‘Pakistani media has moved towards accuracy and balance,’ Aamer Ahmed Khan
Aamer Ahmad Khan is a respected name in the field of journalism in Pakistan. He is one of the few who have made a name for themselves internationally. He started his career as a reporter for The Nation newspaper, and then was in the launch team of Friday Times. Before joining BBC, he was serving as the Editor of Pakistan’s premier news magazine, Herald.
Now he is Editor for the West and Central Asia Hub, BBC World Service, an organisation he joined in 2004. In this capacity he oversees the managerial and editorial direction of the multimedia news services for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, which provide online, mobile, TV and radio content to audiences in the region and around the world.
BR Research: You have been keeping a close watch on the happenings in Pakistan; first as a journalist in Pakistan and then as Editor for the West and Central Asia Hub, BBC World Service! Has this distance brought a different perspective to how you view the events and incidents here?
AAK: In a way, yes. Pakistan generates a great deal of news and journalists are constantly drawn to covering local events and issues. At times, it is important to look at issues facing a country as complex as Pakistan in a broader perspective, and watching it from a distance helps you get that perspective. Being a BBC World Service journalist in particular helps you view the country’s news agenda against that of the entire world, and that is an enormous advantage which aids clarity and understanding.
BRR: Other than current news event, are there any priority areas that you have editorially set for your team to follow?
AAK: In addition to established BBC values of trust, independence and impartiality, clarity is one of our top priorities when it comes to reporting on Pakistan. Of course, BBC Urdu has a 24/7 website, bbcurdu.com, which is among the most popular news websites in Urdu across the world. But, we have limited time on radio and TV, which means it is extremely important for us to deliver clear and accurate reporting. I am fascinated by the rapid evolution in private electronic media in Pakistan over the last news cycle has the potential to blow stories out of proportion. We consider it both a challenge and a responsibility to keep things in perspective, and provide our audience with the clarity that they feel is sometimes lacking in the local media.
BRR: How have you seen Pakistan’s projection through the media change over the years that you have been away from the country?
AAK: I would say it has evolved with the country. The last 12 years or so have been very difficult for Pakistan. And much that has happened in Pakistan has not been seen in a positive light by the world outside-be it the situation in the tribal areas, the growth of al Qaeda in Pakistan or the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. I have seen Pakistani media struggling with a desire to reflect positively on the country while being accurate in its reporting. At some level, you still see it. But, by and large, it has moved steadily towards accuracy and balance. Of course, journalism in Pakistan has its own character, its own very unique personality so to speak. But, on the whole, it has evolved towards more and more maturity which has helped it reflect more accurately on what is, after all, one of the most difficult countries in the world to report on.
BRR: There is a general impression that there are two Pakistans: One that the local media looks at and another that is seen through the eyes of the international media! Because of your personal experience in both the fields, do you find this to be true?
AAK: That is partly what I was talking about earlier: the media’s need to be “Pakistani” while being accurate and impartial. There are two different ways of looking at Pakistan: One, the international media, looks at Pakistan much as a cricket fan would look at a particular cricketer-judging him mostly by his performance in the field; the other, the local media, would be that cricketer’s wife looking at him-aware of all his flaws and strengths which may not often determine his on-field performance but absolutely drive their marriage, their relationship.
BRR: Is BBC, through its Sairbeen programme, looking for a long-term engagement with the Pakistani audiences?
AAK: BBC has always been committed to its audience in Pakistan and Urdu-speaking diaspora across the world. Our decision to launch a TV programme is directly in response to the changing needs of that audience. We have worked very hard on making Sairbeen possible on TV, and so far we have had fantastic feedback not only from our existing audience but also from a host of younger people, who perhaps never listen to our radio programmes on short-wave radio. Our TV offer is not just another expression of our long-term engagement with our audience but also of our commitment to respond to the rapidly changing markets.
BRR: This is the first time that BBC has used another media to extend its outreach in Pakistan. Can you share the business model?
AAK: It is a very robust relationship, driven by our mutual editorial respect for each other. It is a continuously evolving model in which we want colleagues from the BBC and the TV channel to engage with each other as much as they can so we can work in a way which helps us learn from each other all the time.
BRR: What is the target audience that you had identified for yourself? Does this partnership allow you to reach that? How do you measure it?
AAK: Sairbeen is still very new on TV, and we are still some time away from measuring its reach. But, our target audience includes news consumers across all age groups and all regions within the country.
BRR: Sairbeen has brought BBC to Pakistani television audience. What is the kind of a feedback that you are getting from your audience that is a mix of old fans and new followers?
AAK: Just to give you one example, one of the recent programmes was trending on Twitter among the top five even three days after the broadcast. And on so many occasions I have received messages from the News Channel saying how pleased viewers are that we have succeeded in offering something different and distinctive in a very competitive market and how much they enjoy our programme for its editorial and production quality. It is deeply satisfying to hear that, along with the critiques and suggestions that we know are aimed at helping us improve our offer. I am very proud of BBC Urdu team for making it happen.
Source: Business Recorder