2014 National Alumni Conference

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Deepening Democracy through Media in Pakistan Project

From October 17-20, 38 Pakistani journalists from across the country gathered in Islamabad to reflect and strategize on the future of media in Pakistan at the National Alumni Conference for the East-West Center’s Deepening Democracy through Media in Pakistan project. The four year project (2011-2014), funded by the US Embassy in Islamabad, was designed to promote free, fair and responsible media in Pakistan to help the country cope with the political and developmental challenges and to bridge the gaps in understanding between the United States and Pakistan. The cornerstone activity of the project was the Pakistan-US Journalists Exchange program, which brought 30 Pakistani journalists to the United States and 26 American journalists to Pakistan over four years, but also included Pakistani journalists’ participation in East-West Center’s on-going multilateral study and travel programs the Jefferson Fellowships and Senior Journalists Seminar. See Dawn TV news coverage of the event, including interviews with participants and East-West Center staff (in English and Urdu).

The Conference provided an excellent opportunity for Pakistani journalists from across program years to build networks to help them maintain, share, and implement the best practices and new perspectives that they learned during their programs. They had a chance to get updates on the US-Pakistan relationship, tackle topics of importance to Pakistan’s current democratic transition, envision scenarios for the future of media in Pakistan, and learn techniques and tools for reporting conflict. The Conference emphasized the idea that the alumni have been given a privileged experience and should see themselves as leaders of media in Pakistan and agents for change.

Charge d’ Affairs Thomas E. WilliamsUnited States Embassy in Pakistan Charge d’ Affairs Thomas E. Williams shared updates on the US-Pakistan relationship and emphasized the importance that the United States places on Pakistan. A presentation by Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Thomas Leary reinforced the importance of the US-Pakistan relationship in a presentation highlighting the investment the US is making in Pakistan through projects ranging from infrastructure to economic development to exchanges. He noted that Pakistan remains the largest Fulbright program in the world and now has an active alumni network from US-government funded activities that is more than 14,000 strong.

Dr. Shabbir CheemaIn his presentation, Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Regional Practices and Challenges in Pakistan, international governance expert Dr. Shabbir Cheema shared the theory and practice of democratic transition to help the journalists think about Pakistan’s transition in a broader, regional context. Alumnus Mahim Maher, Senior Writer for the Express Tribune in Karachi shared the information with her audiences in a story and infographic.

The journalists had many questions for PILDAT President Ahmed Bilal Mahboob who shared his organizations’ work on the important issue of electoral reform in Pakistan and provided valuable comparative and historical insights from Pakistan’s past and from practices in neighboring countries, especially India.

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A key activity of the Conference was an expert-led futures exercise for the journalists to envision and strategize about the future direction of media in Pakistan and about their role in influencing that future. International leadership trainer Scott MacLeod provided the journalists with a structured framework and a set of key drivers of change for Pakistani media that had been identified by the East-West Center through the 4-year deepening democracy project. The drivers included:

Scott MacLeod, right, leads the futures exercise

  1. Media codes of conduct
  2. Capacity of media both at individual level and as a group through Press Clubs and Press Associations
  3. Freedom of media with access to information
  4. Media ownership and control
  5. Regulatory framework for media
  6. Safety of journalists
  7. Responsible, objective and evidence based reporting.

These drivers were placed in the broader context of culture, social forms, economics, environment, politics, and technology, and assessed alongside possible “game changers.” Working in small groups, journalists analyzed Pakistan’s media environment and identified driving forces and critical uncertainties, developed plausible scenarios, and discussed implications for and pathways to the future. Journalists from different ethnic groups and different parts of the country had to come to consensus in drawing a map for their future scenario, and then present it to their peers.

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Key concerns emerged in the areas of media ownership, journalists’ codes of conduct and responsible reporting, the need for greater unity among journalists and journalists’ organizations, and more diversity and openness in newsrooms. The journalists found many aspects of the futures thinking process enlightening and completely new, especially the notion of finding one’s own entry point for making change. One journalist wrote, “Scott Macleod’s futures thinking was brilliant…Our own exercise in Pakistan future media scenarios opened up my thinking like an accordion. I had only focused on story-writing and not thought of how we work for democracy. Macro issues began to emerge in my thinking.”

Another highlight of the conference was a series of sessions on conflict reporting and trauma for journalists. The sessions were led by US journalism trainer Sherry Ricchiardi and Pakistani journalist and certified trauma and conflict media trainer Malik Arshad Aziz, Resident Editor for Daily Jang in Peshawar.

They shared concrete techniques for staying safe when covering dangerous situations, for dealing with trauma victims, and for managing the effects of trauma felt by journalists covering tragic events and being constantly under threat. Journalists appreciated that the training involved a locally-based trainer who could share examples from personal experience as well as an international trainer who could compare the situation in Pakistan to other parts of the world.  “I got a very clear picture of “conflict sensitive reporting” and dealing with trauma for journalists and will be applying it in any conflict situation. I will also train my team in the news room as well as reporters to take care of these journalistic ethics,” wrote one journalist.

2999The journalists also enjoyed having an opportunity to reminisce and reflect on the value of their time on their exchange experience and make new friends and colleagues during after-hours activities. There was a Hawaii-themed dinner gathering, a shared meal with singing at Monal restaurant, and a closing dinner with music and dancing. It was great to see new groups forming around common interests: female journalists gathered about women’s issues, local press club leaders discussed local and national media challenges, journalists from different cities talked about ways to collaborate on future stories. Several mentioned that they’d heard each other’s names and admired each other’s work, but never met. Journalists headed back to their home cities with new found friends, fresh inspiration for their contribution to Pakistan’s democratic transition as journalists, and concrete techniques and practices to improve their work.

Dawn TV News coverage of the East-West Center National Alumni Conference
(in English/Urdu)
Islamabad, Pakistan, October 17-20, 2014