Wanderlust: ‘Media in Pakistan is being limited by the few giants controlling it’
By Hamna Zubair
Willi Germund covers South Asia for 10 newspapers and regrets he did not learn the languages of the places he visited.
KARACHI: At first sight, it is hard to believe that this quiet, unassuming German man has been travelling extensively throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan and India for over 20 years. However, journalist Willi Germund says he loves his itinerant lifestyle.
Wearing a brown safari-style shirt and black Harry-Potter spectacles this summer evening, Germund reveals the only regret of his profession. “I never learned the languages of the places I visit during my reporting, which means I am unfortunately restricted to interacting with people who know English well.”
This doesn’t seem to have been much of a setback for Germund professionally, as he now covers the South and Southeast Asia region for 10 newspapers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, in a news-sharing arrangement that is certainly unique for Pakistan. He is currently based in Islamabad but has also worked in India for five years, and, as he puts it, has “been to Afghanistan so many times that I’ve lost count.”
Germund is a freelance journalist but this term doesn’t quite explain the way he works – perhaps the term ‘super-stringer’ would be more apt. He is able to work for 10 papers simultaneously because the papers he reports for are all regional papers, and therefore are not in direct competition with each other.
“It works like this: I tell the papers which stories I am interested in and where I am going, and they pool together and collectively pay for the cost of my travel, lodging, etc,” he explains. “But I have to take care of my medical expenses myself!”
This way of working didn’t really exist at first, and that he sort of made it up as he went along, he says. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in Pakistan, where most large newspapers are national, and competition between media groups is intense.
Because he has been travelling in and out of the region for decades, Germund has a lot to say about Pakistan and its neighbours. “Interest in Pakistan-related news has definitely grown,” he says, when I ask why European readers would be bothered to read about the region at all. “Before 9/11 no one really wanted to read about Afghanistan or Pakistan. But after that, people were interested, especially because German troops were part of the coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
According to him, having European journalists report on Â‘troubled’ regions such as Pakistan and Afghanistan rather than local reporters is better for European readers because “we are in a better position to explain events to a reader who has little knowledge of the area.” He also feels that foreign journalists are able to look at the facts impartially, without getting too involved with the subject – something that happens, he says, when the Indian and Pakistan press cover relations with each other.
“I was in India during the Kargil crisis and I remember laughing, because everything that was shown on TV, from both sides, was so childish,” he says. “Pakistan and India were both showing maps on TV claiming that the region was theirs.”
The fears in the Western world about Pakistan’s situation, Germund believes, are very real and not just propaganda by the media. “Since May 2, every significant attack is framed as ‘incompetence’,” he says, referring to the attack on PNS Mehran base. “Abroad, people do wonder how much you can then trust the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”
“And remember,” he hastens to add: “Germans have known war and are especially averse to the idea of nuclear weapons.”
Despite this obvious insecurity in Pakistan, Germund says he has never really feared for his life. “We [foreign journalists] are less vulnerable here than your local journalists,” he says. “If we are under threat, we can simply board a plane and leave. But we all know what happens to local journalists here who cross the lineÂ… like what happens in Balochistan.
“The positive thing is that the press here is very vibrant,” he continues. “It is never boring. But people are operating under constraints, and there is little respect for the press or for journalists. That is the problem.”
According to him, the current structure of the media in Pakistan limits what kind of reporting is possible. Because the media in Pakistan is dominated by a few giants, he says, it is difficult to sort out people’s agenda’s from the real news. “But this is where informal ways of spreading information can help,” he says. “There is more dependence on social media and the internet.”
Germund has spent his days touring flood relief camps in Sindh, and is tired, so we soon call it a day. As he gets up to leave, he tells me that his friends and family sometimes can’t believe that he spends so much time outside his home country. “Recently, my mother came to visit me,” he says. “This kind of lifestyle that I’m living, that so many people are living these days, is incomprehensible to her.
“But I like it here,” he adds as we part. “People are friendly, I can get around alright … I love this life.”
Source: The Express Tribune