By Sonya Rehman
Beginning last month, Pakistanis with Internet access can now tune in to a web-based TV channel that highlights the concerns of marginalized citizens. With a focus on recruiting women and youth as reporters, “Maati TV” seeks to offer an alternative to mainstream media outlets.
A new media outlet is joining Pakistan’s burgeoning citizen journalism movement. Launched just a few weeks ago, “Maati TV” is the country’s first web television program focusing on social issues of concern to Pakistanis. Consisting of short “documentaries” shot by citizens, the project will cover political and social issues as well as cultural topics.
“We hope to create content which is balanced and thought-provoking,” said Muhammad Waseem, director of the Interactive Resource Centre (IRC), one of the main groups involved in the project.
“Maati TV” (which means “earth” in Punjabi) is a collaboration of three organizations. Two are civil society groups — the IRC and the South Asian Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) — and the third is the Church World Service Pakistan/Afghanistan, a humanitarian organization.
According to Waseem, “Maati TV” was created to offer an alternative voice to mainstream media in Pakistan. In his address at the opening ceremony, Waseem said they wanted to “give voice to the voiceless and the oppressed.” The goal of the project, Waseem recently told AudienceScapes, is “to challenge the stereotyping and selective, sensational coverage of big stories and disasters, and helping empower the affected.”
To produce programming for the website, “Maati TV” will use the IRC’s existing networks established in the country’s provinces. The IRC has local correspondents in 20 different districts who have received training from local journalists and BBC Urdu and NDTV. These correspondents will be provided with equipment, and new community members, especially women and youth, will be trained to use mobile phones to develop short videos.
“Members of communities will be able to deliver short SMS and MMS reports directly into a web-based account and after some editing, the videos will be published onto the website,” Waseem said.
The content featured on “Maati TV” so far ranges from documentary videos on sexual harassment, bonded labor, transsexuals and a segment of short interviews (called ‘Vox Pops’) on young Pakistanis and their take on issues being faced by the country. Moreover, apart from videos and photo-essays, the website also features a blog section.
Keeping track of the flood
“Maati TV” also intends to focus on the current flood-relief work in the country. Regarding the coverage of the relief work months after the disaster, Waseem thinks that the mainstream local media has failed to be consistent in reporting that follows up on the crisis.
As a web television site, however, Waseem believes that “Maati TV” “is fully capable” of exposing the plight of those affected in the aftermath of the flood. “IRC wishes to use this platform to keep monitoring the flood situation, placing special emphasis on the women, children and the minorities,” he said.
The role of objectivity
Despite the rising popularity of blogging and citizen journalism in Pakistan, these mediums have been criticized for their perceived lack of objectivity. Can “Maati TV” retain a certain amount of impartiality in its productions?
Waseem insists that the content of “Maati TV” is not influenced by any political point of view. Rather, said Waseem, the project “is more about seeking answers.”
“We are neutral and aim to show a true picture in the form of video reporting,” said Waseem. “What we’re highlighting are the realities being faced by the people. These stories are told by the people themselves and not by an outsider with an agenda.”
The founder of a local youth-based organization, ‘Pakistan Youth Alliance’, Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, applauds the opening of “Maati TV.”
“Such an initiative is much-needed in Pakistan as development-based news is neglected by mainstream media, or not followed with the same vigor,” he said.
An undergraduate student from the Lahore School of Economics, Yumna Azhar, praised the initiative’s cause. To make a real impact, she believes, it is important for “Maati TV” to have representatives within a community. She advised the project to seek feedback from groups of young people, such as at colleges and universities, to assess its progress.