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In a discussion with AsiaMedia, seven Urdu journalists talk about the state of their profession and the media in India
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
A group of seven Urdu journalists from India visited four major U.S. cities from Oct. 4-24, 2008, under the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. The delegation consisted of Rashid Jamal Shamsi, an assistant editor at United News of India's Urdu service; Syed Fazil Hussain Parvez, chief editor of GAWAH (Witness); Nasreen Eqbal, Delhi bureau chief for Inqualab-E-Jadeed; Afsana Haroon, a journalist for Akhbar-e-Mashriq; Sadia Merchant, a journalist for the Urdu Times; Shareque Syed a news reporter for ETV Urdu; and Asif Lubna, an editor at Jadeed In-Dinon.
On their stop in Los Angeles, they spoke with AsiaMedia reporter Jaime Mendoza about their perspectives on their profession, freedom of speech, and the United States and India.
The following is an edited transcript of the Oct. 20 roundtable interview:
AsiaMedia: What is Urdu journalism?
Lubna Asif: In India there are 26 different states and many different languages... That means lots of local newspapers and local channels. [But] the three major languages are Hindi, English and Urdu. Because the Urdu population is growing in numbers, we have lots of Urdu newspapers -- small and big -- within each and every state.
AM: What are the key issues that Urdu journalists cover?
Syed Fazil Hussain Parvez: Politics, religion, social affairs, crime... discrimination.
AM: For the female journalists, are there challenges in being a woman and a reporter in India?
Asif: There are challenges but women are taking up the lead now. As Muslim women, we are not supposed to go out of the house; we are supposed to take care of the house. But now women are getting educated, [and] they are doing doctorals, masters in journalism.
AM: Are there difficulties for women to advance in the journalism field?
Sadia Merchant: There is no such challenge. If we are speaking about journalism, in all major cities it is a woman that is leading journalism, whether it is [in] Bombay or wherever, whether it's print media or electronic media.
Asif: The small states do have this problem, [though]. If it is a small city or a small state, there they say once a woman is married, she is supposed to look after the household rather than go out and report.
AM: What is being done to alleviate that problem in the small states?
Asif: As electronic media is educating and the Internet is going on, people are realizing that women should get out of the house, and if they have an interest in journalism, they are free to go.
AM: What are some female perspectives you offer in your work?
Merchant: Whether it's abuse in the house or domestic violence, we cover that. Or if it's women's prowess in the professional world, like they become CEOs or IP (intellectual property) officers, we try to highlight that.
Asif: In addition to that, I would say this: that every person has an individual choice. If I like politics, I would try to cover political news. Another woman may prefer to cover sports or culture. It's on your own what you are interested in and what you cover.
AM: What do you want to achieve on your trip here to the United States?
Rashid Jamal Shamsi: Actually, we all have one goal in coming here: to learn more about journalism, to learn how to do well in journalism. We have achieved it to some extent because we have met so many press people here and visited so many media houses.
AM: What is your view of this country?
Parvez: In Asian countries, like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the press is not independent but their future is very bright. In Western countries, they have press freedom, but their future is very dark.
AM: What is it that you can say here in the United States that you cannot say in India?
Parvez: [You] have 100% freedom. We must think twice and then speak.
AM: Why do you have to think twice?
Parvez: Because there's diversity with so many cultures.
Asif: I would partially agree that we are supposed to think twice, but only on a few matters, not everything. In India we also have freedom of speech.
Shareque Syed: One very good thing about your media is that you can write very freely. You can even write against your president if you want to.
AM: You're not allowed to do that in India?
Syed: Not to this extent.
But also, in America the media is business. As a result of that, recently there was a DVD that was folded into newspapers and distributed which was anti-Islamic. This is the downside of the freedom of your press.
AM: Do you ever think there will be a point in India where you can openly criticize the government without persecution or reciprocity?
Shamsi: I don't think it is in India that you cannot criticize the government. I am working with United News of India and I give all the news against and for the government. I don't think there are any rules or regulations that say you cannot criticize the government or the president. We even make our point of views directly against the government and against the president.
AM: What is the opinion of Urdu-speaking people on America?
Shamsi: I think Urdu-speaking people in Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan are against the Bush policies. It's very clear. As far as this election is concerned, most of the Urdu-speaking population is for [Barack] Obama due to [President George W.] Bush's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and other policies.
AM: Considering India is a populous and diverse country, how can we understand it?
Parvez: We believe that we are different cultures, castes and religions, and yet, there is unity in the diversity.
Syed: You must have seen a bunch of flowers in which all the flowers are different and yet that's the beauty of it. That's what India is like.
Naureen Safdar Butt and Sana Syed-Enz served as interpreters.
Date Posted: 12/2/2008
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