar concern as that of Spivak when  she talks about catachresis. The point is that there is a core which pulls the society proper towards it with a powerful force. Cultural products like Khuda Ke Liye do not represent  Islamic moderation or for that matter radicalization, they exist to serve a purpose in the changing nature of what Siddiqa now refers as a ‘hybrid-theocratic state’, as and when it deems necessary.

1. Intermedia, ‘Pakistan Media Comes of Age Despite Rising Violence’, Annual State of Pakistan Media Report 2006-2007.
2. Following international outrage for adventures in Kargil the civil-military relationship in the country became increasingly hostile and finally resulted in a soft coup d’etat. The constitution was suspended and the Prime Minister and chief of the ruling party Nawaz Sharif was sent to exile. It is interesting to note that many ordinary Pakistanis living in Pakistan have only recently been made aware of the details of this skirmish.
3. Definition of mediatization by Krotz (2009, p. 24) “we, in consequence, should understand the social and cultural reality, and thus each individual social and cultural phenomenon, as also depending on the media. This is what we refer to as mediatized… mediatization thus is a meta-process…and one akin to globalization or commercialisation.”