Wednesday, November 30, 2011

News After It Happens

Apparently some erstwhile DawnNews staffers are mighty miffed that we haven't given the sudden closure of Express 24/7 early this morning the same sort of coverage that we once gave to DawnNews' woes (when it existed as an English channel). They might be upset for their own personal reasons but it really was neither completely unexpected nor will it have the same repercussions on the group or on the media market.


There is no doubt that we did not have the story before it happened, but then neither did most of the staff at Express 24/7. Consider the following tweets from some staffers:

@Rabail26: Express 24/7 is closing down & I'm jobless, so I guess its time to edit the twitter bio. #tweetingtodistractingself

@mirza9: Not sure about the details of the channel closing down. I just found out in an e-mail. #Express24/7RIP

@mirza9: So should I text message my mom and tell her so she doesn't find out when she wakes up at 530AM and checks my twitter feed?

@mirza9: wow the channel has already stopped running news. Only promos running now. That was quick. Express 24/7 quick death.

@ahmedjung: no one has any idea about what's next and it's funny that even the HR claims that they didn't know about this!

@ahmedjung: lhr office staff told me that the drivers didn't pick the English morning shift staff! Even drivers knew before us

@ayza_omar: Executive producer EN24/7 giving his final speech. Said he didn't hav a clue till 2am.V went off air at 1am.Says its good we didn't

@ayza_omar: All will get their November salaries immediately. One month salary for every year worked will be compensation.

I suppose you could congratulate the Lakhanis on a secret well kept. However, there are two things to consider here:

1. There was never any financial sense in running Express 24/7, not especially after the ignominious backtracking of DawnNews from being 'Pakistan's first English language channel' into an Urdu channel and the still-birth of Geo English had made the business feasibility abundantly clear. The only people really watching Express 24/7 were diplomats who did not know Urdu at all and wanted to keep abreast of what Pakistani media was covering (here's a thought: perhaps they should have been asked to fund the channel). The fact that it continued to exist for almost three years was primarily because the media house's owners made it a matter of prestige and ego. The claim by the owners that the closure was a result of "a dismal economic climate" is thus slightly disingenuous. It was always a losing proposition and it was only a matter of time that the plug was pulled. Mr Sultan Lakhani, the CEO, is however, spot on in his further explanation:

"Unlike other countries where niche channels can survive and even prosper through subscription and where there are multiple distribution platforms such as DTH, in Pakistan niche channels are wholly dependent on advertising. This system works well for mass market channels like our sister channel Express News but does not work effectively for niche channels which cater to a smaller audience.”

Express 24/7 Lahore staffers pose for a group photo (Photo: Khurram Husain)

2. While one sympathises with those of the staff who will not be "accomodated" in the media house's other ventures (and there are likely to be a substantial part of the 100-odd staff) as promised by the CEO, we would like to remind readers of what we had written back in 2009 about the way Mr Lakhani often does business. Although we had recounted this anecdote in reference to the launch of Express Tribune (which is in no danger at the moment) and not Express 24/7, it may seem very prescient to some recently laid-off staffers of the channel:

"All those being recruited may want to ask one simple question of Mr Lakhani: what about Business Today? Some of you may remember that that paper, also owned by Sultan Lakhani, was shut down one fine day at 5 pm with Mr Lakhani coming in and telling the newsroom that the paper would not be publishing the next day and that everyone should henceforth go home. They may want to ensure that this is not the fate awaiting them one fine day down the road..."

Perhaps the only funny thing about this whole episode is that, as of now - some 24 hours after it officially went off air - Express 24/7 continues to run promos detailing itself as 'Pakistan's only English news channel', and proclaiming 'Bringing you the news is our only business' and 'News as it happens', even as there is no news now available on the channel. Only the travel and personality fillers it had developed running incessantly...

...Which leads one to question whether the slot is being saved for the intended launch in January or February of the planned Express Entertainment channel. Incidentally, Dunya too is set to launch its own entertainment channel around the same time, which may give an indication of how the scales have tipped in Pakistan's media market. Suddenly, entertainment is once again being seen as a revenue earner after a long run wherein news and political talk shows were the only game in town.


Anonymous said...

I heard the news (not The News) has stirred panic among people at Express Tribune. Packing luggage?

Sheikh Chillis said...

Express 24/7 flopped, not because people don't care for news in English, but because it sucked. They thought they could wrap fluff in a neat graphics package and serve it up as filet mignon.

You can't fool people like that. Not when the Urdu news channels are making their reporters brave gunfire, bombs and lathi charges to get us "the news, as it happens". Really.

Express 24/7 was a channel on Lithium. Great hallucinations that mean nothing. They had nobody with a brain cell who could analyze the news events. Their anchors were fat slobs (except for that Laal Band bandi) or pretentious snobs with cruddy fake accents, who chewed out the news without feeling or effect.

All in all, it seemed like some geek sitting in his basement was running the whole show. Not a team of professional and seasoned journalists. More like a school project, which nobody cares about, but just has to push out, like a crackhead mother delivering a still-born baby.

Cafepyala is right. Lakhani should have asked the CIA or anybody else to continue funding this fiasco. But maybe they too have red lines and standards. Damnit!

Tahir Imran said...

Sheikh sahib is spot on.

Anonymous said...

Business Today had closed down on Nov 13, 2001, as Lakhani sahib thought business paper could not a 'feasible' option after 9/11. But, business journalism flourished from Jan 2002 till 2008.Daily Times had started hiring in the same month, November 2001, and launched after few months. It was a successful project. Mr Lakhani couldn't make correct calculation of the impact of 9/11 on Pakistan neither he had shown patience to wait till the dust settle down.
I think this time he is again committing same mistake. In a tense Pak-US ties, which language will be read n heard abroad? English. And Pakistan must have a voice in the world and an English news channel could only do this job. Look at Al-Jazeera, even Iran has launched an english news channel.
I think it's a wrong decision. But again its their money so it must be their decision.

TLW said...

Sheikh Chilli truly deservess his name for his hyperbolic style of analysis; and it kind of makes me glad that actual Sheikh Chillis went extinct by the end of the 19th Century.

Hyperbole was and is the name of the game when it comes to Pakistan's news reporting in Urdu. And many tv viewers are getting tired of the constant and incessant exposure to violence.

It's like that scene from Clockwork Orange, where they strap the protagonist to a chair, clamp his eyelids open and show him clip, after clip of violence, physical attacks, rapes, etc.

At first he enjoys it, but then he starts violently reacting against it and starts shouting for it to be stopped. This pornography of violence that our mainstream Urdu channels show is quite a bit like that.

Initially its titillating but it moves to disturbing and then just a degrading expression of bad taste. Express 24/7, Dawn English & to an extent (would have been required in English) Geo English tried to do something with good or passable taste.

I actually would like to know how, and why Geo English was shut down before it started. That would be a history lesson I would like to take from Cafe Pyala.

What some would call "professional and seasoned" journalists, I would call bloodsoaked, tasteless greedheads, who's only skill is knowing a lot of horrible things that happened, only because they didn't have the skills or sense to get out of their way.

From an aesthetic and artistic point of view, our news channels are a disaster, but one wonders why they were being treated as entertainment in the first place. I would say part of the reason is because simply the method of political organisation itself in Pakistan was in dispute, and so infotainment became entertainment. Now, with four years coming up on this democratic dispensation, 14 months to the next election and a rightwing tearing at itself, it seems politics (or how its organised) maybe settling down a little bit in the Islamic Republic. So may be, people are settling for news as news, and for entertainment, they are turning to, obviously, pure entertainment:

Incidentally, Dunya too is set to launch its own entertainment channel around the same time, which may give an indication of how the scales have tipped in Pakistan's media market. Suddenly, entertainment is once again being seen as a revenue earner after a long run wherein news and political talk shows were the only game in town.

In this vein, CPM's concluding remark, has to be welcomed. I would also look forward to learning how Geo English vanished off the news launchpad, before it started. Lessons can certainly be learned, and if one looks at Al Jazeera English & the BBC World broadcast, I think there is space for a English news channel from a Pakistani perspective; especially if it's done well, with a long term vision.

But in terms of Express 24/7's lack of salaciousness, one was left asking, why was there such a desire from the urban middle class Pakistani news consumer to turn their news consumption into something resembling an eighties action flick?

Zaman said...

For those talking about Al Jazeera and the Iranian English News channel Press TV:

1. Al Jazeera has had governmemt funding in the form of loans and grants ever since its inception. Without such funding it would cease to exist.

2. Press TV is a state-funded channel.

As such it would be impossible for a private English News channel to operate in/from Pakistan without a great deal of help from government sources. And i don't think the government has the sort of monetary resources to make it a viable venture.

Anonymous said...


No... The Express Tribune is in danger too... pub Lakhani is not satisfied wit Mohammad Ziauddin plus the biz point...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Chilles

If you think only "Urdu news channels are making their reporters brave gunfire, bombs and lathi charges " then you cannot be further from the truth.

Rabia Afaq a reporter who fractured her leg, and was on bed rest for months, after a suicide blast.

A female reporter from Karachi, Sobia, delivered a PTC from a street in Lyari where Urdu reporters, much her seniors, were reluctant to step foot in. After her on air coverage, the Express Urdu Producer lambasted his reporters from shying away from the challenge.

Give credit where due Mr chillies.

Sheikh Chillis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheikh Chillis said...

Dear Anonymous ^, I am sure you are right and their must have been exceptions to the rule. Three cheers for them. R-e-s-p-e-c-t.

I only wrote "Urdu news channels..." because I wished to make a specific (Eng v Urdu) comparative analysis. There must be some ethnic channels who might feel similarly aggrieved.

It could be, that someone who is pretty, privileged and smart enough to hold a conversation in English, is also smart enough to stay away from dark alleys, violent encounters and deadly situations when they know their lives are valued less than a Kevlar vest, helmet, training and life insurance policy by their channel administration.

One can hardly blame them for being prudent and pragmatic.

Anonymous said...

I think to be fair, Sultan and Bilal Lakhani should be commended for their entrepreneurship and their decisiveness. I am sure mistakes were made and I am sure many have complaints of their management decisions also.

I do think the manner of a quick shutdown is the right way to go and layoffs and closures are best done immediately and quickly. Otherwise it creates too much pessimism. This is my little experience having gone through same process. I don't agree with long notices, you can't run a business this way. I was victim of downsizing and initially nobody is happy. It was a surreal experience with lots of insecurity but when I look back it was the right thing... Our business was just not viable in face of cheaper and better competitors. In hindsight I appreciated the cold plain truth and don't want to live off handouts from shareholders. This is just me perhaps.

Anonymous said...

nice link, i like it.