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Q&A with Asmatullah Niazi

  • Posted On: 26th September 2013
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Q&A with Asmatullah Niazi

Asmatullah Niazi, a key figure in the media industry talks to Blue Chip about his professional background and his role in establishing PTV World – Pakistan’s only English news channel. Afflicted with polio as a child, he is a role model for persons living with disability because despite his physical limitations he was able to pursue a successful professional career in media and journalism and imparted his experience and knowledge as an academician. Advocating equality and shunning discrimination, Asmatullah Niazi stresses that to truly progress the institutions in the country need to give equal opportunities to persons with disabilities

You have a wealth of experience in the field of media and journalism, can you please tell us about your professional background and how you stepped into the field?

Asmatullah Niazi : “I did my BSC Honours from Karachi University in Political Science and then Masters in Political Science and specialization in International Relations. Thereafter, I struggled a lot to find a job and I joined Television accidentally after I saw an advertisement in the newspaper where PTV wanted some professionals and fresh graduates for their news and programme production. I was interested back then in programme production, but I was hired for news and current affairs. I joined PTV on 21st April 1986 at the Karachi center. The media scenario was entirely different in those times, there was just one channel and it always took the lead in breaking any important news. Before the advent of private sector television, the khabarnama at 9 pm had the highest viewership. I still remember despite a lack of so many things in the khabarnama and the widely popular dramas – the rating of khabarnama was still higher than the dramas. The most popular dramas like Pyaas had 40% viewership, whereas the khabarnama had 60% viewership. I first learnt news production and enjoyed it immensely, then I was asked to go for reporting and got into broadcasting where I worked with some of the pioneers of television broadcasting like Shazia Sikandar, Muzammil Ahmad Khan, Iqbal Jamil among others. We initiated the trend of appearing ourselves as reporters with our stories. This was my beginning in television.”

You played a key role in establishing PTV World, Pakistan’s only English news channel – can you elaborate more on your achievement?

AN: “When this idea came into the minds of the PTV management, I was posted at the PTV academy along with Muzammil Ahmad Khan. He was the Controller PTV Academy and I was the Instructor News and Current Affairs. Establishing this was a wonderful experience. The management trusted on us and we successfully launched the channel.”

PTV World has been established to cleanse Pakistan’s tarnished international image. How is it able to achieve this goal and has it so far contributed towards improving Pakistan’s reputation internationally?

“Basically the idea behind launching this was to create a soft image of Pakistan. The private sector television is promoting the negative image of Pakistan. The international media is focusing on terrorism and negativity – whereas Pakistan has a lot of positive things too. Take for example Sharmeen Obaid’s documentary Saving Face which shows that people within Pakistan are working towards rehabilitating acid victims and if we have terrorism on one hand on the other hand we have people who are working towards spreading education, improving the health sector, Shaukat Khanam for example. We have unique examples of people in Pakistan who are working for the betterment of society, but no one focuses on that. So the idea behind PTV World is to promote Pakistan’s positive image. We are now only 8 months old and we still have a long way to go and we are still asking for resources.”

The Pakistani media in this day and age has the freedom to report unrestricted. What are your views on the freedom given to the media in Pakistan and whether that freedom is being used responsibly or not?

AN: “When we are talking about freedom of the media we should also keep in mind balanced reporting. A news item has a number of stakeholders and balanced reporting means we need to keep all of them and their interests in mind. Otherwise, the reporting is irresponsible. When we launched PTV World we particularly took care of balanced reporting and highlighting all view points while bringing forth a news item. There should be no one side reporting. I have been to various countries where regulatory laws are given a lot of importance. Private sector television is regulated and monitored – for example in Norway after a decade they only allowed one private sector television to broadcast the news. Strict regulatory laws govern private news broadcasting in most countries of the world.”

Possessing vast experience as an academician, how do you impart your experience as a journalist and a key figure in the media industry to your students?

AN: “I have been a visiting faculty of Punjab University, Islamic International University, Iqra University, Alama Iqbal Open University. Now the curriculum of media studies and mass communications is lacking in a lot of aspects and consequently the students suffer because the curriculum is not of an international standard. I tried to incorporate the practical side of reporting and journalism instead of focusing on theories. Students are not aware of the functions of the government, the constitution, judicial and parliamentary procedures, international relations – which are all very important. All of these should be part of the curriculum.”

What does the future have in store for PTV World?

AN: “Public sector television is important globally, like Voice of America and BBC. We are looking to compete in a market saturated with private sector television along with keeping a balanced reporting policy. All the channels have to tap into the same pool of advertising resources so PTV has to progress with a balanced editorial policy. PTV has a lot of potential and the government can take the lead in saying that we have given a public sector television so much liberty that it is competing with the private sector. So I am optimistic that we can develop and take that policy forward.”

Do you have a message for the readers?

AN: “I have seen the upcoming generation has a strong command on the English language, which is a good thing, however it is at the cost of ignoring Urdu. They should know that if they want to excel, along with English they must also have a strong grip on Urdu because English has a very limited viewer and readership in the country. Other than that I would like to say that all of us need to make a concerted effort to do something for special individuals who are handicapable. In our professional environment a person is more perceived physically than mentally but I want to stress that a physical disability has nothing to do with a person’s mental capabilities. Living with a disability, I also had to face a lot of discrimination. But, it’s important to realise that once you rise above your disability others will also see your mental capabilities more clearly.”

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