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Pak, Afghan journalists say media can help boost bilateral ties

Published: March 01, 2012

The Pakistani and Afghan media can play a significant role in challenging myths, removing misconceptions and bringing the two countries and their people closer, said journalists from Pakistan and Afghanistan here on Wednesday, adding that the two governments and media organisations and journalists’ associations can facilitate this process.

The journalists were speaking at a public session organised by Pak Institute for Peace (PIPS) at National Press Club in Islamabad. Titled ‘Pak-Afghan Media Cooperation & Impact on Bilateral Relations’, the public session was chaired by senior Pakistani journalist Ashfaq Saleem Mirza. The journalists speaking at the session were Cyril Almeida, and Amir Hashim Khakwani from Pakistan and Habibullah Rafi, Sami Yusufzai and Danish Karokhel from Afghanistan.

PIPS Director Muhammad Amir Rana said that the fact that the Pakistani and Afghan media got news of conflict in the other country through western wire services highlighted the distances. He said the humanitarian and human angle had largely remained missing in one-dimensional reporting in both Pakistan and Afghanistan on the other country and there was a need to give a complete picture of the sentiments and suffering in the neighbouring countries to the two people.

Cyril Almeida said that the media should focus on problems and critically analyse and expose policies that were not in the interest of the people or the region and say what the state was doing and what would be the consequences of that.

Sami Yusufzai said that access to information was difficult for journalists in the other country. The two governments facilitating each other’s journalists by giving them hassle-free visas and the main media houses stationing permanent correspondents in the other country would go some way in confronting and exposing propaganda, help put things in perspective and deepen understanding. Besides visa, media groups and journalists’ organisations in both countries needed to reach out to each other and exchange visits and ideas. He said that the Pakistani media should pay attention to how coverage of issues regarding Afghanistan in segments of the Pakistani media such as painting Taliban as heroes was perceived in Afghanistan. The Afghan media should also pay attention to Pakistan-specific coverage in the same vein.

Amir Khakwani said that the media in the two countries should not buy into the misconceptions fuelled by ignorance and prejudices and focus on positive reporting, rather than looking for negatives. He said that the media in Pakistan was not homogenous and added that robust and unbiased reporting on issues can lead to positives, particularly in the Urdu media because of its greater outreach.

Habibullah Rafi said that Pakistan and Afghanistan had a shared future and peace in one country could be guaranteed only by peace in the other. The media cooperation on news and information sharing could be a step towards peace in the region, which will benefit both states. Greater media focus and cooperation would lead to greater interaction between the two people.

The public opinion being shaped by the media can lead to addressing the trust deficit between the two countries, the speakers said.

Ashfaq Saleem Mirza said that civil society should also support and promote alternative media, blogs and websites. He said that peace would be determined not by states and military, but by the people and the collaboration and that the role of the media, social media included, was indispensible for that. The objectives of peace, improved relations, ending conflict and building bridges could be pursued through this media without a steep financial cost and would have extensive impact.

The journalists’ comments were followed by questions from a large number of students, journalists and civil society activists in the audience. The participants and speakers welcomed the visit by Afghan journalists and hoped that the cross-border visits and contacts would grow in frequency and impact.

The public session was part of efforts initiated by PIPS last year to increase collaboration between Pakistani and Afghan media organizations and journalists with a view to improve the quality and quantity of reporting on complex cross-border and regional issues.


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