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Mr Khaled Ahmed (Pakistan)

3 Information dissemination and popular culture

S V Raju | Khaled Ahmed | Raj Chengappa | Karamat Al |   I. A. Rehman | Arif Hasan | DISCUSSION


The frontiers can be softened only by more truth…

In 1947 when the communal riots were on in India and Pakistan many people in both the countries had their own private opinion. Today, no Indian or Pakistani has his own private opinion.

If ever the cage is broken it will be broken because of the genuine assault on our minds by the BBC Urdu and the German radio – because that is where the news is laid; that is where the truth is being told.

If you wish to actually normalise at the regional level, then the print media, which are totally free, must also tow a free line of opinion.

The Pakistanis will find it easier to get away from this ‘mythology’ than the Indian because the Indians have been indoctrinated under a system of democracy and have thus become prejudiced by their own free choice.

Mr. Khaled Ahmed, a senior journalist from Lahore, pointed out that the advanced technology is no guarantee that frontiers will be softened. National boundaries had been breached right in the beginning, and long before the onset of the computer communication, as first the radios and then the televisions of India and Pakistan were heard and seen by people on the other sides of the border. However, he remarked, that if the purpose of the governments was to persuade the other side of the population then they have failed because neither the Indians have been persuaded by the PTV nor the Pakistanis by Door Darshan. At the same side, and sadly enough, the states have succeeded at "internal indoctrination". They have persuaded their own people to think in a particular way. Even friends across the borders cannot see each other face to face on political issues that are outstanding between the two countries, because they have both been fed contradictory data.

Mr. Ahmed quoted various examples from the Pakistani television, where the constant pattern is to show a non-Muslim or non-Pakistani girl falling in love with the Muslim hero. This pattern has been repeated in the background of Kashmir, Bangladesh and Kelash. The message is very clear, and very primitive: "we do not only have an upper hand over you but can also have your women!"

The Indian reply to this, according to Mr. Ahmed, can perhaps be seen in the movie where a Muslim Syed girl is shown falling in love with a Hindu boy.

In this scenario, Mr. Ahmed sees the population of both the countries relying more on the Urdu and Hindi broadcasts of BBC, and now also the German radio, for good impartial information as well as for undermining their own dictatorial ideological set-ups. The free press in India and Pakistan, especially Pakistan, has now made it a routine duty to reproduce these broadcasts.

What is happening is that the print media, which is totally free in both in India and Pakistan, and is rightly quite cruel to the politicians, is still slavishly following the government line in the matters of foreign policy.

More channels are opening up, but they also have little freedom; they censor cartoons as well as news and information. Hence, the two media are still talking to their own people and the political frontiers are only tightening.

Mr. Ahmed pointed out that the political frontiers can be hoped to soften if an advance is made in some other direction, such as free trade or free exchange of newspapers. For instance, if someone from Bombay wants his English newspaper to be sold in Pakistan then he will have to be very careful about what is being written – it won’t be the third or fourth editorial assistant anymore who will write whatever he has been indoctrinated about Pakistan. Then the Indian newspaper will have to cover Pakistan, and probably also to employ Pakistani journalists; the newspapers will become balanced. However, the scope of such an endeavour is moderated by the fact that the English readership in Pakistan is very limited.

A bigger problem will have to faced if free exchange of newspapers is extended to Urdu newspapers, because there is a large Urdu market in India, which might be unhappy in the beginning "by the inroad that our Nawa-i-Waqt and Jang will make into India." Their messages may also disturb the Indian readers but Mr. Ahmed hoped that the free market will perform its own miracle: "if you want to be sold in India and to get Indian advertisements, then you better be balanced."

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