Pakistani Media And The Crisis Of Opportunity
by Fahh Hussain .
The media in Pakistan has faced numerous challenges in the past but the current crisis is different in many respects. It is a crisis which combines in itself financial issues, business model issues, content issues, and human resource issues. Put together, all of these factors have created a situation in which the media today faces a very uncertain future. But this uncertainty is not specific to Pakistan.
(Fahd Husain is the Executive Director News of Express News TV & Executive Editor of The Express Tribune newspaper)
Across the world media is staring into an uncertain future in which the fundamentals of journalism are under severe stress. The rise of social media within the larger digital landscape has created a completely new environment in which the comforts and predictability of the traditional media are now increasingly looking like a thing of the past. Social Media has undercut the traditional media’s ability to be the sole gatekeeper of news and information. It has also in many ways by-passed the traditional media in terms of speed, reach, width and depth of news.
In the backdrop of this larger global crisis, Pakistani media has in the last six months been hit by an earthquake. There is no doubt that the Pakistan economy has been in distress and the massive devaluation of the dollar has squeezed the advertising budget of major corporate advertisers. By some estimates the media industry and specially television has been hit by a twenty to thirty percent reduction in advertising revenue from the private sector. This has been made worse by the shutting off of the advertising tap by the government. When the new PTI government came into power their media mandarins argued they would not give any advertisement to the private media. The logic was that they did not have any projects to advertise. And in any case, they argued, private media should not be dependent on government revenue for its survival. Therefore the government argued that private media should revisit its business model and cut costs so it can remain financially viable in these times of advertisement crunch.
The result was a significant squeeze in the overall revenue streams of media organisations leading to retrenchments of employees on a scale that had not been seen in a very long time. In addition content also took a hit. This is an ongoing crisis but it has also thrown up some lessons for the industry and for its practitioners. The biggest lesson perhaps is that future belongs to digital media. Such a future may take some time to unfold completely. In fact there are many who argue that this future is already here but within the larger architecture of Pakistan’s media industry digital awareness still trails for behind traditional formats of television and newspapers.
At the same time however there is an increasing awareness that digital is not just an extension of the traditional media; that going digital does not mean taking content from the print and television mediums and pasting them on to websites or social media platforms. Many within the industry are gradually realising rather belatedly that digital is an entity in itself; that it has a specific way of presenting content for specific tastes of specific audiences whose numbers are growing bigger and bigger with each passing day.
There is also a realisation that digital content is not an isolated word or picture or text but in fact a 360 degree combination of video, graphics, text, photos and music all gelled together neatly to tell a story which is compelling and impactful. This content is aimed not for a newspaper or a magazine or a television screen or a website but in fact is platform neutral which, in other words, means that it is content which can be spun off on all platforms with a little bit of tweaking, a little bit of change and little bit of value addition. To be successful in the digital age content has to be freed from the confines of a particular platform. It is this fundamental change that traditional media is finding hard to accept and digest.
The challenges for Pakistani media are manifold. Organisations have to restructure themselves in order to become producers of content that is relevant to all platforms. This will require a sea change in the way that these media organisations have traditionally worked to produce news and programming. Media organisations will also need to make a transition from single source of revenue to multiple sources.
Individual journalists in Pakistan also face a huge challenge. The most immediate one is of course either retaining employment or finding new jobs. The market is unlikely to grow in the near future and therefore practitioners from within the media industry will face tough times as very few within the media can take their existing skills and existing jobs for granted. The challenge therefore is for all journalists to prepare themselves for the digital world and enhance their skill sets so they can find jobs in this new arena. This would require digital literacy as well as certain level of comfort with new technologies as well as new ways of storytelling
Media is passing through a storm of uncertainty. Once the storm subsides, and it will at some point, there will be opportunities on the other side for those who have prepared themselves mentally and who have upgraded themselves professionally to be in a position to produce the kind of content that is in growing demand not just in Pakistan but across the world. These are uncertain and challenging times but they can throw up opportunities for those in the Pakistani media industry who are willing to grab them with both hands.