- Unlocking the newsroom: Faysal Aziz Khan shifting professional boundaries and leading next-generation global practices
Interview with Faysal Aziz Khan, a renowned Journalist
Living in a hybrid environment with a new age weapon of misinformation or disinformation, when our minds are under attack through manipulating narratives and generating fake news, the art of credible journalism is vital in spreading clear and accurate information to the masses. With news consumers glued to their devices, seeking the facts and information to help keep them safe, journalists are the threads that keep us all connected to what’s happening in this polarized society.
Journalist Faysal Aziz Khan is one who has been leading the news media industry in Pakistan with all new-age journalism tools and skills in mind and successfully excelling. Faysal isn’t one who entered this risky field through proper planning but his entry was accidental, taking things in his stride has truly worked in his favour.
The award-winning journalist, human right defender and media executive with 25 electronic and digital media experience, has successfully led the top three news media houses, and four national and international journalists associations, hosted more than 5,000 TV shows and live news with the correspondent about working in Pakistani media.
“My foray into journalism was accidental as I was making preparations for the CSS exams along with some of my friends,” says Faysal Aziz Khan when asked what his career means to him. “My father wasn’t happy with my decision of joining journalism and told me, “You can’t handle your household affairs with this little money that you are earning; you can’t have a prosperous life since people in our society don’t think highly of journalists.” “Because of Pakistan’s unfavourable economic climate, you should either take the CSS exams or apply for a job in banking,” Faysal reveals in his talk with this correspondent.
Recalling his early career initiatives, the brave journalist says, “One day Mr Kazmi — a senior journalist who was the editor of The Nation at that time — who used to see us studying regularly in the library, recommended us to work in the media after finishing our degree. I thus began to work as a staff reporter at Nawa-i-Waqt for the time being.”
When some news content was published in the newspaper; I realized that even If I succeed in the CSS exams, the impact of news and stories published in Jang newspapers are far-reaching. As a result, I became associated with the newspaper,” Faysal adds.
Transformation from print to electronic
Faysal Aziz Khan was one of the pioneers of Geo News and the first reporter to appear on-air on Geo channel. “Along with Nasir Baig Chughtai, news editor of Daily Jang – and Zahid Husain, chief reporter, we three individuals were selected to work at Geo. Since, I was essentially an in-house product, I had a close liaison with the management,” Faysal said.
By joining the news channel, Faysal says, he introduced new traditions within journalism and the media industry, which have never been seen before. “I have trained people, provided many internship opportunities, and had played a significant role in moving people overseas for fellowships,” he mentions. “While I was employed with Geo, I quickly moved into the leadership group. I founded the association of TV journalists and frequently led their training sessions and workshops in electronic media. In collaboration with Pakistan Press Foundation, several trainings were also conducted,” the seasoned journalist further said.
He gained a lot of knowledge over time as well as taught others, and stayed connected with the technology, adding that he had played a significant role in introducing and advancing technology in Pakistan. “I’ve always stayed interested in learning and passing along my knowledge to others,” he maintained.
Promoting Information Technology with media
Faysal is also serving as strategic adviser for the Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence and Computing (PIAIC), which aims to advance business, research and educational opportunities in Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, and Cloud Native Computing. “I serve as its strategic adviser. There are over 90,000 pupils enrolled in that programme. Many of those students have also travelled to the US thanks to the bridge I built for them to find employment opportunities.”
There are several career chances in the US IT sector, and Faysal Aziz has served as a bridge. He says, “Pakistani experts can also work in the IT sector like Indians.”
Pakistan’s representation at World Economic Forum
Big media organisations from throughout the world, including their top executives and senior journalists and anchors have always served as moderators at prior World Economic Forums but never any journalist represented from Pakistan. For the first time, Faysal Aziz Khan conducted a session on “Evolution of Education and Healthcare in Pakistan”. It was also the first time when these topics were discussed at an international forum. And following the session on such a prestigious forum, investments and projects arrive in Pakistan.
One of Pakistan’s biggest problems is the country’s economic instability and another is the difficulty of achieving lasting peace, adding that some great developments came about as a result of the international economic forum, Faysal informed.
While sharing his experiences on the Forum, he says, “Most crucially, discussions about Pakistan-US relations and difficulties facing Pakistan were held in-depth during meetings on the sidelines of the event with representatives from US think tanks, academics and businessmen. According to my perspective, Faysal says, Pakistan’s relations with other nations pale in comparison to how close it is to the US. Pakistan and China’s connections in terms of interpersonal contact are not as promising as is generally believed. Many Pakistanis who live in the US hold high-ranking positions and are heavily invested in the situation. Many people who live in the US helped us during the recent floods. The US is also quite interested in the geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic issues in Pakistan.
“In my conversations with American scholars, I argued that Pakistan should be treated in diplomatic relations by the US on an equal footing with India,” Faysal opines.
Covering the US elections
Faysal Aziz is among few Pakistani journalists who covered the US elections and during the coverage he travelled to different US states, including Virginia, Washington, New York and Maryland despite Covid-19 pandemic and held conversations with individuals belong to different political parties, academia and think tanks.
He held interviews with Dr Tariq Ibrahim, Dr Mahmood Alam, and Dr Ijaz Ahmad, the chairman of APPAC. Discussions with APPAC members was focused on challenges that American Pakistanis experience while residing there, their role in domestic political affairs and in government bodies, and people-to-people contact, Faysal Aziz shared.
Faysal’s role in Pak-US ties
Faysal has great contribution in building Pakistan’s soft image in the United States. He is not only involved in delivering awareness lectures in the Pakistani community, but with senators and congressmen to foster a positive perception of Pakistan.
Faysal says, “Through USAID, America is making significant progress in Pakistan by building schools, creating jobs, awarding scholarships and inviting students through exchange programmes. No other nation is putting forth this much effort in Pakistan. And we continue to denigrate America in Pakistan, particularly when it comes to the Kashmir and Palestine conflicts. We ought to take a balanced approach, in my opinion.”
If the US is making progress in a certain area, Pakistan should applaud and support it, he said. “We should speak with her about the areas where the US is not assisting Pakistan. In my journalistic career, I have always praised and welcomed the US when it takes beneficial action; and whenever the US treats Pakistan unfairly, I have always denounced it,” Faysal says. Therefore, these two issues should be handled and addressed separately in the course of our foreign policy because the US is acting in this manner to advance its own national interests, and Pakistan should act similarly and prioritise its own national interests.
“In the US, I participated in numerous shows and in discussion sessions where I propagated this viewpoint and the people there has embraced it,” the brave journalist said.
If journalists attempt to approach the problems in their bilateral relationship from a neutral standpoint, they can play a significant role in bringing the US and Pakistan closer together and Faysal has proved this.
“I’ve always made an effort to create initiatives that deepen their friendship, highlight the favourable parts of US relations with Pakistan, and deal with problems that surround our connection. Journalists must emphasise the benefits of the two countries’ connection in their programmes and reporting to educate the public. Future relations with the US will be crucial for Pakistan,” Faysal says.
Therefore, I have always worked to ensure that Pakistanis take advantage of opportunities in the financial, IT, education, and many other sectors by maintaining close links with the US.
Challenges to independent journalism
While discussing his viewpoints on the significance of independent journalism in Pakistan, he opined that the lines to define actual journalism are now blurring because journalists are increasingly present on TV, news and social media platforms. Faysal says there are now various TV channels and media coverage of private limited companies that do not adequately cover problems of public interest.
“Most media platforms have political, social and cultural leanings and affiliations that underwrite their editorial policies on a wide range of areas. Media houses are being pressurized to halt the broadcast of particular journalists or to terminate reporters whose news coverage is not well-received by institutions. Therefore, promoting independent journalism and ensuring the protection of freelance journalists has become extremely challenging.”
“The impact of social media, independent journalists, and citizen journalists has grown to the point where it has become very difficult to distinguish between them, and major media outlets are now turning to event coverage private limited. As a result, public interest topics do not receive adequate coverage in mainstream media.”
A survival strategy for the media
I have introduced a new perspective in our media industry, stating that being a part of the journalist community; we fully support all the state institutions, all political parties, and their leaders because the populace elects them and brings them to the parliament. Our disagreement starts with them when they are elected to office by the general public, and they will be held responsible for the proper use of taxpayer money.
Exposing state actors’ mistakes is a media responsibility. The media’s role is to report all pros and cons of society or state because highlighting both aspects is essential for development. Digital media platforms are now perceived as filling the void left by legacy media because of their emphasis on public interest journalism.
According to Faysal, independent journalism and public interest reporting is increasingly being covered by digital media. Real media is finding it tough to establish itself and advertise its material to a larger audience as a result. Globally, the development of digital and new-age media has had a significant impact on legacy media.
For instance, after the advent of 4G and 5G technology in 2016, CNN and BBC were forced to remove their foreign correspondents from the White House grounds because the President started using Twitter and other social media platforms to communicate with the general public and the rest of the world. Since the UN Secretary-General and the rest of the world’s top leadership started communicating via Twitter, news sources in journalism started to lose their significance globally. Audiences begin to acquire transparent independent information from digital and social media platforms.
Meanwhile, citizen journalism gained media space, and the spread of false information and fake news accelerated. By the time a reporter cross-checks and verifies the news content, it has gone viral on social media. All of the international media, including those in Pakistan and India, have struggled to adequately handle digital media. I believe that these problems affecting modern journalism will be overcome eventually with the help of advanced technology, but it will take some time. Efforts are required by the media to carefully differentiate between genuine critique and fake news.
The need for Dialogue Forum
In the past, media outlets had conducted organized character assassinations of public figures from particular governments that were unfavourable to them. In order to address the problems of political character assassination, fake news and misinformation, I vehemently advocate for the creation of forums like a media regulatory advisory or media advisory committee. Additionally, news directors and editors are no longer employed by media organizations. Instead of using editors and news directors, media house owners are using coordinators to operate their TV networks and newspapers.
The recent media crisis was caused by the lack of such platforms (dialogue forums) for government officials, all stakeholders, journalists, representatives of media bodies and other institutions to hold dialogues to exchange their differing points of view and work together to resolve issues. The blame game is underway on social media, and many YouTubers and vloggers have now become top media anchors, but they lack both basic and ethical journalism understanding. Comparatively, mainstream seasoned journalists receive less viewership. Social media is used by 70 per cent of the population, and they want to hear from speakers who cater to their audience’s choices and perceptions. These are a few of the additional concerns that require discussion via a dialogue forum, said Faysal Aziz Khan.