Di­a­logue: Nuzaira Azam

The me­dia per­son talks to Slo­gan’s Farah Iqbal in this ex­clu­sive in­ter­view.

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How would you de­scribe your­self as a pro­fes­sional?

Jour­nal­ism is my pas­sion. My fa­ther is re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing my in­ter­est in jour­nal­ism. One day, when I was 8 years old, liv­ing in Bagh­dad, my fa­ther who had re­turned from an engi­neer­ing con­fer­ence in Syria, was talk­ing to my mother about it; he said that he had met some top jour­nal­ists there. That stuck in my mind and I asked my fa­ther that how does one be­come a top jour­nal­ist? You can say that the seed of jour­nal­ism was sowed in my mind at that mo­ment.

Mr. Sa­j­jad Haider, the then am­bas­sador of Pak­istan to Iraq and his wife were friends of my par­ents and we used to visit their house a lot. Mrs. Haider had a Li­brary com­pris­ing books in Urdu. Even though we used to study in a French con­vent school, I al­ways wanted to read in Urdu and so I started to spend a lot of time in their li­brary. This is where I dis­cov­ered all the works of great poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz for the first time. Years af­ter we re­turned to Pak­istan, one day I asked my fa­ther that if he had not been an en­gi­neer, what would he have been. My fa­ther promptly replied that he would have been a jour­nal­ist. That left a great im­pres­sion on me and I thought be­com­ing a jour­nal­ist was a huge thing.

By the time I did my bach­e­lors, we were liv­ing in Haripur as my fa­ther was posted there to set up a trans­mit­ter fac­tory for the gov­ern­ment. My fa­ther sug­gested I should get a Mas­ters de­gree and I said fine but I would like to do my Mas­ters from Pe­shawar Univer­sity but my fa­ther wanted me to go to Karachi Univer­sity. He said that he would take me to Pe­shawar Univer­sity and

that I should de­cide where to study af­ter that visit. So we went there and vis­ited one of the class­rooms. To my dis­gust, there was a cur­tain in the mid­dle of the class­room sep­a­rat­ing the girls from the boys and there were holes in the cur­tain made by cig­a­rettes. So I ended up go­ing to Karachi Univer­sity. The at­mos­phere of ed­u­ca­tion at the Karachi Univer­sity was to­tally dif­fer­ent. It was very open, stu­dents freely in­ter­acted with each other and they had dis­cus­sion ses­sions on var­i­ous top­ics. When I first met Pro­fes­sor Zakaria Sa­jid, the Chair­man of the Jour­nal­ism depart­ment at KU at the time, my fa­ther told him that I wrote short sto­ries and po­etry, Sa­jid sahib smiled and said this was a dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion for jour­nal­ism but I chal­lenged him by say­ing that both were a form of writ­ing and were re­lated. So he told me that I had to give an en­trance test, which I did and passed it with fly­ing colours. That’s how the in­ter­est in jour­nal­ism grew in me and it even­tu­ally be­came a mis­sion.

While I started to make a name for my­self in jour­nal­ism, my par­ents moved to USA and took me with them. There I joined the Pak­istan Em­bassy and worked with the then Am­bas­sador Abida Hus­sain and later with Mal­iha Lodhi.

Af­ter I got mar­ried in 1995, I did a course in jour­nal­ism from the Na­tional Jour­nal­ism Cen­ter. I also taught Urdu at the For­eign Ser­vice In­sti­tute (FSI) and at var­i­ous other schools. Later, I got an eight-month schol­ar­ship in Lan­guages i.e. English lan­guage, at the Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, Washington, D.C. While I was still there I was of­fered a job which I took af­ter I fin­ished my course. It was a seven year con­tract, which ended re­cently and so now I have come to Pak­istan for a long va­ca­tion.

How has your an­a­lyt­i­cal ap­proach helped Pak­istani me­dia since you are based in Washington DC?

I used to write for mag­a­zines, both Urdu and English, which were pub­lished in the United States. This in­cluded an on­line mag­a­zine on lo­cal US pol­i­tics. For this, I con­ducted in­ter­views of var­i­ous lead­ers from the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can par­ties. Their in­sights helped news or­ga­ni­za­tions and re­porters back home, es­pe­cially the way I put them across.

Have you achieved the goals you had set up for your­self?

Not yet. I feel that jour­nal­ism is an on­go­ing process, like con­tin­u­ously flow­ing wa­ter. I have never craved for a higher po­si­tion in jour­nal­ism. I pre­fer to be among the pub­lic, to meet and write about them. Whether it is the Pak­istani pub­lic or the Amer­i­can pub­lic, it does not mat­ter.

Have you suc­ceeded in pop­u­lar­iz­ing Urdu or other Pak­istani lan­guages in the US?

I have worked a lot with the in­sti­tutes of for­eign lan­guages on Urdu and Pun­jabi. As I am also flu­ent in Pun­jabi, some­time ago, one of the Amer­i­can cen­tres for for­eign lan­guages ar­ranged a Pun­jabi stan­dard­iza­tion course and they in­vited me to dis­cuss the course and give them sug­ges­tions. There is some work be­ing done on lan­guages like Pun­jabi, Balochi and also Sindhi but it is be­ing done by Amer­i­cans mostly. A friend of mine has de­vel­oped a dic­tio­nary of Pun­jabi phrases. The Pak­istani com­mu­nity are more in­ter­ested in po­etry, so a lot of ‘ Mushairas’ are held in New York. I don’t know whether you can con­sider this as pop­u­lar­iz­ing Urdu or has it be­come the lan­guage for en­ter­tain­ment?

What has been your role in act­ing as a bridge be­tween South Asian and Amer­i­can cul­tures?

I have been in­volved with var­i­ous as­so­ci­a­tions that acted as a plat­form through which we held var­i­ous lec­ture ses­sions. The Karachi Univer­sity Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion in the US has re­ally been act­ing as a bridge be­tween KU and US colleges. We ar­range var­i­ous dis­cus­sions and lec­tures on cul­ture and other top­ics at these colleges. We also in­vite chan­cel­lors or vice chan­cel­lors from Pak­istan to speak at these fo­rums.

You have been di­rectly ex­posed to Pak­istani me­dia in ear­lier years. Do you find a dif­fer­ence now?

My ca­reer in jour­nal­ism started from PTV, Quetta sta­tion. I used to do a pro­gram on cur­rent af­fairs. But my pas­sion was to be in the print me­dia, I pre­ferred writ­ing for the news­pa­pers than ap­pear­ing on TV. A lot has changed since I was here nearly two and a half decades ago. The world has pro­gressed tremen­dously and there has been ma­jor po­lit­i­cal and so­cial change. There has also been so much de­struc­tion through war and oth­er­wise. So, obliv­i­ously, all this has af­fected jour­nal­ism here as well and it has changed ac­cord­ingly.

Jour­nal­ism to­day has be­come very ag­gres­sive, es­pe­cially in the elec­tronic me­dia in Pak­istan but there is a lack of ‘nationalism’ which is an im­por­tant fac­tor. Whereas all the Amer­i­can chan­nels only show what is in the in­ter­est of the coun­try, they would never show their coun­try in a neg­a­tive light as they be­lieve in nationalism. How­ever in Pak­istan it’s an­other story. If one chan­nel is keep­ing the in­ter­est of the coun­try in mind while air­ing a news or dis­cus­sion pro­gram, the other makes it a point of putting it down, even if it hurts the coun­try in the process. They do not do any re­search; they just take the news from the in­ter­na­tional chan­nels or New York Times, etc. and air it as their own.

What more could the TV news chan­nels in Pak­istan do to build bet­ter cred­i­bil­ity?

I think there is no code of ethics among the TV news chan­nels in Pak­istan. If there is, then all the chan­nels do not fol­low it. For ex­am­ple, they take a news story, blow it out of pro­por­tion and re­peat it in­sis­tently, over and over again to cre­ate sen­sa­tion­al­ism and with­out tak­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the con­se­quences that oc­cur and hurt so­ci­ety as a re­sult. It seems like both the gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety has shrugged their re­spon­si­bil­ity and no­body cares about what is hap­pen­ing to the coun­try. It’s like a herd of wild an­i­mals that has been set loose, de­stroy­ing ev­ery­thing in its way - that’s what our so­ci­ety has be­come. To top it off, the me­dia, es­pe­cially elec­tronic me­dia, fur­ther flares up the sit­u­a­tion.

There seems to be a lack of se­ri­ous­ness and re­spon­si­bil­ity among the politi­cians and the me­dia. How­ever, in the print me­dia there still seems to be some cred­i­bil­ity. Free­dom comes with re­spon­si­bil­ity but over here all they care about is free­dom. No­body wants to own up to the re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with it.

What sort of pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment are you look­ing for­ward to as a next step?

On my re­turn to the US I will be start­ing a com­pany, which I have al­ready reg­is­tered un­der the name ‘Global Beat,’ where we would be pro­vid­ing train­ing in jour­nal­ism and me­dia. I want to do some­thing worth­while that would also ben­e­fit Pak­istan. In par­tic­u­lar, I would like to pro­vide the op­por­tu­ni­ties and the plat­form to stu­dents of jour­nal­ism or up­com­ing jour­nal­ists in Pak­istan to help them grow pro­fes­sion­ally.

Nuzaira Azam, an alumni of Karachi Univer­sity, started her ca­reer in Pak­istan with PTV, Quetta, host­ing a cur­rent af­fairs pro­gram and later as a jour­nal­ist work­ing for var­i­ous Urdu news­pa­pers, in­clud­ing Nawa-i-Waqt. She cov­ered the po­lit­i­cal beat. She moved to the United States in the 1990s, where she worked for the United States gov­ern­ment as a me­dia an­a­lyst and con­sul­tant on South Asian and Pak­istani me­dia. She also con­tin­ued with her jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer as a free­lancer for var­i­ous US-based print and on-line mag­a­zines. She has re­ceived the Ahmad Adaya Urdu In­ter­na­tional Award for her Urdu novel, Khawab Ba­dosh (Dream Car­ri­ers).

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