The Article Nobody Will Publish – by Wajahat S Khan

Editors Note:

Wajahat S. Khan sent me an email with this heartfelt piece on his recent experience with the ” the all-consuming, thankless revolving door that is Pakistani broadcast media”. He rightly complains about his seniors and colleagues in the industry. I am reproducing his email that was sent with the article:

“Hey, Champ: Wrote this three days ago. Soon after my resignation. “They” won’t publish it. They don’t want to. They say it’s good, but now won’t return my calls now. Can you read it? And run it on Pak Tea House? And help me get the word out?”

Many other media workers have been let down by the leading lights in the recent saga of BOL TV’s meltdown after the expose in New York Times. I support my friend Wajahat – at least he has the courage to admit his oversight, the candour to say it all. This too shall pass Waj. Raza Rumi

The Article Nobody Will Publish: “We should have known, but we didn’t want to”

 

By Wajahat S Khan

wajahat3
Image Source: web

I should have known. When Declan Walsh called me the Wednesday before the story broke, I should have known. When he questioned me and had the distinct privilege of making me feel awkward about my own institution, I should have known. When I called up one of my bosses and told him what the New York Times was working on, and heard a pause, and then a diffident “who cares, we will sue them”, I should’ve known.

I should have known when I saw the flash, the cars, the protocol officers, the waiters and the chauffers. I should’ve known when I heard the carefully crafted, contrived American accents and emphasis everywhere: in the recording in the elevator that told me I was joining a global elite, in the human resource officers who were designated to provide me with a restaurant-level chef, in the photographer who would conduct my “branding photo shoot”, in the gym-instructor who would chisel me into shape for the big screen.

Obviously, I misread the vulgar as the virtuous. I should have known better. When the hype of organizational self-belief became religious, then invective, then zealous, I should have known. But the confidence, pouring from the Axact gurus to the Bol executives to me to a thousand other colleagues, was contagious. This was an organization that had grown out of a back office in northern Karachi to cover a few blocks of DHA, I was told. This was an organization that represented the true potential of a modern, connected, online and tech-savvy Pakistan, I was told. This was an organization that I – a nobody kid from a middle-income broken home who was lucky and loud enough to attend a couple of good schools and persistent enough to ride the wave of broadcast journalism in Pakistan as it unleashed upon the national polity – would actually own, not just work for. I was stunned by the possibilities.

But arrogance has a tone. Denial has a deafening silence. And mirages are self-constructed. I contributed to all three, in my three months at Bol. And played along with the best of them, because of where they came from, who they are, and what it all meant.

First, denial: In an industry, which is in the business of compounding transparency, I am not the only one who has put on blinders while running the course over the years. Simply, denial is the price of survival in Pakistani media, nothing else.

It’s not an excuse when I admit that like many other colleagues of my broadcast generation, I’ve had it pretty rough. Bol was my seventh channel in 12 years of broadcasting in Pakistan: Indus, Geo, Dawn (the last two I helped launch), Samaa, PTV Sports, Aaj and then Geo again (where I saw the post-Hamid Mir ‘ban’ take effect) had taken me, consumed me, and let me out on the streets like an angry, orphaned, urchin, toughening me up every time with a deep, hateful skepticism of the “private/electronic media” regime.

Sometimes, I got fired. Other times, I left on principle or got recruited by a bigger gun. But every time, there was a toxic cocktail of the same-old-same-old – office politics, curbed editorial freedom, delayed pay-cheques, pandering to sponsors, corporate, political and security bosses who made their presence felt but weren’t technically in control, not enough re-investment in our internal systems and structures to sustain the counter-culture and public service ethos of what journalism must strive to become instead of the ratings-driven, family-owned, suits-and-boots dominated chop shop, a mogul-military mouthpiece, that it is in most newsrooms today around the country.

But like an abused, dependent spouse, I kept coming back to my tormentor. I was in denial. Sometimes, I led myself into believing I didn’t have a choice, and carried on. Other times, I tried to break loose with a fellowship, or a foreign gig, or print work, but those got old, fast. With all due self-respect, as the “revolving door” of the media industry is a scary machine, you learnt to take on the world, except your own, because of that dependency. It was like a good, consistent drug deal: There was nowhere else to go, and I was hooked on the product. We all work like that. We all do.

Personally, where else would I go? Print? Been there, done that, and still do. It’s static, if not deteriorating. Regional? International? Done those, too. They are limiting: CNN and NBC are relevant, but not locally inspiring. Twitter? A blog. No way.

This is Pakistan, said the ego to the id. This is TV Land. And in TV Land we live, but by a simple rule: The story – except your own – must get out, at whatever cost. That was the oath impinged on our psyches. It was the modern Pakistani broadcaster’s dilemma: Do Tell Upon Others, Do Not Tell Upon Yourself.

Thus, the “this is my job, this is my industry, this is what we do” instinct ruled, though only on the surface. So I learnt the hard way – and never shared openly, till today, though it’s no secret – that in Pakistan, you take the media’s fallibilities like a family disease: as a given, with resignation, never personally, rather only as destiny, but also never to be shared with outsiders.

After all, we’re a family: a spiteful one with a fondness for fratricide, but we are one. Tell On Us And Be Banished, said the other rule. And so the backroom chatter remained in the backroom, even as we changed bosses and companies and editors round about the ever revolving door. From a boss who makes toothpastes and records sex-tapes on yachts, to a boss too closely tied to the judiciary, to a boss who cleaned the books for Arab sheikhs, to a boss who let editorial be underwritten by USAID and DFID programming, we tolerated – no embraced – that crucial, critical breach: the death of the Church Versus State / Management Versus Editorial divide.

And then came Bol, red and white and glossy and gold. Even in its virtual reality, which we purchased almost like a fake degree because we were – are – so desperate, we saw a chance.

Here was an opportunity that was presented by the best and brightest in the industry: Men I’ve known for over a decade, men I’ve wanted to emulate, mimic, sound like; my self-inflicted role models, gods of the newsroom, leaders of the field my generation has followed blindly into emergencies and clampdowns and gag orders and tear gassing and PEMRA wars and taken late night calls from GHQ and the PM Secretariat for. Men who inspire such confidence that when you’re “called” into Aabpara, you arrive, and not just show up, because you believe. Men who teach you, and remind the country through you, that truth prevails, and that it’s still worth something in Pakistan.

Yet, these men let themselves down. They let me down. They let 2000 of my colleagues down. And they let down the country, too. Very honestly, I may have possibly helped them, and not only because I had my blinders on.

There was ambition, too. The case being presented was as powerful as its famous presenters, the pioneers of Pakistani broadcast: That we will break the machine. That we will never take directives or late night calls from the overbearing father-and-son combines, from the vested patrons and the imperious security regime, but from our own kind: editors and reporters, producers and camera persons, leaders and best.

There was promise, of course. That we will be paid on time, for a change. That we will go public, and have joint-ownership, and life insurance, and medical coverage, and a rainy-day fund, and a coffee machine that worked. That we won’t have to beg our flagrant and private jetting seths for a cheque that was due three months ago, because we are the bosses, now. We are the possessors, the creators, the true masters of an industry that runs on our risk, yet never rewards us.

It was a big idea. Of course it was good to believe that Bol’s would be the generation that was going to conduct that modern, necessary triage upon that hemorrhaging, convulsing, cannibalistic Pakistani media. But our self-righteous ambition, our greater goal, made us self-destructive. We tried to conduct surgery on our self to cut away the unwanted bit. But we were one. And we remain one, faults and all.

Yet we thought we were different. We were told we are different, by snake-oil salesmen we desperately tried to ape in their quick success, because we were determined, and hungry, and yes, inspired by the most righteous of our very own kind.

It was a compelling sell, made by the time-tested warriors of the spoken and written word that I, for one, had sworn to believe in (and no, I’m not implying the military here, though I was never overtly encouraged or discouraged, by any martial quarters, who I tend to report on, in this regard). I was sold the mission by men who the industry, nay, the country was sold on for decades. And yes, the money wasn’t bad, either, though for the record, Bol was/is deeply, maybe even ineptly, top heavy. My books speaks for themselves.

Thus, my follies: My due diligence was overshadowed by the bright promises made by my leaders, the best in the business, who were, perhaps, blinded by their own ambition as well as their well-intentioned drive to change the great game. And although my loyalty wasn’t worth my network’s master’s retirement plans or their armoured vehicles, my fellow Bol colleagues and I willfully carried on, through the taunts of even family and friends – that we were alleged “fronts”, or “projects”, or a “scheme” of underworld bosses, of military spooks, of property tycoons – because we wanted to believe that success, slick and polished and well heeled and hip, is possible, even for journalists.

Soldiers tell me that being shot is a strange feeling. Even in a firefight, when you’re expecting it, there is a sting, then a burn, then a weakness, then a slowing down of speech and senses, then a general disillusionment, and then darkness. That’s about what’s happened since I read Walsh’s piece one week ago.

As I read it again and again over the week, for its solid craft and its savage logic, along with the bevy of filth cum lucidity that it birthed on social and national media, I found the hyper-organized Axact and then the Bol configurations disintegrate. I sensed hesitation in the tones of my gods; I sensed their self-assuredness wilt away as their stubbles grew, heard their perfect oratory devolve into delusional harangues. I sensed my once-aggressive reporters break eye contact, their backs hunched. I felt the five-star cafeteria food taste bland, and saw my fuel card stop working. Even the janitors seemed to go missing. As the structure crumbled and the conversations got more cynical, I sensed the machine – which was going to break all machines – breakdown itself. Communication, consolidation, camaraderie – buzzwords that were our core considerations– morphed into an each-man-for-himself scrimmage. I honestly can’t believe it, but resigning on Twitter, probably not technically legal, became a necessity, as our basic function – being public servants – was suspended by our disbelief in ourselves, even each other.

In the end, our detractors were not our real or imagined partners or benefactors, nor frivolous colleagues or jealous critics, but our own bosses and creators and, yes, undoubtedly, even ourselves. We were naive, of course, but also motivated and thick-skinned, engaged in a tight, eyeless defensive crouch in fear of the all-consuming, thankless revolving door that is Pakistani broadcast media.

And so, battle-hardened hacks but still pawns, self-declared false prophets of all that is wrong and unjust in this wasted land, we are on the street again. Yet, we will walk back through that door, as we still believe. But this time, it’s not our silence, but our embarrassment, that will lead us back in.

Wajahat S. Khan is a former Executive Vice President for Bol TV who resigned his position on principle last weekend. He continues as the Pakistan Correspondent for NBC News.

  • AdeelJ

    “denial is the price of survival in Pakistani media”, he says. I would put it more like “denial is the price of survival in Pakistan”.

  • RHR

    It is easy to criticize and mock Wajahat but frankly if the criteria is working for some shady media house is questionable then frankly in Pakistan many major media houses are questionable with respect to unethical reporting, tax evasion,whipping up hatred against minorities and yes, also presenting narrative sponsored by various political parties as well as establishment.
    All this criticism on his so called hypocrisy on this very thread and elsewhere is conveniently ignoring that all of us are Pakistanis and we we live in a country which is frankly riddled with shady practices and many of us in our personal lives may have indulged in something questionable.
    If working for shady business is your main criteria for “expressing disappointment” in Wajahat then we should be expressing disappointment in virtually every profession!
    Anyways, Wajahat at least has opened his heart out and even admitted that he was blinded.

    Regards

  • It will die its own death. This media onslaught against bok might have much less shelf life then expected. Excellent article. Explains it all (almost all). Almost every one in Pakistan believes that media and journalists create sensationalism, but we must realize that may that’s what we need right now. It’s just like stopping a naughty kid from doing something wrong, I mean you have to shout at him right from the start…..guys this is Pakistan. Our situation is not different from that naughty kid who is being shout at all the time, as otherwise he won’t even pay attention. So our media is left with no other choice but to sensationalize it. Otherwise we won’t pay attention.

  • Please amend Bok with Bol

  • Abdul Karim Shaikh

    Wajahat S. Khan
    Please, if u happen to read this comment, tell me, expect his riches, from where Shoaib Shaikh could inspire in others the self motivational confidence of worldly greatness. He himself was only the blind folded KING, living in his own mirage, waiting for the boy to tell him that he was NAKED. And Please: Why to thrash your seniors and what did it mean” Resigned his position on principle.” Or was it not a simple running away from intending storm in plain Spinelessness.
    A. Karim Shaikh.

  • Sabih Z

    “I should have known, when I was offered a salary three times my actual worth…”

  • nk

    i dont disagree that the BOL guys should be prosecuted. illegal is illegal. but im genuinely cruious exactly what it is that axact did, and who did they piss off, that they’re getting so much trouble and media attention for this. they ripped off a bunch of foreigners and gave pakstan a bad name. i agree prosecute them. but is this any worse than violent crimes being committed by our citizens in international arenas that give our country a bad name and yet until recently pakistan would look the other way.

    is axact this any worse than our politicians who have been ripping off not foreigners, but rather their own people, and sending that money into foreign bank accounts for decades. and yet we still vote for those crooks. we let them represent us in international affairs despite having names like mr 20% that foreign media recognizes. don’t they give us a bad name? how many of them do we catch?

    what about our politicians who live in multimillion dollar mansions and yet claim taxable income of only a couple of hundred thousand rupees? what about politicians who own foreign properties who will abandon this country at the first sign of trouble? what about the countless other businesses and media channels built on illegal money that nobody questions? yeah once in a while we read an article on it and then thats that? where is the media shaming of tax absconders? where are the charges against those people? dont they deserve a physical remand?

  • Majumdar

    Septic tank mian,
    .
    You have a point. But one of the interactors here has made a very serious charge against WSK personally- that he sexually harassed and intimated a female talk show host. If that is true (and I have no way of knowing either ways), he cant claim that he was just being blind….
    .
    Regards

  • tajender
  • Saving face!

  • tajender
  • AK

    Another spineless weather bird, oh yes YOU should have known: how NYT lied about Iraq and other wars, what D Walsh thinks about financial frauds of US banks and bailing out by govt using tax payers money, why so many US citizens purchase fake degrees, how does he feel about about revelations of Snowden, fraudulent monopolistic/exploitative acts of renowned Multinational companies, what about Guantanamo bay and the list goes on and on..And what do U think about your ex/impending Media masters, how ethical and patriotic they are..yes all Fools who joined BOL should have known…that Captains of the BOL ship were nothing but worthless blindfolded cowards…

  • romain

    Tejender,

    I have it on good authority, that he eats pork 🙂 When are you starting ?

  • saad
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  • You should still thank your lucky stars.If the channel was on air god knows what you would have had to go through.
    P.S: I’ve always liked you on Samaa.
    And it is media persons’ fault as well always running after more and more is good.But running after more and more “money”
    :/

  • Curious George

    Basically he was like a prostitute and got his price. Now that his cash cow has kicked the bucket, he’s jumping ship. What a farce…

  • Ali Khan

    We have all seen lots of self serving rubbish over time. But this is a classic. It is truly one for the ages and should be made required reading for anyone wanting to master the dark art of producing self seeking … rubbish.

  • JR

    What a scam artist you are. The only way you aren’t a scam artist is if you’re truly a pathetic journalist who could not investigate Bol before accepting the high paying job. The way the great majority of “middle income” Pakistanis coming from “broken homes” (do you hear the violins playing, Wajahat?) see it as you’re either a scam artist or a horrible journalist whose career should have ended a long time ago – not last week. Just admit that you made a poor decision and joined a corrupt organization for the wrong reasons. If you want to start over and really believe you can positively influence the media industry, go out on your own — blog, tweet, whatever — and build up your credibility again. It will take a while but can be done. Not sure you have the stomach/commitment for it.

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  • lawrencegitch

    Another media giant bites the dust,,,

  • Amers

    Its absolutely unimaginable that senior investigative journalists and media gurus like Kamran Khan ,wahajat , iftekhar ahmed and 8 others did not know anything about axact for so long. I , as a IT professional working in Karachi along with the entire I.T industry , my seniors , teachers , my university fellows and every body who is any body in Pakistani I.T arena knew what Axact was doing, all along.They had this reputation of fake degrees along with porn content updation(which we heard they later discontinued) for quite sometime.Its as unimaginable as Americans not knowing about 9/11 or Pakistani Army not knowing about Bin Laden hide-out.
    One more thing , if Axact’s cover wouldn’t have been blown up by NYT,these journalist leaving BOL would have been eating are ear out as to why BOL is the best of the best Chanel/media group.Mr Wajahat Kahan is no different.

  • humera

    I am really impressed by the readers comments here. Salute to your intelligence guys.Instead of playing victim, it would be better if you apologise.There aren’t any saints in this land of pure. As they say it in urdu “Iss hamam me sabhi nangay hain”… So it’s till time, you can come back on the track…people will forgive n forget given our short term memory.I like you waj for your intelligence…big fan. I am sure you can win it back with your hard work and talent. Good luck!

  • Shaista

    When everyone has had a turn at trolling everyone, let’s take a minute and look hard at the emperor and note that he has no clothes. Also note that the crowd watching the emperor is scarcely clad. Pakistani(and other)media are thrill chasers taking a fix at the pretext of exposing fake leadership, fake piety and fake education.

    Pakistan is the world’s custodian of some of the finest literary works through its claims on its national language, Urdu; and this rich heritage of literature should set a high standard for Pakistani press in defining the complexities of human nature and its corruption. Wajahat Khan writes/speaks well – but his writing piece above fails the bullet test because his self-reflection is plainly too self-serving. Claiming naiveté, Wajahat does not need to address the need of the hour – accountability. This is corruption at its most basic and most dangerous level and actually promotes the emperor’s wardrobe of no clothes.
    This piece of writing is truly sneaky using intellectualization to avoid addressing the ground nudity. Written without courage, this article fails to apologize and merely sets the grounds for the writer to rescue his own career. “I should have known” Siyasatgiri!!

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  • Narmeen K

    so did resigning do any good? does it still matter if you resign from bol?did they pay your dues?