4 Nov

On Global Voices, Hosh and Nava – the last two years condensed into 2000 words

That's me working in my corner office with a view of the pacific ocean, which is also a stone's throw away from Nava's play area. (The little perks of working from home.) Photo by 2013 Knight Fellow Samiruddin Stewart @samsends on Friday, October 25, 2013.

A few weeks ago, lovely and sharp Pam Maples, the Innovation Director at Stanford’s JSK fellowships, asked me to answer a few simple questions about my post fellowship activities. My responses turned into a 2000-word piece!

This should’ve been a series of posts peppered through the last two years here. But I regretfully ignored  this blog while I was going through Hosh, Nava and Global Voices, many apologies for my absence and neglect!

I left out a lot of crucial detail – like the amazing friends and team members I worked with a long the way. So a much needed shout out to i2i‘s Kalsoom
who worked so hard to get Hosh and me in shape and arranged for the grant that I ended up turning down (details below); Haleema Mehmood – my partner in crime at the d school’s launch pad for burning the midnight oil with me so we could get Hosh working in 10 weeks; Shahid Saeed - who helped prototype and put together Hosh media’s first website, offered sound advice, and editorial support. Farhan Kamal, who also offered technical advice and helped us decide on a platform to use. Ali Abbas Zaidi and PYA for volunteering their time and energy to brainstorm and test Hosh in its formative weeks, and helping spread the word about our mission once we launched.

Hosh wouldn’t have gotten far without the support of my amazing friends and colleagues Nadia Zaffar and Fatima Akhtar – who helped plan and put together some awesome workshops. I’ll always be indebted to the ever-gracious Abbas Nasir for offering his time and stellar mentoring to me and agreeing to lend his credible face and commanding voice to the beautiful media ethic video series that the too-talented-for-his-own good Ahmer Naqvi shot, but refuses to accept payment for. (yup, its true, he’s a fool and good friend!)

I took the site down 3 months ago, it was fun while it lasted, and had become an amazing archive of the dozens of stories we published, but site maintenance was becoming expensive and a pain. And the way my heart is leaning – Hosh will make a come back completely anew at the right time.

I should probably add a picture of my soon to be 14-months old Nava. She’s already walking, we are working on flying.

Nava, my bumble bee on Halloween October 31, 2013.

Over to the JSK website. (Also copy-pasted below)

How Knight Fellow Sahar Ghazi helps lead Global Voices, using lessons from Stanford

During her 2011 Knight Fellowship, Sahar Ghazi explored ways to get more youth voices into Pakistan’s media, ultimately developing a prototype, Hosh media. In 2012, she became deputy editor of Global Voices.  In this interview, she talks about the impact of her fellowship, how she ended up joining Global Voices and the status of Hosh. Are you passionate about tackling a challenge facing journalism? Apply for a Knight Fellowship. deadlines are fast approaching.

What is the key to success for Global Voices, one of many outlets giving voice to the voiceless?

On the outside it seems like we just tell stories at Global Voices, but we also build community. The base of our organization is made up of hundreds of volunteer authors and translators. Keeping them engaged and motivated to contribute – within a mostly virtual structure – is probably our greatest success. The Global Voices community is incredibly close. Even though many of us have never met in person, we are like a family. We are united in our mission to tell underreported stories and counter mainstream narratives of the countries we come from, currently live in, or places where we once lived. We try to keep this common mission at the forefront of all of our virtual interactions through Google groups, IRC chats, Skype chats, Facebook and Twitter and I think that keeps most of our volunteers motivated to stay active with Global Voices.

What changes have you made to Global Voices?

I joined Global Voices about 16 months ago. Since then I’ve tried to create tools for our community to do better reporting and editing. I revamped the Style Guide (GV Style Wiki) and streamlined the newsroom workflow, to focus on story structure and news writing standards.

Through community participation and endorsement I also put together GV’s first editorial code. Even though we made a name for ourselves as a credible news source, we never had a formal code until this year. I thought it was important to have something in writing — for transparency and for our authors and editors to refer to. Some of our community members and authors are at the forefront of freedom of speech, minority rights and Internet freedom movements in their countries. This gives us great access to underreported issues and stories within those countries, but it can also raise some conflict of interest concerns. So we needed to find a way to tailor the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) code for our unique circumstances. It took a few months of back and forth with our community and editors, but I think we reached a sweet spot in the final code that everyone endorsed in August.

Even though we are a community of bloggers, our editors are on the conservative side when it comes to headlines and leads. Through virtual games and guides I try to encourage them to focus on keywords for SEO, but also tap into their emotional and humorous side while crafting headlines and leads for social media sharing.

When I joined GV, I was soon manning most of our social media accounts on my own. It was exciting to see our social media followers and traffic grow, but it was also overwhelming. (We currently have 62K + followers on Twitter and 46K+ on Facebook.) So I asked our community for help, crafted some guidelines and now we have an awesome 8-member team (mostly volunteer) running our Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and our Google + presence.

This September I also kickstarted a weekly video hangout series called GV Face. We use Google Hangouts on Air to delve deeper into trending topics with our authors and editors around the world. So far we have covered Syria’s non-violent resistance movement, the Westgate Mall attacks in Kenya, the Saudi Women2Drive Campaign, Pakistan’s fractured love for Malala, the fight for internet freedom in Brazil, and Sudan’s ongoing Protests.

What is the biggest challenge in working with an international community of bloggers?

The biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity! When I was helping set up Pakistan’s first English language news channel, there were no trained English-language broadcast journalists and producers in Pakistan to hire. So we spent the first year training fresh college graduates. Some of them are now leading journalists in Pakistan. At Global Voices our authors don’t come to us trained in news gathering and writing, which can be challenging in the beginning. But through our guides, editing workflow and mentoring they soon become well-versed in Global Voices writing standards.

The key issue in working with bloggers can sometimes be accuracy. How does Global Voices handle those issues?

Global Voices was founded in 2005 by former CNN Beijing and Tokyo Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon and technologist and Africa expert Ethan Zuckerman while they were both fellows at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. Their idea for Global Voices grew out of an international bloggers’ meeting and has grown organically since. At that time the blogosphere was often accused of insufficient or bad sourcing and mixing ground reports with opinions, so the primary mission for GV was to produce neutral reports with solid citizen media sources. Our authors understand the nuances within their citizen media landscapes and blogospheres and choose the most credible voices to use as their sources. These authors send their stories to one of our 20 regional or language editors, they do additional fact-checking, ensure the story is balanced and has the necessary context for our global audience.

How have your experiences as a Knight Fellow at Stanford influenced your approach to leading Global Voices?

I left Stanford with a strong desire to let self-reflection, empathy, constant iteration and fearless creativity guide me. I try to use these values every day as an editor managing Global Voices, a mother to my 13-month-old Nava and an entrepreneurial journalist trying to figure out the best way to keep Pakistanis informed and empowered. These values allow me to approach my personal and professional life with problem-solving skills and the confidence to know when to let go and the courage to take the leap when it feels right.

I became a journalist because of the conviction that storytelling has the power to change lives and societies – and opportunity. The year I graduated from college, the Pakistani government starting issuing private broadcast licences to news companies. Pakistan has always had a strong print media, but in a largely illiterate country, broadcast has so much more reach and potential. In 2005 I joined Pakistan’s first independent news channel.

Fast forward eight years and the news media landscape in Pakistan has really evolved. The good news is Pakistanis have access to more information than ever before. There is even a sense that the media can deliver justice; in a country with a really weak legal system, this has been empowering.

But Pakistan’s broadcast news industry seems to be suffering the same fate as the rest of the world’s. Its evolution is being dictated by advertising and corporate bottom lines. Pakistan’s news media has become overly sensational, isn’t representative of the diversity within Pakistan and focuses on breaking news, not investigation. When only terrorism, disaster and political fiasco make the headlines and are the focus of news gathering, real human stories that have the power to bring change get lost in the noise.

Your concerns about that inspired the project you launched during your fellowship. What was your goal and what has happened to Hosh media?

The year of my fellowship I was exploring ways to bring more youth voices into Pakistani media. Two in three Pakistanis are under 30, but the news media wasn’t addressing their issues and problems. At the same time the Pakistani youth were increasingly more engaged on social media. But since Internet penetration rates are low in Pakistan these young bloggers and netizens didn’t have the kind of reach that mainstream media did in Pakistan.

I left the fellowship with a working prototype that aimed to solve this problem. Hosh media was born in May 2011 in a class I was taking at the (Stanford) d.school during my fellowship. For 12 months we trained and mentored dozens of young bloggers and students through workshops, one-on-one Skype sessions and online video tutorials, and syndicated their reports to mainstream media in Pakistan. Even though we had a team working on the site and mentoring on and offline, no one was being paid. Everything we earned through syndication was put back into the organization.

Throughout my fellowship year I met with potential investors, but without success. There is international funding available for youth-oriented projects and media in Pakistan, but anything media related with a “foreign” or “western” connection risks being branded as propaganda, and could have dire consequences on my reputation as a journalist, so I was hesitant to explore those options.

Six months after I left Stanford (six months of no steady salary) Hosh was very much alive, mentoring bloggers and publishing stories, but it became quite clear that if we didn’t get funding soon we wouldn’t be able to scale and become sustainable.

In November of 2011, I started to aggressively look at the foundation options in the United States that I had been avoiding before. A few months later, I also started to look for another job in case funding for Hosh didn’t come through. Our daughter Nava, was on the way.

In May 2012, I was shortlisted as an Echoing Green semi-finalist and pitched Hosh at their annual fundraising event in New York. A few weeks later I also presented Hosh at Google’s Internet at Liberty conference in DC.

I soon interviewed with Global Voices, an organization that has a massive network of bloggers and translators producing news reports on citizen media. These reports were frequently published with mainstream media partners around the world.

While I was prototyping Hosh, I frequently visited the Global Voices website for inspiration and guidance. They were looking for a deputy editor to help run their virtual newsroom, streamline procedures, improve editing standards, and help expand syndication opportunities. They wanted someone with ideas and the ability to implement them.

The job was full-time, but they were OK with me continuing my work on Hosh. GV is a completely virtual organization – everyone works remotely – so I didn’t have to worry about dividing my time between Pakistan for Hosh and San Francisco, where my husband had joined a start-up during the Knight fellowship. They weren’t uncomfortable with my now seven-months-pregnant status either. In fact, they offered me two-months paid maternity leave! I knew immediately that this was the perfect fit. I joined them in June 2012.

The day after Nava was born one of the foreign funding grants we had sought for Hosh, came through. I asked them to put things on hold until my maternity leave was over. During the fellowship, the entrepreneurship classes I took at the Graduate School of Business and the d. school taught me the need to harmonize my personal and professional ambitions. This time was for Nava and me learning how to be her mother. The next few weeks sped by as I nursed, burped, swaddled, and rocked Nava every few hours.

I rejoined Global Voices after two months and found myself seamlessly delving back into the initiatives I had started earlier. I ended up implementing a lot of my long-term vision and ideas for Hosh in the Global Voices newsroom. But I struggled to find time to work on Hosh. I asked for another extension on the grant.

At night I couldn’t sleep thinking about the implications that taking the grant could have on my reputation as an independent journalist in Pakistan.

In January 2013 I returned to Pakistan after being away for about a year. Mainstream media in Pakistan had begun to lean heavily on youth voices through social media and their own blog sections. While I was fundraising or worrying about funding, the original problem that I was trying to fix with Hosh seemed to have shifted.

I had worked tirelessly on prototyping and refining Hosh, pitched it hundreds of times, and had come to love it. In all of my competitive assessments I had determined that Hosh would need to evolve into its own TV channel and/or radio station because mainstream media would fill the void. But I didn’t expect it to be this fast. I was really disappointed.

But I suddenly felt relieved at the prospect of not having to take foreign funding to push Hosh forward. That’s when I decided to finally decline the grant.

While Nava went from sitting up, to crawling and now walking, at Global Voices I helped put together our first editorial code, revamped our style guide, helped create a weekly video series and a new original writing section and set-up a dynamic social media team.

At the same time I’ve been doodling my ideas for re-engineering Hosh, and continue to informally connect bloggers with mainstream media publication opportunities in Pakistan.

4 Nov

GV Face Featured on BBC Radio 5′s Outriders

Last week I was interviewed about GV Face by Jamilah Knowles for BBC Radio’s Outriders podcast. Here’s a link to my audio interview:

GV Face on BBC Outriders

(Jamilah used to do amazing podcasts for GV!) We launched GV Face, the Global Voices weekly video Hangout series in September. So far we have covered Syria’s non-violent resistance movement, the Westgate Mall attacks in Kenya, the Saudi Women2Drive Campaign, Pakistan’s fractured love for Malala, the fight for internet freedom in Brazil, and Sudan’s ongoing protests.

12 Oct

7 Reasons You Need To Watch Mediastan – a Wikileaks Road Film

1. The Director Johannes interview with Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times was surreal.

2. Elegantly shows the visible & invisible lines journalists operate under in Central Asia, the UK and the US, media heavyweights The New York Times and The Guardian included.

3. Central Asia has some sharp, inspiring & brave journalists working under difficult conditions. You need to know who they are.

4. Julian Assange, shows stellar journalistic acumen.

5. Gives a nuanced glimpse into WikiLeaks, Assange; how and why they do what they do.

6. Some wicked camerawork in not great conditions.

7. The -istans are beautiful.


And now for the minor disappointments:

1. Women are in the shadows in this film, I kept on waiting for more on Alina.

2. The narrative and film flows naturally and beautifully until we arrive in the US. Then skillful editing takes over. Too skillful.

More about the documentary Mediastan, which Wikileaks has called its challenger to Hollywood’s The Fifth Estate here.

12 Oct

Your Fantasy is Her Nightmare: ‘Sexy’ Pakistani Women on YouTube

First published on Global Voices as the first post in their original writing section The Bridge

Fully clothed in traditional shalwar kameez, chadars draping their heads, the teenage sisters stepped outside their home into their private garden, to dance.

The distant hills of northern Pakistan’s Chilas valley sparkled in the rain as the sisters laughed and spun in circles. Someone took out a mobile phone and made a video of their private, playful and innocent moment.

In June, the two sisters and their mother were brutally gunned down by their step-brother, an apparent honor killing over the mobile video.

Screenshot of the alleged mobile video that got the two sisters killed from a YouTube Video uploaded by NewsMedia24.

Screenshot of the alleged mobile video that got the two sisters killed from a YouTube Video uploaded by NewsMedia24.

The video clip circulated from phone to phone among their conservative community. Apparently it had brought “shame” upon the family.

By ending their lives with his gun, the step-brother was trying to wash away the shame his sisters had brought upon the family, thus reclaiming their honor or ghair’at, as it is called in Urdu. Some say the video and honor killing were part of a plot to maneuver his stepmother out of the family property.

To many, the Chilas sisters’ video seems completely ordinary, but in their hometown, girls dancing in the rain, even fully clothed, is seen as erotic.

Put a dress on boring and someone gets horny
“In a society where segregation (across genders, but also across class and gender) is so prized, just access to the mundane life of a random pakistani girl is so exciting,” Pakistani filmmaker and culture blogger Ahmer Naqvi explained in an email.

The Chilas sisters are not the only Pakistani girls who have had their private moments hijacked and sexualized for public consumption.

A search for “Pakistani Dancing” on YouTube, a site that is banned in Pakistan, yields hundreds of thousands of results. Many of these videos are private moments captured at family functions, weddings and school events. They are frequently shot on mobile phones, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were uploaded without consent.

The tagging, titles and comments around these often innocent videos is almost always sexualized. To highlight the range of ways in which videos made by Pakistanis for private consumption are misappropriated, we concealed the faces of the dancers and used the YouTube clips to create this short film, “Suck on the Sugarcane of Love.”

Pakistani girls are hot and sexy on YouTube
The film opens with a woman doing a traditional dance at an intimate family gathering, but is titled “Pakistani girl dance in Islamabad College party.”

A mobile video of a student mimicking a Bollywood dance in a classroom is likewise labeled “HOT Young Pakistani girl Dancing in Lahore”. This particular clip has been appropriated in various ways across YouTube, including in a Jihadist propaganda video titled “Modern CoEducation In Pakistan or Sex Nurseries.” Another clip is an outright name-and-shame video, identifying students from “City School”, one of Pakistan’s largest private co-education schools.

“abbotabad pakistan hot girls sexy dance pashto song”, the next clip in, is probably not from Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed; the “hot girl” in the video probably isn’t Pakistani and her gyrations are definitely not to the beat of the Pashto song amateurishly overlaid on the video. On YouTube, the same clip has been uploaded with various soundtracks and titles including, “Pakistani Girls Sexy Indoor Dance: Sexy Mast Dance Leaked Video”.

These clips, and many more, are systematically tagged and titled with erotic signifiers to attract a prurient audience. Ahmer Naqvi has appropriated this tactic in his critical films. He explains, “All my YouTube videos have tags like sex hot threesome pakistani couple kissing etc because all desis [South Asians] search for them and its the best way to get unsuspecting hits.” Naqvi’s short film, “A Pakistani Sex Scene”, has has no nudity, but it has been viewed more than 650,000 times on YouTube and another 630,000 on Vimeo.

Privacy is an illusion, fantasy is real
Pakistani women dance and sing even in the most conservative towns, but usually only with trusted family. Many never dance in front of ghair (outsiders), to avoid casting a shadow on their family’s honor. This private culture has been repeatedly exposed through indiscreet sharing of images captured for private use.

“You never know when one of your innocent images that you clicked while having fun with friends or while showing off a new dress or hairstyle is used with a sexual overtone in obnoxious videos,” says Pakistani technologist and digital privacy activist Fariha Akhtar in an email. “Before putting online our private videos, we need to ask ourselves if there’s really no other way to share them with friends and loved ones.”

Other videos on YouTube are from opulent private wedding dance parties. Currently, in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, you can buy DVDs titled, Ameero ke Raks (Dances of the Rich), clips from private weddings packaged into films that condemn the rich for their vulgarity while at the same time reveling in their hedonism.

This phenomenon points to a larger issue. “The lack of conversation on sex and sexuality is a society-wide problem,” says Ahmer Naqvi. “The various new stories about Pakistanis leading the world in online searches for weird sex stuff is just one symptom. But it manifests itself in various ways. At some level this intentional sexualisation is also about fantasy ”

The Chilas sisters, it seems were also living out a fantasy: dancing freely in the rain. For some women in Pakistan, the reality is that even simple fantasies can have deadly consequences.

For information on how to keep yourself safe online, please check out Bolo Bhi’s Digital Security guides and Take Back the Tech’s Strategies for Protecting Your Privacy Online and Be Safe

First published on Global Voices as the first post in their original writing section The Bridge.

15 Jun

The Artist behind Pakistan’s Marilyn

Artist Summaiya Jillani with her Marilyn acrylic titled Baar baar dekho, hazaar baar dekho, at a recent exhibit at the VM Art Gallery in Karachi. Photo credit: Salman Jillani/Hosh media

A week ago, I logged onto twitter and facebook to see an image of an absolutely stunning painting of a ‘desi’ Marilyn Monroe being shared like crazy. The picture had been uploaded by the artist only a few hours earlier, so I found her on facebook and sent her a message requesting an interview. Here’s my close-up feature with the ridiculously talented Summaiya Jillani for Hosh media published on dawn.com.

Meet the maker of ‘Pakistani Marilyn’

Hosh Media: An image of the painting received hundreds of shares and likes in a few hours on facebook and twitter. Did you expect this response on social media?
Summaiya Jillani: I was expecting a lot from this painting, but the response that I received in just one day has definitely exceeded all of my expectations! People know me as a very unambitious person and they keep telling me that I always underrate myself by always being over-surprised at people’s response to my works so you can imagine how overly over-surprised I must be to see my painting being shared across the world via facebook and twitter. My facebook inbox has literally gone berserk. Every two seconds I am getting messages from people from different places. The number of shares this one picture has attained in just one day is almost magical!

I have always been open to the Internet as it has brought me many commissions and I would say social media rocks! You can become a star in no time. All you need to have is something original to say or show and … voila!

HM:How would you describe the Marilyn piece titled, ‘Baar baar dekho, hazaar baar dekho’?
SJ: I don’t want to sound pompous about my work, so I will simply quote what other people have been saying about it. For those who are aware of art, it is like a new Pakistani Warhol. Elders love it because its taking them back to their times, while young kids love it for its vibrancy. Mature youngsters are all for it because of its witty sensuality. And I love it for being universally attractive!

HM: What compelled you to give Marilyn Monroe’s iconic racy pose a Pakistani makeover, what’s your larger message behind the piece?
SJ: This is not the first time that I gave Marilyn this makeover, this I have done before as well in 2010 during my thesis days. And then, it was not only Marilyn but with her was an equally celebrated male hunk of her time, James Dean with a “beeri” stuck in his mouth, giving his look a very “local tapori” touch!

As far as the message is concerned, I never try too hard to forcefully foster my work with some deep meaning. Being very honest, I tell you that all I care about is the “BANG!”, I want my work to give to the viewers! That is my main intention and then its up to the people whatever they like to extract conceptually out of my paintings. And one can see my paintings substantiating my intentions very clearly as they just hit both the masses and the elites in a jiffy!

HM: Was the piece a part of a larger collection?
SJ: This piece was part of a huge group show, which opened at the VM Art Gallery in Karachi on the 4th of June. I exhibited only two pieces in the show so it is not really a part of some bigger body of work by me.

HM: What is the inspiration behind your artistic style?
SJ: There are many inspirations. I keep on surfing through the Internet all the time studying great painters of our times! Artists belonging to the impressionism epoch were my main inspiration initially regarding the technique for using paints. Then gradually I moved forward and started taking inspiration from some living Masters of our times like Belinda Eaton, Francoise Nielly, Alexa Meade (although she’s almost my age she’s doing a great job with paints!) and a few more using paint very boldly! Young Pakistani artists that really inspire me a lot include Samar Zaidi from Karachi University, Sausan Saulat and a few more crazies like them.

The ethnic touch in my work is part of my upbringing and also a matter of personal preference. I’ve always had a proclivity for “desi” things and the indigenous colors of Pakistan! It is a blessing to have a rich cultural background as a native of some place. I find it very easy to bring out the Pakistani feel in my work just by being true to the colors we get to see in our everyday routine! Living in a country like this is truly an inspiration for producing such works, where nothing is too basic and plain. Textures and colors play an important role and these two things are to be found everywhere around us; from a cracked door to a rusted bicycle to a vibrantly colored overcrowded bus and so on and so forth! You can view some of Summaiya’s past work here.

HM: How was the social media response different from reactions at the exhibit?
SJ: Both the responses had their own fun. Social media response was of course very oceanic and it spread like fire! While the gallery had its own charm. People standing in front of your painting for long minutes, then moving around a bit and coming back to it again definitely make you feel very good. And I am always very much interested in seeing young kids’ response to art, which you don’t get to see much on facebook or twitter as at this age ‘art’ has not yet become their cup of tea. But when they’re brought in a gallery, their body language tells how mesmerized they are to see some original piece of art! That thrill in their conversations is exciting and something very positive. I even find uninterested kids very funny in a gallery because they’re honest with their expressions.

HM: How important do you think social media is for young artists in Pakistan?
SJ: I believe it is playing the strongest role in almost any field these days! We all need to be open about our work here on the social network. You never know what strikes the masses here as something very extraordinary. I never understand people who put up their work under severe privacies! What is the point of putting them up then? I mean your family and friends can always come over to your place and see them! Show it to the real world out there. Don’t forget to put dates and watermarks to avoid plagiarism though!

HM: Could you give a little background on yourself: where you graduated from, the different mediums you use, and how long you’ve been exhibiting your work?
SJ: I graduated from the University of Karachi in 2010. Having studied there, I can say I have become a much better human being. It certainly is the place to be! People who fret about going there need to start living a little roughly and toughly. Despite being a government institute of Pakistan, it offers you the best environment where you get to experience all the different classes of Pakistan: many different religions, sects, and races co-exist. You get to experience “Life is not a bed of roses!” at its best, and you get out of there a tough survivor!

As far as the colors are concerned, I’ve become an Acrylic savvy artist. I hardly work in oils anymore although in past I have some of my most favorite paintings done in oil. I have restricted myself to acrylics because they are quick, plus much more vibrant than oils. For the base of the paintings I have been using not only plain canvas or paper, but a wide range of other surfaces, for instance- used coke cans, printed fabric, worn out records (lds), vegetable cutting boards, shoes, bags, jackets, jewelry, actual skin (inspired by an American artist Alexa Meade) and walls.

I’ve been making proper art since 2009, which was the 3rd year of my graduation period. And I started exhibiting right after my thesis from the beginning of 2011.

HM: What are you working these days?
SJ: I am working toward a couple of shows after the summer break. Still concocting ideas in my head and sketchbooks. Apart from that I teach as an Art instructor at one of the branches of the Beaconhouse school system. I also conduct painting lessons to different people of varying age groups!

Published on dawn.com, June 12th.

1 Jun

Google Internet at Liberty Conference

Kathleen Reen from InterNews moderating our panel New Frontiers of Citizen Journalism. Photo Courtesy: Jehan Ara

My last day in New York for the Echoing Green Finals, Kalsoom Lakhani of i2i, an organisation that is helping connect Hosh media with funding opportunities and better business practices got in touch and told me Kathleen Reen from InterNews was hosting a panel at Google’s Internet at Liberty Conference at DC and they wanted Hosh to participate the following week!

So as soon as I got back to San Francisco (along with Ami who had flown in from Pakistan to attend my brothers graduation from University of San Francisco) I started prepping for the conference.

Luckily my mother was cool with me drowning myself into work the first few days of her visit, then leaving her for a few more days, even through her trip was only 2 weeks.

So on May 22nd I made the cross-country trip back to the East Coast. I presented at the conference on both days, the 23rd and 25th, along with Kalsoom Lakhani, Storify’s Burt Herman and UStream’s Ruby Tugade on New Frontiers in Citizen Journalism.

Here’s a video link to the panel discussion:

Besides getting to present Hosh and get some really great feedback from an informed audience, I also got to hang out with the talented and accomplished Kalsoom and the BoloBhi team from Pakistan! I have been wanting to meet Jehan Ara and Sana Saleem ever since I got into the digital space, but somehow things never worked out my last few trip to Karachi. So it was great to finally meet them half way across the world! And I must say in person they are just as humble and amazing as they are online. And I also got to reconnect with Afia Salam, who I used to work with at DawnNews. She has been doing some pretty impressive environmental and digital advocacy the last few years.

With i2i'S Kalsoom Lakhani and Jehan Ara, Afia Salam, and Sana Saleem from the BoloBhi team. Photo courtesy: Jehan Ara

I also got to take a picture with Riz Khan (thanks to Jehan Ara) who is an amazing speaker and moderator!

Photo courtesy: Jehan Ara!

He had the most interesting anecdotes that he would slip into the middle of discussions or in the beginning or end just to add umph or grab the audiences attention. I real broadcaster through and through! You catch a glimpse of that here in a discussion he moderated.

18 May

Echoing Green Finalists Weekend

Presenting Hosh media at the Echoing Green Big Bold Benefit May 2012

Hosh media and I got selected as an Echoing Green 2012 Finalist. Reaching this stage is huge, because we had a 1% chance! There were 3,508 Fellowship applications, out of which they chose 37 for the final round. What is even more exciting is besides Hosh media, two other women-led enterprises from Pakistan made it the finals: Justice Project Pakistan led by Sarah Belal and Bliss led by Saba Gul!

More details from the EG website:
Finalist Facts:
-40 percent plan to launch for-profits, 50 percent will launch nonprofits, and 10 percent will deploy a hybrid model.
-The Finalists strive to work in fourteen countries, with three planning to have a global footprint.
-Twelve Finalists will focus their impact in the United States, seven in India, and three in Pakistan.
-The most highly represented area is poverty alleviation and economic development.

The Weekend
I flew into New York late Wednesday night to receive a folder with details of the next three days, which would be made up of interviews, pitching and networking. For the first time I got to read up on the judges, an impressive array of powerhouses from the social enterprise space. I also got to read up on my co-finalists, who were all impressive in their own right. I realized there and then, that the highlight of the next few days would be the meeting and getting to know the very people I would be competing with for a spot. I have always been a bit of fatalist, but I guess the state I am in currently in, has made me a complete fatalist, so I decided I would make the most of the weekend and not stress about getting the fellowship.

So I had a great time meeting some amazing people who had put all personal worldly ambitions aside to change the world. Some people that truly enjoyed extended conversations with besides Saba and Sarah (who I met for the first time and are doing amazing, amazing work) were:

Danny Auron who is trying to Enable law schools in developing countries to educate tomorrow’s legal advocates by linking these institutions to western-trained lawyers for support in developing a sustainable curriculum in national justice.

Byomkesh Mishra and Christopher Turillo whose Mehda is preparing India’s youth for post-graduate life by providing employability training, leadership mentoring, and career services. What’s amazing is they are based in Lucknow and basically they are trying to bridge the gap that ‘private tuition and connections’ create between the privileged and not so privileged in Lucknow; (I told them they need to expand to Pakistan!)


Vijaya Priyadarshini Thakur whose Resolve Network builds lasting peace by empowering Congolese women affected by genocidal conflict by providing tools of literacy, microfinance, and collaboration.”

Unfortunately the fellowship didn’t work out for me, but Echoing Green finally got its first Pakistani fellow: Sarah Belal! I am really excited about the growth that Justice Project Pakistan, which provides free legal assistance to the poorest prisoners facing the harshest punishments in Pakistan, will be seeing from receiving this huge opportunity! The Medha guys made it through too, which is pretty amazing!

26 Mar

LUMS Media Freedom Workshop

I meant to write this post last week, right after the workshop had ended, but alas other work priorities coupled with that hidden lurking beast called procrastination trumped my intentions.

Last Monday while I sneaked glances at the sun rise over the tremendous San Francisco horizon, I had the pleasure of speaking to about 60 A levels students in Lahore at LUMS University via skype as part of the CARMA media conference.

The topic was media freedoms in Pakistan and the world, and I tried to keep it as interactive as a video conference with a slight time delay could allow. And I was blown away by how well informed and worldly these students were. When I asked them which country they thought was most ‘free’ in terms of media freedom, one student replied North Korea with a chuckle and a few others said some Nordic countries. Between the sarcasm and genuine answer they had the spectrum pretty well covered according to the World Press Freedom Index which ranks Finland, Norway and Netherlands at the top with North Korea second to bottom followed by Eritrea.

They were most engaged when I talked about self-censorship and press independence using the cases of slain Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad and trigger-happy American spy Raymond Davis. My main argument was despite of the very tangible threat many Pakistani journalists boldly came out and spoke up against the ‘elephant in the room’ in the Saleem Shahzad case: the ISI. Compare that too the Raymond Davis case, which barely got coverage in the US, until he was safely home. Glenn Greenwald wrote a damning piece in Salon about that, the NYT’s journalistic obedience.

In fact last year while Pakistani newspaper headlines and TV’s channels were consumed by the Raymond Davis story, I presented the case of selected coverage to a graduate class in media ethics at Stanford University. Of the 80 students no one had heard Davis’s name. No one had even heard that an American spy had been caught in a murder case in Pakistan. When I asked them if they thought it was newsworthy, only half the class raised their hand. Some looked very annoyed. When I asked them why it wasn’t newsworthy, I got a mix of its too far away, and a few people who agreed with the NYT’s ‘national security’ trumps editorial independence. When I re-phrased the question and told them what if Pakistan received $1.5 billion in American tax-payer money every year to win hearts and minds, was it important then? Almost the whole class raised their hand.

So given that happened to me with a mix of undergrad and grad students at Stanford I was not only surprised when all the Pakistani high school students were well aware of both the Shahzad and Davis cases, but also that no student lashed out at me for accusing the ISI (being a journalist, I used allegedly whenever I said ISI.) Not even when I said if they really want to know what happened to Shahzad, they are best off googling Dexter Filkins piece for the New Yorker, because the truth won’t get published in Pakistan. When I said I wish Americans would read more Pakistani newspapers so they know the truth on the Davis end, they laughed.

But I have to say the Q and A was the best part. I was asked such intelligent questions, about the Shahzad case, being a female journalist and even how the media should handle the religious right.

My response to the last two questions got me an applause, which is what really surprised me. First of all because my talk was on media freedom, second because on the surface religiosity in Pakistani urban youth has risen. The class that I was speaking to was about 30% female and about half of them were wearing hijab. But I saw something else in these students: tolerance and an appreciation for diversity.

When I started O levels we had one ‘hijabi’ in our class who had returned from Saudi Arabia I believe. I had not even heard the term hijab before. Then Farhat Hashmi started her first dars session at my school OPF. Within 2 yrs the Al Huda phenomenon had taken hold in Islamabad. A few students willingly took the hijab by the time I was done with my A levels in 2000. A few of my close friends took it while they were studying abroad in the US and UK.

So when I started speaking about the religious right, I was a little nervous. But when I said there is no homogeneous religious right–we have a sizable Shia population and the vocal Sunni groups Barelvis and Deobands hardly see eye-to-eye. So it is the responsibility of the media to not show them as one group, as representative of the ‘mullah,’ because its simply not true and exaggerates their influence. Before I could explain myself further, I got an applause.

Interestingly, I also got an applause when I told them the story of my first on-camera piece as a reporter for Geo. It was 2005 and it was for a human smuggling case, I had done short reports and interviews before, but nothing on-camera. When my boss saw my report, he thought it needed a P-T-C (piece to camera), so I headed to the roof with a cameraman to record it. I asked the cameraman to give me a countdown and he said, “ready ho ja aye phelay” (get ready first.) So I practiced my lines again and said ready. But he repeated, “ready ho ja aye” So then I said, “aur nahi ready ho sakti, Allah malik hai” (I can’t be more ready.) Then he rather uncomfortably asked me if i didn’t want to fix my dupatta? So I rather uncomfortable asked him what was wrong with it? And he replied saying the other female reporters ‘phelao their dupatta’ (spread out their scarf.) I had taken it as a scarf around my neck, because frankly I thought it looked more professional, and I never ‘pheloed my dupatta’ even when I was in high school. So I told him that was their choice, it wasn’t a Geo policy and that I wasn’t going to change the way I wore my dupatta for the camera.

The students burst out in applause for that too. I guess tolerance is the new creeping urban youth phenomenon.

22 Mar

Born & Bred in Islamabad

In 2005 while I was working with Geo, I had this idea to do short culture reports on Islamabad, because I was sick of hearing that Islamabad had no culture. How is that possible, after all? My boss at the time, Fahd Husain liked the idea but thought it would translate better into a newspaper column. Besides being an anchor on Geo, Fahd was also the resident editor of the News, so that worked out well. I wrote the first column, which got the title ‘Born and Bred in Islamabad,’ and we invited readers to start contributing. The weekly column got some great contributions from retired bureaucrats, army-men, students, and environmentalists and continued on for quite some time.

After reading my dear friend Sami Shah’s lovely piece in the Tribune today, A Karachiite in Islamabad, I decided to dig up the article. This is before the paper was online, (some would say it still isn’t). Unfortunately, the only soft copy I could find isn’t the final edited version. I have the hard copy, but I’m really not in the mood for manual edits right now. So I’ll let this fly! (edited version published in March 2006)

Born and Bred in Islamabad: Living politics

“Islamabad?? That isn’t even in Pakistan. It’s ten miles outside Pakistan.” If only I had a penny for the amount of times I heard that from Lahoris and Karachites—let’s just say I’d be one rich lady.

For those who have grown up in Islamabad—home to the Presidency, the Secretariat and the National Assembly—the power hub of the country—such comments seem absurd. How can educated green-passport-carrying citizens of this country make such comments?

Recently I, a green-blooded Islooite, have started wondering whether there is some truth to such statements. Beyond the obvious well-manicured green belts, spotless streets and respectful fellow drivers that are so un-Pakistani, maybe this detachment to Islamabad which is growing by the day, is a symptom of something larger.

The charisma of Karachi is in its bustling financial activity, the lure of Lahore is in its mouth-watering cuisine. So what about Islamabad? What is it about our identity that makes it distinctly our “identity?” Is it our stunning hills that engulf every sun down—is nature our “nature”?

“Can I get a table outside?” A frequent request on sunny days in European cafes and American restaurants, but an unheard of concept in our part of the world. Yet a few of my NGO friends and I found ourselves waiting in line for a table outside a popular restaurant in Islamabad. The restaurant itself was empty, but the mix of suited-booted diplomats and hippy foreigners apparently had set another trend that we Islooites had bought into. So there we were: ready to dine outside under the sun and soak up the first rays of spring.

Gone are the days of economic embargos and faltering donor presence. Foreign aid is now ready for our taking. As an added bonus, we Islooites are also ready to be taken by foreign ways. Instead of introducing them to an age old culture that is distinctively Islamabadi, we absorb their ways. The beauty of Islamabad is that we are only a few decades old. We are trying to find ourselves. Our “Islooness” is eternally transforming—the way of life, the residents and the ‘scene’ swaps with every change in government or political system.

My teens were spent in the longest democratic decade of Pakistan. Back then, corruption was the buzzword. It was as in-your-face as the traffic police is these days. In my semi-government all-girls’ school we saw kids climbing out of privileged Pajeros while their fathers were in government. A few years sweep by and the same kids would be dropped off in Altos. Soon there would be a whole new set of kids being dropped off in Pajeros. Things got so bad in Islamabad that often I thought that corruption was not even considered an evil, but a way of survival. That was the political Pakistan I grew up in. That was the Islamabad I grew up in.

One thing I do miss about Islamabad in the ‘90s is that political dissent and criticism was easily accessible—in classrooms, in restaurants, in parties and on the street. It was not reserved for selected drawing rooms, as it is now. These days, I find myself loving Musharraf and my consumption-friendly way of life, thinking that every Pakistani feels the same way.

All I had to do was hop on to a plane for a reality check. Seated behind a federal minister and a young female parliamentarian perfectly accessorized in Gucci shoes and a matching bag, I arrive in Lahore. There I hear stories about distrust, corruption accusations and complete dissatisfaction with the current system. At first, I get a little defensive, because this is ‘my people’, ‘my politics’ and ‘my Islamabad’ they are talking about. But then very politically I stop myself and just listen.

Undeniably politics is our identity and our selling point. When our fellow Lahoris or Karachites say that Islamabad is ten miles outside Pakistan, is it is more than our squeaky cleanliness that drives them to do so? Or is it a symptom of their detachment from politics? Or is it a symptom of our detachment from them? Islamabad has become a sort of political Pleasantville, after all. Everything has the appearance of being ‘nice and dandy.’ To me the splendor of Islamabad is that our culture isn’t fixed, it absorbs and acclimates itself to every new political wave in the country.

Back at the restaurant, under the sun over chaat platters, mixed thalis and puris, my friends and I try to keep our voices down complaining about our own respective jobs and lives. All recent foreign graduates, we chose to move back to Islamabad. We didn’t know what to expect, but with the mountains in our rear view mirror, we knew we had to come back and rediscover ourselves, our Islamabad.

Disclaimer: The title of this blog gets inspiration from this column I wrote 6 years ago, even though the title of the column doesn’t fully apply to me, because I wasn’t born in Islamabad! But I spent my summers at my grandparents place in Islamabad till I was 8, after which time my family moved to Islamabad. So that’s where I went to school, went through my adolescence, essentially grew up. I considered Islamabad my home base till my parents moved to Lahore two years ago. At which time I moved my books (my true prized possessions) to my in-laws place in Karachi, so I guess Karachi is my home base now?

2 Feb

Q and A: Pakistan media ethics

Alefia T Hussain, a consulting editor with the News on Sunday, asked me some questions relating to TV news in Pakistan. Here are the responses I sent her. I believe her feature piece will be published this weekend.

1- Do TV channels follow any editorial guidelines?
Some TV channels in Pakistan follow informal guidelines or codes that have developed organically through trial and error. But to the best of my knowledge no one has complied and documented a formal list. If you go to any credible news organisation around the world, they have a carefully deliberated code that is available for their reporters and staff to go through and consult when faced with ethical questions. These organisations also make their guidlelines available for download for news consumers on their website. All Pakistani channels and media outlets need to do the same to be considered transparent, accountable and ethical.

2- Who runs the show on TV in the true sense: editor (controller news/news directors/executive directors) or the presenter?
That really depends on the news channel. Some channels have tight editorial control, some don’t. But all news stories should go through a process of verification and editorial oversight before hitting the screen. I can tell you from my experience running the news shift as an Senior Duty Editor at DawnNews TV in 09-10, that when stories were filed by reporters in our news scripting software they were marked blue, after that they had to be edited and checked by our copy editors who changed their status to orange, then our producers would check if the story had accompanying footage and turn the status to yellow, then the editor of the shift had to make one final check and change the story’s status to green. Only green stories would make it to the prompter for a news presenter or anchor to read on screen. The exception however is in breaking news, when the news presenter is often relying directly on a reporter at the scene for news. During such situations, editors and/or news directors need to be in the control room, to make sure that the news anchors have constant editorial support.

3- Do TRPs dominate editorial discretion?
TRP’s have nothing to do with editorial decisions and should never be taken into consideration while deciding content. That goes against the grain of being a journalist, our ultimate pursuit is the truth not ratings.

4- Is TRP race the only force that drives/defines the business of TV?
If a channel is run by a creative management and editorial team, then no. There is always room to ensure your news broadcasts are independent of ratings and also have some programming that is independent of ‘news’ that comes high on rating charts. Running a news channel is about balancing these two.

5- To quote from New Media vs Old Politics, a study conducted by Marcus Michaelsen, “… quality of journalism. Due to the rapid evolution of the media landscape. The number of journalists has grown within a short time. Although there are various universities and institutions offering courses in journalism and mass communication, new graduates are generally not prepared for requirements of the profess”(or they do not guided by competent editors (as mentors) as some of us were lucky to have). Is TV under-resourced or has it got the wrong people in the job?

From 2004 till 2010, the broadcast industry in Pakistan grew six-fold to 24 news channels. Few would argue that the liberalisation of broadcast media, in a country where few can read and write, has changed the way Pakistanis are informed. But many question the massive proliferation of the industry without appropriate institutions and colleges to train its professionals. Our universities offering journalism courses did not grow with the same ease nor did they adjust their curricula to the needs of 24/7 live news. At the same time the news environment in Pakistan was on fire-— starting from the lawyer’s movement, to the Lal Masjid siege, to the return of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to the numerous bombing and attacks that followed. Many untrained and inexperienced reporters were pushed into a dizzying environment of breaking news.

Few media professionals come into the field with an education or training in journalism. News organisations need to fill the gap, by offering training courses to its employees. To be fair, some news channels (Geo, Express, Dunya and DawnNews to name a few) did hire international journalists and consultants to train their team as they prepared for their launch. But few offered or offer refresher courses for its existing employees or new courses for its incumbent employees, despite their massive growth.

6- What should be the minimum standard/qualification for including new professionals coming into TV broadcasting?

Some of the best journalists I have met were not trained to be journalists, so I am not one to advocate a minimum level of formal education in the field. For me, the most important traits in any journalist is a curious open mind, the intelligence to sift through disinformation, desire to constantly learn, empathy and a complete commitment to the truth. For TV journalists, the ability to stay grounded under the pressure of live news is also very important. That ideally should come from training off-camera, instead of on-camera, which is what we often see now in Pakistan.

7- Credible regulator: Would you agree that TV in Pakistan needs an independent system, a credible regulator, with its own powers to investigate/point out and punish wrongdoing? What can be its constitution and structure?

I am not in favour of any government regulation of news. In a country like Pakistan that has been tossed back and forth between weak governments and army generals this can have lethal consequences. In my ideal world, each news channels would develop their own codes and guidelines through viewer consultation, make them available for anyone to see, and enforce them internally.

But the situation in Pakistan is far from ideal. I am currently involved with a group of activists, academics and journalists that are trying to independently regulate TV channels based on viewer complaints. We came together during the Maya Khan debacle, and successfully received a few thousands signatures on our petition which we sent to Samaa’s chairperson. He was very cooperative, apologised and sent us Maya’s first reluctant apology. We replied to him and thanked him for Samaa’s apology but asked for an unconditional apology from Maya Khan, with assurances that guidelines had been put in place to prevent such intrusion of privacy from happening again on Samaa. The email that went around from Mr Siddiqui after the Maya episode was addressed to our group. Our name is Citizens for Free and Responsible Media, Pakistan and now any viewer can register a complaint on our facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/C4FRM) , our volunteers will investigate the matter, and after due diligence, approach the offending TV channel with a petition asking to correct behaviour and put guidelines in place. Our goal is not to get people fired, but for channels to create guidelines or codes and follow them.

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