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‘I haven’t seen any missionary journalist in 30 years’

Digital media will suppress print and electronic media, says Express Newspaper Group Editor Ayaz Khan

By Amama Asif

Ayaz Khan is a journalist who is currently working as a senior analyst on Express News and group editor of the Express Newspaper. He has been working in the media industry for the last thirty years. In this interview, we talked about the crisis that media is facing today and what could be the possible steps to overcome it.

The Educationist: For how long have you been in the media industry? 

Ayaz Khan: It’s been 30 years.

The Educationist: There is serious issue of downsizing and salary cuts in the media. Has media ever faced such a crisis earlier?

Ayaz Khan: Yes, obviously there have been crises but never like this one. The reason behind this is the mushroom growth of TV channels. Every other day we come to know that a new channel has joined the competition.

Moreover, many including the government talk about the flawed business model of the media houses these days. The anchors are hired at salaries around thirty to forty lac which has affected the budget. There were more people hired than needed which led to the realization that the revenues are not enough. And one thing is clear, when a businessman invests in something, he never wants any loss. He always wants profit. And when there’s no profit, he obviously goes for downsizing or has to shut down some of the offices. This is the crisis going on these days.

The Educationist:  Can we say that media is more likely a business rather than a means of information because the employees have to follow the owner?

Ayaz Khan: It’s a medium of information for the reader/viewer. For the owner, it’s a business as he’s paying the employees and running the media house.

The Educationist:  What about the concept of missionary media?

Ayaz Khan: I haven’t observed mission anywhere in media in these thirty years. Even those who claimed this never seemed to be missionary, but businessmen.

The Educationist:  What steps are the owners taking for thousands of those who are losing their jobs as a result of downsizing and those whose salaries are being reduced as compared to the anchors who have high salaries? After all, it’s not only about those people, but about thousands of families.

Ayaz Khan: I don’t know how other media houses are dealing with this but I can talk about my organization. Here the pays of lower salary class haven’t been reduced. The salaries of those who have high salaries like more than six figures are reduced otherwise those with low pays aren’t affected. Yeah, there has been downsizing where it was required to have a smart team. Basically, there are two business models. One is that a few media houses haven’t paid their employees for four to five months. Despite this, they have reduced their work force. The second model is that the team is made smart, but their salaries are given on time. Express is one of those organizations who’s following the second model.

The Educationist:  There are many organizations which exploit the students by hiring them as interns but don’t pay them on time because they are not anchors but doing small jobs in news rooms or production control rooms. What steps can we take to reduce this exploitation?

Ayaz Khan: Internship is considered as your weakness by the organizations because without it, you won’t be getting your degree. And secondly, the universities should’ve ensured this long before by signing agreements with the owners of media houses for paid internships of their students – but because nobody cared, the students have to work without getting paid.

The Educationist:  What steps are being taken by editors or anchors for the lower salary class who are losing their jobs as a result of downsizing?

Ayaz Khan: What do u mean to say?

The Educationist:  I mean that the people belonging to lower class who are losing their jobs, they have families too. What about them?

Ayaz Khan: No, it’s just a concept that only the lower class is losing jobs. It’s not like that. According to the current circumstances, the team is made smart from top to bottom. Many from the top have also lost their jobs. It’s not only about the lower class. Although there are still many organizations who are paying a very high amount to the anchors. I don’t know how they are doing this and for how long they will continue to. Ultimately, they have to reduce their salaries as well because it’s unbelievable that you are paying someone 30 lac and firing the one who’s paid 30 thousand. A businessman has a different mindset. For him, sometimes it’s about salary, and sometimes about a specific person who’s very important for the business either in terms of profit or for running the system. So he might pay him a handsome amount and may not reduce his salary. And on the other hand, there’s someone who’s not as useful for the business. Yes, losing a job can be very painful but businesses are carried out all over the world. They even get shut down. And people even lose their jobs from organizations like Washington Post or New York Times. When I’m working on a contract with an organization, and I lose my job on a one month notice either given by the organization to me or the other way around, then I’m not entitled to complain for losing my job because I was on a contract.

The Educationist:  What do you think about the regulatory authority that is replacing PEMRA? 

Ayaz Khan:We from the print media are not at all in favor of this because we have spoken a lot against the Press and Publication Ordinance, you might have studied. Because we think that the print media works very carefully even today. The content is well thought of. Obviously, we have more time for publishing as newspapers don’t have to compete for breaking news. That’s why we try to cover all aspects of a news story but there’s always a probability for mistake. So this one window operation that the government is upto is not right for us. It seems like it’s an attempt to control the media overall. Because there’s cross media. The one who owns a newspaper owns a channel and digital media as well so I think they are trying to control it like that.

The Educationist:  We observe a lot of sensationalism on news channels. What do you think should be done for this?

Ayaz Khan: I think more than sensationalism, there is agenda journalism happening. Especially the anchors you are talking about have a preset agenda. And now, even the viewer is aware of what they have to say. This can’t be hidden now because it’s done repeatedly and the viewer knows now where you’re standing, who you’re supporting and what you will do next. So then there is sensationalism as well as irresponsibility, you can say. Because when there’s agenda journalism, things are planned. And different groups are being represented on the media. That’s why you get to see this and this needs to be controlled. And because the channels were new in the line, and there was no editor for live news coverage, so an inexperienced reporter who doesn’t know where to stop, what, when and where to talk is taken live on beeper to report a news story. This is a problem with electronic media. It’s not like this in the newspapers. There are more checks in the newspaper. The sub editor makes news, then there’s a shift in-charge and news editor. The news goes through a procedure of editing and then gets published. When the reporter is going live, you can’t control him. And there are no gatekeepers in the electronic media. If there were, the circumstances would’ve been different. And because of this, the electronic media has damaged its credibility.

The Educationist:  Now we’ll conclude the interview. Recently, the information minister, Fawad Chauhdry has said that the jobs in media have been squeezed. There’ll be more downsizing and more jobs will be squeezed in media. Secondly, he said that the government will issue license to 83 more channels and focus more on entertainment. What’s your say about this? And what would be the future of new people like us in media when it’s going through such crisis and there’s already so much downsizing?

Ayaz Khan:Basically, because we’re a third world country, so when we are students, we only think about having a job. We don’t think apart from job. We never think that a few of us should launch our own web/YouTube channel. Because undoubtedly, now the digital media will expand and the mainstream media will squeeze. This will happen ultimately even if the government issues 183 licenses instead of 83. The bigger organizations are focusing more on the digital media so the shortfall of revenues on mainstream media maybe covered from digital media. The problem here arises that these channels aren’t getting subscribers like West. The subscribers have to pay. And here we want to read newspapers for free. We are not even willing to pay for newspapers. That’s why these problems are arising. But it’s not that mainstream or print media will diminish. No matter they keep saying it will end after like 10 years or 800 or thousand years. Both print and electronic media will remain but the focus will be shifted on digital media.

Fawad Chauhdry is not saying something new. It happens all over the world. They earn from entertainment channels and invest in news channels. This is the only country where entertainment channels are running on revenue generated from news channels. It’s a strange business model. And they think they’ll support the entertainment channels more and ultimately when the entertainment channels start getting more business, it will surely create a balance.

The Educationist:: Thank you so much for your precious time, sir. It was a great experience talking to you!

Ayaz Khan with Amama Asif

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