Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a Cruel, Cruel Dunya, After All

Apologies for the long absence... a bunch of stuff to catch up on, which I hope some of my fellow bloggers will also get round to. But before all that, wanted to share a statement issued by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, reporting on the accusations by journalist Maheen Usmani against former PTV and Geo and current Dunya TV Managing Director, Yousaf Baig Mirza aka YBM.

It's worth a read (despite the abundant proofos and grammatical mistakes) if only to understand how "news" and programming is shaped in the media. Obviously, it's not all about dedicated, intrepid journos and channel managements in search of the truth and commitments to the public, as Geo would have you believe! Obviously Mr. Sleazebag, who married the actress / compere Ayesha Sana during his Geo tenure (he was still married to his first wife, and may still be), picked the wrong person to take on. Maheen Usmani has worked as a journalist since 1993, joining The News when it first came out, and has pretty strong family connections of her own (her father was a well known former bureaucrat). Of course, YBM may have a completely different take on it (count on that!) but readers should be aware that this is not the first time he has been accused of having dubious intent.

It would also pay to remember how YBM rose from a small-time marketing person in London (with Prime TV if I remember correctly) to MD in a number of organizations. He was initially picked by Nawaz Sharif (on one of his usual regal whims) to be made MD PTV in 1997. He had no background in running such a huge organization (and such a white elephant to boot) but apparently dazzled the powers that be with his supposed marketing wizardry. All that resulted was that PTV's most talented producers, including Shoaib Mansoor, Sultana Siddiqui, Sahirah Kazmi, Zaheer Khan et al, made a beeline for the exit. The crass commercialisation of PTV that YBM initiated soon meant that PTV lost whatever cache it still had in terms of quality entertainment programming while news remained the dead fish it has always been on the state controlled station.

Considered close to the man of steel, he was surprisingly not sacked when Musharraf took over, since he simply switched loyalties to the new powers that be. Soon enough, however, Mir Shakilur Rahman of the Jang Group, a genius when it comes to hiring people with no credentials whatsoever (Aamir Liaquat anyone?), threw the world at his feet and made him MD Geo TV. After making everyone at Geo (and associated with Geo) tear out their hair in frustration, he moved on as MD ARY, thanks to the other genius of idiotic hiring, Haji Abdur Razzak. He didn't last long there and was soon snapped up by Mian Amer Mahmood for his newly launched Dunya TV, which is where he now presides.

Whatever the merits of Ms. Usmani's accusations (and there is no prima facie reason not to believe her) this can't be doing the reputation of Dunya TV or its owner Lahore nazim Mian Amer Mahmood any favours.

In any case, here's the statement (you can skip to the actual letter from Maheen Usmani towards the end if you want)... Read on and weep...

PFUJ Secretariat:


ISLAMABAD: 27 JUNE 2009: Journalists fight for the rights of others, but how can they do that when their own rights are not protected and are trampled upon at will by some shady characters.

Harassment of female members in the workplace has always been a problem raised by the electronic and print media, but what happens when the guardians of women’s rights themselves indulge in unprofessional and disgusting behavior?

This seems to be the case of a certain TV channel whose CEO allegedly not only allows such incidents to take place, but also makes it a point to punish the woman involved for her right to complain against such issues at work.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) is in receipt of a complaint from a female broadcaster/ correspondent, “Dunya News”, -Maheen Usmani, who tendered her resignation owing to harassment. Although the woman had joined the channel at the time of its launch, she could hardly continue her job for over seven months as she was angry with the continued harassment, coercion and unethical conduct of the top management.

She finally got disappointed with the organization and realized that her employer was protecting the managing director, who did not stop abusing his official position and put an end to his tactics.

The said media manager like in other channels has been given an upper hand over the journalistic staff and they dictate their terms and violate the journalistic norms. The woman says that she had worked best media organizations during here career and never faced such an ugly situation.

She was shocked to receive a phone call from the MD who according to her counted the expected benefits that a less important bureau reporter can get in return for keeping a direct contact with the MD on his personal number. She alleged that the MD’s talk was loathed with innuendoes and offers.

The PFUJ regrets that CEO instead of empowering the directors news or respective bureau chiefs gave the MD more powers to interact directly with the reporters who already felt harassed by him.

The PFUJ says that she noted all these months that while contractual rights of male staff members were being denied by the said MD despite repeated reminders, but he was going out of way to oblige a female staff member.

She brought the matter to the notice of the director news who took up the matter with the MD who apologized over this incident. However, with thesudden departure of the director news the MD found an opportunity to take revenge.

She alleged that “instead of reigning in MD, the CEO/ owner of the channel gave him an open hand” and the MD immediately embarked upon a campaign to place obstacles in her path. Her special assignments were withheld on frivolous grounds. Later her programme Meri Dharti Meri Dunya a weekly landmark programme of the Dunya, which proved its popularity, was not aired at the scheduled time and instead a documentary was aired and as such the programme was distorted and chopped several times and once it was aired as a filler for a brief time prior to the scheduled live coverage of the President, Richard Holbroke and Shah Mehmood Qureshi. “There is a need to improve the legislation to protect women at workplaces and create awareness about malpractices in Pakistan’s media industry,” the PFUJ added.

The woman broadcaster, Maheen Usmani, who was a correspondent of the Dunya TV, narrates her ordeal at the TV channel as follows:-

“It was with great expectations and high hopes that I became part of Dunya’s launch team in November 2008, and I took great pride in being part of Dunya ‘family’ as it climbed the ladder of success and gave tough competition to leading channels.

Seven months later, it is with great regret that I have decided to tender my resignation as the circumstances have forced me to leave this organization due to the continued harassment, coercion and highly unethical conduct of the top management of Dunya News.

Now it has become unbearable to work here as the situation has increasingly turned out to be insecure, rather punishing, for professional female journalists who want to work, as well as, protect their self-respect.”

I have waited with patience since May 11, 2009 that the Managing Director of Dunya News, Yousaf Beg Mirza, would stop abusing his official position and put an end to his ugly tactics of harassing a senior female journalist working here.

I, however, was totally disappointed with this organization when I realized that Mr Mirza’s employer, CEO and the owner of this news channel, is not interested in protecting the female employees from the advances of the MD but is in connivance with him.”

It was shocking to know that Mr Mirza is being shielded by the CEO of the organization, Mian Amer Mahmood, who was told about Mr Mirza’s indecent advances but he did not stop the MD from abusing his authority. Once it was brought to his notice, Mr Mahmood had given the assurances that no such harassment would take place but not only that this harassment continued, the CEO instead of empowering the Director News or respective Bureau Chiefs, gave the MD more powers to interact directly with the reporters who already felt harassed by him.

This all started on May 11th, 2009 at 10:01 p.m., when I received a call from one of the staff members of the Managing Director, Yousaf Beg Mirza, aka YBM to confirm my cell number. This was followed by another call at 10:07 p.m., made by the MD. During that phone call, which continued for few minutes, his suggestive talk was loathed [sic] with innuendoes, and offers as he counted [sic] the expected benefits that a less-important, bureau-reporter can get in return for keeping a direct “contact” with the Managing Director on his “personal number.”

I was shocked to hear the “friendly” MD, who had been denying the contractual rights of male staff members all these months despite repeated reminders, going out of his way to oblige a female staff member. I have worked with country’s best media organizations during my career and never faced such an ugly situation.

Finding the whole monologue, which continued for few minutes, detestable, I immediately brought the matter to the notice of Director News because he was the one who had hired us assuring that our rights will be protected in this organization, which had developed an unsavory standing in the media industry and we also had our reservations about the reputation of the MD before joining it.

I had decided to resign then but the DN asked me to withhold it and let him talk to the MD first. The DN took up this issue with the MD who apologized with the DN over this incident and said he would seek apology from me as well in the presence of the DN.

The DN assured me that such an incident would not happen again and the MD would make an apology to me as well. However, with the sudden departure of the DN, the situation took the worst turn and the MD found an opportunity to revenge, and hence re-launched his harassment campaign. This was going to happen despite CEO, Mian Amer Mahmood’s, assurances and promises to the outgoing DN that no member of his team would either be thrown out or be harassed by the MD.

Since the CEO was informed of MD’s harassing tactics, Mr Mahmood repeatedly reassured the former DN that no female employee would be harassed by YBM. “Humaray employees hamaray bachon ki tarah hain. Hum un ko protect kartain hain,” were the words which the former DN quoted me as the CEO had told him. Hearing these lofty words, I took a sigh of relief that my life and respect would be protected in this organization but what I forgot was that I was not their own daughter.

What they forgot was that despite their discriminatory tactics, before Allah all daughters are equal. Ayat 195 of Sura Aal-Imran says: “I never let go waste the labor of anyone that works among you, whether male or female, for in my sight all of you are alike.”

Instead of reining in the MD, the CEO gave him an open hand and the MD immediately embarked on a campaign to place obstacles in my path. He insisted on personally scrutinizing a special assignment report of mine in Islamabad instead of previewing it in Lahore. After previewing the report, and throwing his weight around in the Islamabad office, he ordered to withhold it on frivolous grounds.

I did not comply, because the changes were devoid of logic and reason. I had done extensive research for my project and the MD had been unaware of the historical context of Sri Lankan conflict which was not surprising since he is not a journalist, and reasons of his survival in Pakistani media, particularly during former military dictator Musharraf’s era, were other than professional. The bottom line is that the package has been dumped in Lahore, because of the MD’s intransigence and my refusal to “contact” him.

I have been associated for a long time with ‘Meri Dharti Meri Dunya,’ a weekly landmark program of Dunya, which has proved its popularity by garnering commercials, and a wide viewership. On the rating chart the program has been going from strength to strength and at times it registered a much higher rating than any other Current Affairs program of Dunya News and that too without any extra investment of the company.

Due to this huge success, the program got commercials and sponsorship of multinational companies which had also asked for increase in the frequency of the program and to be made it twice-weekly. Unfortunately, my association with ‘Meri Dharti Meri Dunyai’ has proved to be its death knell, because the MD has set out to destroy this program to teach me a lesson. What he forgot, however, is that he was trying to mess with a credible senior journalist and not one of those female opportunists, who are masquerading as journalists and are being heavily promoted for the last few days on Dunya News.

On 18th May, 2009 I was symbolically put in charge of the program’s production in Islamabad just to streamline the links, their quality and better coordination with the head office. Consequently, we had tried to introduce some innovation in the production and script which got us excellent feedback. However, on 1st June, 2009 the MD forced all concerned working under him to issue another notification and remove me as Production Incharge. But no reason was given for the abrupt and irrational change.

In the next few days, Meri Dharti Meri Dunya’s repeat slot was repeatedly taken away and given to Current Affairs programs which have their own fixed slots as well. On June 1st, Meri Dharti Meri Dunya’s producers were suddenly told at 5:30 p.m., by the Transmission Incharge that the program would not be aired that day at its scheduled and publicized time slot of 7:05 p.m., and it was being replaced by a ‘documentary’. When the producer protested at the sudden axing of the program, he was told that the orders had come directly from the CEO. When the ‘documentary’ aired, we were shocked to see the program ‘One 2 One’ which has its own time slot. Again no reason was given for this unexpected change in schedule.

We were informed that this episode of Meri Dharti Meri Dunya would air next Monday. Two days later, on Wednesday, June 3rd, the Transmission Incharge informed Meri Dharti Meri Dunya’s producers at 6:30 p.m., that the program would be going on air in 30 minutes at 7:00 p.m., instead of the scheduled sports program. The producers protested at this arbitrary and unfair treatment being meted out to Meri Dharti Meri Dunya once again, but were told that the MD had issued the orders.

This was being done despite the fact that a day earlier an announcement was made that President Zardari, Richard Holbrooke and Shah Mahmood Qureshi would address a press conference which would go live at the same time. Having no choice in the matter, the puzzled producers readied the program and it went on air at 7:05 p.m. Barely 15 minutes later, the program was trashed to live broadcast the scheduled press conference. Instead of spoiling their sports program or airing a 10 minutes bulletin as a filler as is the norm, Meri Dharti Meri Dunya was selected as the sacrificial goat once again.

On 5th June, the CEO, Mian Amer Mahmood, held a meeting with the Islamabad Bureau and when his attention was drawn to the unfair and discriminatory treatment being meted out to Dunya News’ most popular program he was unable to provide any justification for such unprofessional behavior. He did concede that Meri Dharti Meri Dunya had extremely good ratings, and said that the program’s timing was being changed ‘to improve its production value.’

Is the CEO not aware that such distortion of the program has a negative impact on the channel’s credibility, not to mention its marketing value? Despite the Islamabad meeting of June 5th chaired by the CEO, nothing improved for Meri Dharti Meri Dunya and it continued to suffer the wrath of the top management.

On June 10th, the most popular program of Dunya News was once again used as a filler when it was aired at 4:05 a.m. This time it was used to fill Ayla Malik’s program’s repeat slot as the management preferred to withhold her show due to the bomb blast in PC Peshawar earlier in the night of June 9. It was surprising as Meri Dharti Meri Dunya was not repeated during its scheduled time-slot on June 9.

Same day on June 10th, Meri Dharti Meri Dunya was chopped to 20/25 minutes duration and was once again aired, without any prior announcement, at 2:20 p.m.---again as a filler in place of Ms Malik’s show. Feeling disturbed over the situation, I separated myself from the program and told the producers last week that I will not be available for the next episode.

My colleagues are perplexed and keep asking me why a successful program is being systematically destroyed to the detriment of the channel. I owe them the truth and they must know why it is happening. The reason is self evident---a personal vendetta of the MD against me for not “contacting” him, and which is being aided and abetted by the CEO. The very same CEO, who starts every meeting with a recitation from the Holy Quran and who keeps instructing us to speak the truth and not be corrupt, has given the MD his blessings and sanction to harass a female employee just because she won’t compromise on her principles.

I advise the CEO to refer to Ayat 124 of Sura Al-Nisa: “And those who do good deeds, whether men or women, provided that they are believers, will enter into paradise and they will not be deprived in the least of their rightful rewards.” When I was hesitant to face an elderly employee at Dunya News who had spoken to me in a vulgar manner a few months ago, Director Current Affairs, Nasim Zehra, had advised me to be brave and “look him in the eye.” Because, Ms Zehra said, he was the one who had stepped out of line. She asked why female employees were so reluctant to speak out and adhered to a conspiracy of silence when in fact there should be a policy of zero tolerance against such creeps. She said that “our” silence encouraged such sleazy elements to continue their sexual harassment.

Her advice made sense to me then and now it gives me the motivation and courage to look the senior management in the eye and ask them: Does this policy of zero tolerance not apply to them?”

The PFUJ urged the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of Pakistan, the International Federation of Journalists civil society activists to take notice of increasing incident of young women crews’ harassment at TV channels at hands of media manager enjoying top executive position in these channels.

Shamsul Islam Naz

Secretary General


12-Nazimuddin Road, F-6/1,

Islamabad, Pakistan.

Phone Office +92(0)51 2870220-1

Facsimile +92(0)51 2870223

Cellular +92(0)300 8665523


Serial Kicker said...

Since these allegations are coming from a journalist, I refuse to believe them. Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting YBM is a saint or anything but journalists do know how to spice things up.

CPM said...

Serial Kicker:

Unfortunately, as a journalist myself, I have to give credence to your skepticism. I don't know Maheen Usmani personally so have no idea about her credibility, but this could well be spiced up. On the other hand, knowing YBM and his petty nature, this all sounds quite plausible as well. A number of women at Geo have related stories about his attempts to come on to them.

I have to admit, however, that what I did find vaguely unsettling in MU's letter were the frequent quoting of scripture. I wonder if she was being ironic, given the proclivities of Mian Amer Mahmood, or simply being earnest in that Farhat Hashmi mode of bourgeois Pakistani women....

Anonymous said...

Its unfortunate that senior management of Duniya TV did not have the intelligence to realize that this had the potential to blow up in their faces. What I find particularly amusing is Dunya's response on the blogs... th pathetic english and and the cheap language used shows the quality of journalism. SZ

XYZ said...

@SZ: Actually the response you are referring to is NOT from Dunya TV, it's of the PFUJ, or rather its Secretary General. Dunya TV's response so far has been pretty straightforward (from Nasim Zehra). We haven't really heard any substantial response addressing the issue itself from them.

Anonymous said...

XYZ: I was referring to the rather tasteless, long winded and tedious monologue posted on other blogs by Dunya Team. This team apparently believes the best defence is to attack the character of the accuser. Its amusing because unfortunately for them despite their best efforts they could not find anything. Everyone knows the reputation of the MD of Dunya Team. It would be just the type of sleazy thing he would try. Too bad he did not know he picked the wrong target. SZ

Anonymous said...

Dear Its not the first and the last incident of its kind in Pakistani media organizations. Isb Bureau chief Dunya Tv FK along with other officials has also been doing same with various employees however such incidents never surfaced due to organizational intrigues and pressure on the victims.the above mentioned guy sought reappointment inn the same organization resuming his activites. Adnan Aziz Khan

Anonymous said...
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