ISLAMABAD: The third and final day of the Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) on Sunday featured a session on ‘Social Media: New Strategies for Creativity and Change’.
The session turned out to be a series of short, monotonous introductions to social media as a phenomenon, and only one of the four speakers delved into detail about the topic at hand. In keeping with the tradition of this year’s ILF, a significant part of the session was spent with speakers talking about themselves instead of carrying out a discussion. If not for Moeed Pirzada, the audience may have fallen asleep.
The session began with the moderator, veteran journalist Wajahat Masood giving a short introduction of HumSub, an Urdu language blog for which the first speaker, Leena Hashir, works.
Leena’s piece about a transgender woman who was shot and died in a hospital in Peshawar has been very popular on the website, as was her short film on a real-life incident of a child who was killed by her father because she could not make a perfectly round roti. The film was also screened during the session.
Ms Hashir said she wrote the piece about the transgender woman because she was moved by the footage of the woman taken in hospital.
“I used to be scared of transgender women as a child. That was the last day I was scared of them. I used to get angry when I would look at transgender because I would think they are involved in prostitution. But after that incident, I know they are a marginalised community,” she said.
Co-editor of HumSub, Adnan Kakar was asked about what the aim of the website was and what role he had envisioned for it.
“For a long time, Urdu newspapers have been trying to play on the emotions of their readers and instead of offering constructive, unbiased reports, they have been trying to make up the minds of the people who read Urdu newspapers, which do not focus on logic or humanity like English language papers do,” he said.
The majority of the population reads Urdu and we wanted to bring notions of humanity and peace into Urdu reporting, but not to lean too much towards the left, because we do not want to make up their minds, we want unbiased reporting so they can make up their minds for themselves, he said.
Asked about the role of social media in present day Pakistan in the times of transitional democracy, veteran journalist Moeed Pirzada said though the entertainment side of the Pakistani media is many times larger than the news media, the latter is more important as it is consumed by the more influential part of society – economically powerful men. The entertainment media side is more for the women of the country.
This trend, he said, is also replicated on social media and in his own followership.
He said Pakistan does not have a democracy, only a cosmetic one and that too for the purpose of gaining Western legitimacy. India, on the other hand, is a proper democracy.
“News media has problems with social media. It is eating the commercial benefits of traditional news media, which cannot compete with social media any more in Pakistan. The mainstream media is increasingly penetrated and controlled by the same forces controlling Pakistani politics, including security establishments, political oligarchies, federal and provincial governments and others,” he said.
Social media is the defining force which brings the political argument and narrative to the people in Pakistan, he said.
“Since it is so decentralised, there is no editing and regulating by the government and does not require money, governments use different tactics to try and ban social media. This may be the excuse of extremism, though social media is not used by extremists in Pakistan to communicate with one another like it was in Brussels and Paris,” he explained.
“Expression is the problem that the [Pakistani] government has. The reasons are always political, like what happened in the Abdul Wali Khan University the other day. A mob was ignited and used to kill Mashal but the elements were actually part of the university administration, as the police has found,” he added.
In the same way, social media is being harassed so people do not bring up issues like Panamagate, Mr Pirzada said.
The last speaker was French author and journalist, Slimane Zeghidour, who was asked about the role of social media changes being witnessed around the world and said it was too soon to comment on the role of social media.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2017
You can find a link to the story here