By Awais Saleem
So the inevitable has happened. Kamran Khan, the self-proclaimed guru of investigative journalism in Pakistan, has found a new platform. Among the first few to join the now embattled BOL with much fanfare, he led the first batch that jumped ship, and is now the first one to find a new abode. All this with as much ease as if nothing has happened in the meanwhile. Neither his designation has changed, nor the rhetoric.
It took just a couple of tweets for him to announce his departure from BOL – in which he made a beleaguered attempt to take the high moral ground without any mention of those he had promised to lead towards a revolution – as well as to make his new association with Dunya public with reasons that sounded as shallow as the content of his shows not too long ago. He also claimed to have offers from all news channels before taking his pick. This “offers galore” is enough to judge an industry’s standards where not a single media organization was able to take a stand based on principles. Dunya TV’s management had announced just a day earlier to stand with BOL’s employees. It just turned out to be a prelude for KK’s red carpet welcome. The president of his own faction of the PFUJ, Rana Azeem, who will forever be worth gold for giving a press freedom award to Mubasher Luqman, had vowed to boycott the media organizations that opened doors for BOL’s head honchos-turned-deserters now finds himself reporting to KK as his new president and editor-in-chief. If his ‘distinguished’ career is any indication, Rana Azeem will not take long in becoming a KK sidekick. The other faction, headed by Afzal Butt, is also quite vocal because Mushtaq Minhas happens to be one of the stalwarts of their group in press club and PFUJ politics. Both these factions were not irked in the same manner when Mubasher Luqman and other channels were gunning for Geo’s closure last year.
This move, in all probability, is just a strategic pit stop for KK before he eventually returns to Geo. Still, should KK be singled out in an industry where self-interests have trumped ethics from the outset? Is he the first prominent name that has become an embodiment of self-preservation as the be all and end all of everything? Those thinking on these lines have perhaps forgotten the once mighty Shahid Masood leaving ARY for GEO, going to PTV, coming back to GEO, leaving again for ARY, and I have lost count after that. The same was the case with Amir Liaqat’s Geo to ARY, back to GEO, leave again for Express, and return to Geo hopscotch. Both of them did flirt with BOL but somehow stopped short of joining. Interestingly, like the proverbial king of investigative journalism, one considered himself the top-most analyst while the other boasted of being the most sought-after televangelist. The similarities do not end there. All of them fell for presidential posts, made similar claims after every move, and at least two of them have had their names linked to fake degrees one way or the other.
Then there are others of the same ilk. Did Nusrat Javeed, who is now taking on KK via twitter, not know who was calling the shots and what was going on behind the scenes at Axact and BOL when the word in the air was all about the shady business that Declan Walsh only authenticated later on in his NYT story. Perhaps Nusrat’s justifications, and those of Azhar Abbas, Asma Sherazi, and Iftikhar Ahmad, would be no different than those articulated by Wajahat Saeed Khan in his Pak Tea House article. When the purpose is to find excuses to rationalize a step taken in the wrong direction and for the wrong reasons, the outcome is anybody’s guess. There can be no two opinions that all of them willingly ignored everything else to scoop up Axact’s fat paychecks and allied perks. All of them knew, being in the A-list of Pakistani journalist fraternity, that they have nothing to lose and could easily find new destinations even if the Axact-funded BOL doesn’t make it big. KK has done just that and others will follow suit shortly.
These are just the big fish though. For everybody else out there, barring a few sane voices, the priorities have been no different. As much as one sympathizes with those who will not find the transition as smooth as those big guns, the fact remains that those who joined BOL precisely what they were getting into. If they were caught unawares, I doubt their journalistic capabilities. If they did and decided to look the other way, they should own up their actions now instead of hiding behind conspiracy theories and discrediting those not in agreement with them. Well, at the end of the day, it was a matter of personal choice. They took a decision thinking about their personal good, and that is fine. I personally have no problems with that. We do not live on an island of idealism and everybody is free to set his/her own priorities. But they do need to show some moral courage and face the consequences themselves too. Can those finding all kinds of faults with rival media organizations and posting pictures of BOL (being shown as a lion), being hounded by dogs (symbolizing other channels), deny that those very dogs were feeding them and their families not too long ago? Some introspection and basic decency never does any harm to anybody. There is no doubt about it that the hype about the Axact scandal on rival channels is driven by stiff and filthy business practices, but how is it different compared to Shoaib Shaikh’s open (and often bordering on delusional) challenges that he will teach other media owners a lesson? Those rivals got the much-needed ammunition in the form of the NYT story at the right time and are exploiting it fully to hit back at competition now. As they say, it always takes two to tango.
Ever since privately owned television channels made a foray in Pakistan, grabbing whatever can be grabbed at whatever cost possible has been the name of the game for the media owners as well as the workers. How many of those championing the cause of journalism now took a stand when the ‘seth’ started replacing the institution of the editor? How many of those drawing six figure salaries from current mainstream media outlets tried to do something about the disparity in salaries with other colleagues? How many of them staged a protest when their colleagues were fired without any reason? While negotiating their packages with the previous employers, how many of those who are now very agitated that BOL’s demise would potentially inhibit the industry’s growth spared a thought for those working in B and C class media houses (Capital TV, Waqt TV, News One, Din TV, Channel 5, Daily Pakistan etc. to name a few)? In dozens of such organizations, journalists are either lowly paid or not paid at all but how many have taken to the streets for them? The privileged ones were content with their personal welfare back then and that has not changed even now. How many of them would have questioned the inquiry against Axact and turned it into a question of the “freedom of press” if their personal stake was not involved? They are right though in thinking that they have to fight it out on the streets to survive when the Kamran Khans of this industry will be able to pick and choose cushy jobs sitting in London.
This is how it has been throughout all these years and this is how it will be for the foreseeable future. No false dawn or overnight miracle is going to change its fate unless the people involved in this game are not ready to change themselves. That will begin by being realistic and making sacrifices for the profession’s lofty ideals instead of hollow sloganeering. There is no harm in having aspirations but there is a very fine line that separates it from daydreaming. When that line is blurred, as is the case at present, all questions pertaining to ethics or morality will be Greek to those bent upon making it big by hook or by crook in an industry that has already reached a saturation point.