By Sonya Rehman
With internet usage on the rise, Pakistanis are turning to the blogosphere and citizen journalism to share their opinions. Hosh Media epitomizes the growing popularity of locally-based, online portals for citizen journalism in Pakistan.
According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the number of broadband internet subscribers rose from 26,611 in 2005 to 1,656,800 in September 2011; an increase of 1.5 million subscribers. It is also estimated that as of 2011, Pakistan’s population stands at approximately 187 million; of this, the internet penetration is estimated at over 20 million.
Given the proliferation of internet usage in Pakistan, local citizen journalism portals have also seen a rise in popularity. SeenReport, Gawaahi, Maati TV, and other blogs and websites initiated by local media outlets and independent journalists/bloggers have given Pakistanis with access to the internet the chance to have their voices heard.
Hosh Media, though, has a specific focus as a citizen journalism portal. ‘Hosh’ is an Urdu word that loosely translated means ‘to awaken,’ and that is precisely what it hopes to do. By connecting the blogosphere and traditional reporting in Pakistan, founder and Pakistani journalist, Sahar Habib Ghazi, wanted to create a fresh way to engage the public while infusing news with youthful perspectives and voices.
Ghazi credits her time at Stanford University in California as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow in 2010 for inspiring her to launch this citizen journalism initiative for Pakistanis.
“I came to Stanford with a proposal that aimed at countering the breaking news oriented tilt of our TV newsrooms,” Ghazi explained. “But the fellowship program exposed me to many exciting narratives on the digital and social media front. Within a few months, I was hooked. I decided I needed to bridge the divide between my people – journalists – and online communities – bloggers, activists and tweeters – in Pakistan. Stanford proved to be the perfect incubator for turning that concept into Hosh.”
While at Stanford, Ghazi met Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi and Shahid Saeed via blogging and tweeting. These two young Pakistanis proved to be vital to Hosh Media’s founding in May 2011, as well as its subsequent development.
Primarily known for his social activism in Pakistan, Zaidi is the portal’s Community Lead, while Saeed, a blogger, helped Ghazi establish the portal’s basic set-up. Saeed now works as an Archivist for Hosh along with Technical Lead Haleema Mehmood, Marketing Lead Farhan Kamal, and Operations Lead Nadia Zaffar. All 5 employees comprise of the initiative’s core team of young Pakistanis.
“Our contributors – bloggers, students and activists – can now log onto hoshmedia.org and send in their videos, images and thoughts. Our team packages these crowd-sourced contributions into news stories for mainstream networks in Pakistan,” Ghazi stated in a Knight Fellowship talk.
The role of citizen journalism in Pakistan today is “essential,” according to Ghazi. “The more voices straight from the ground,” she said, “the more representative and democratic our media will be.”
Hosh Media recently added six online journalism tutorials to its website which are short, interesting, well-packaged videos featuring veteran Pakistani journalist Abbas Nasir highlighting important subjects within journalism such as, “Covering Survivors of Abuse,” “Quoting Anonymous Sources,” and “News vs. Opinion,” among other topics. These tutorials serve as a reservoir of information and articulate instruction for budding citizen journalists and bloggers.
“Our larger goal is to make media in Pakistan more representative of the majority of Pakistan – the youth,” said Ghazi. “Two in three Pakistanis have yet to celebrate their thirtieth birthday; we are overwhelmingly a young country, and we believe these young voices need to be on the mainstream media.”
Hosh Media’s content is quickly gaining attention after its first digital article, “The Youth Speaks” was published on the website of the well-known Pakistani daily newspaper DAWN. The piece focused on youth reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden with crowd-sourced videos and text, according to Ghazi.
In response to that criticism citizen journalism lacks of objectivity, Ghazi argues that broadcast journalism in Pakistan can be biased too. “Our goal at Hosh is to take not one citizen report, but many crowd-sourced reports, curate and edit them into an objective, balanced news piece,” Ghazi said. “Take our story ‘The Youth Speaks,’ for example. It starts with a video featuring three individuals saying they don’t believe Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan, followed by another video featuring three individuals critiquing the army and the government’s role in the bin Laden affair. Balance is essential, and that is the value our editorial team adds to our crowd-sourced citizen reports.”