Viva Hameed Haroon; Yes We Can!
What have a Euro-Zone bureaucracy and the countries as diverse as Japan, India, UK, Russia, Iran, Germany, France, USA, Qatar and China, got in common? Are they part of an energy cartel or a group of twenty biggest economies? Highly unlikely: given the diversity of the list.
The question becomes more perplexing given the title of this article, who is this gentleman Mr. Haroon? Well Hameed Haroon is the son of a famous Muslim politician of British India Sir. Abdullah Haroon. Hameed Haroon is not running for any political office as the title may mistakenly be interpreted.
Hameed has worked his way up the corporate ladder in a newspaper considered the unofficial national English broadsheet of Pakistan. The Daily Dawn was started in 1942 because Mohamed Ali Jinnah wanted to promote education and political awareness in the Muslim minority of British India.
Since its humble beginnings, Dawn has grown into a successful media group. It has numerous monthly magazines, FM radio stations and its website was one of the first English language websites in Pakistan. It had to face frequent governmental pressures on its financial independence and editorial integrity.
Hameed Haroon was educated in Europe and USA and has widely travelled, reported and led his media group by setting personal examples for the rest of his colleagues. When couple of years ago, he decided to take on the red tape bureaucratic structure of Pakistani government and throw a challenge to afore mentioned countries, people thought it was the proverbial “swan song” and he was thinking of retiring on a high note.
What was he planning to do? He announced the establishment of Pakistan’s First 24 hour English language News channel, for some a “Patriotic act of charity” in a country where official literacy rate is 36% and less than 1% of the population can claim to understand fluent English.
The countries running 24 hour global English language news channels are doing so with the official financial might. A nationalist propaganda tool for promoting the economic and cultural prowess of their respective countries, in case of France, Germany, Qatar or regimes likes Iran, China and Russia while others like NDTV(India),Fox and Sky News cater to a glitzy Showbiz styled neoliberal rightwing “Agenda”.
Mr. Haroon has neither the official backing nor a rightwing elite lobby to bail-out his venture. He started with small means considering mega ambitions and targets he has set himself. It’s amazing how quickly Dawn News has established itself in the cut-throat competition of satellite news channels in a potential market of billion people in South Asian subcontinent. It has recently re-launched its multi-media website combining the newspaper and TV websites with a 24 hour views and blogs portal. In Pakistan where web connectivity is usually unreliable, Dawn News 24 hour live streaming is reliable and impressive.
Dawn News has a large network of reporters and broadcasters, thanks to decades of experience in newspaper market. The Financial constraints restrict its in-house production of investigative reporting, documentaries and info-entertainment shows. Most of the time on air is “piece to camera”, shot of the news studios or shared satellite link from foreign or local news-feeds with inserted English subtitles. The accents of the news readers leave a lot to be desired. In the short term Dawn News can out-source some air-time for factual documentaries, Investigative journalism and info-entertainment.
Recently Urdu language news channels have embarked on beaten track of Urdu tabloid (even broadsheet) newspapers notorious for sensationalism, jingoism and chauvinistic stories against minorities, women and civil society. Other news channels are trying to copy Dawn news but with only a sprinking of English language programmes and a lack of quality, they might not get very far.
Dawn News is fiercely independent and has an editorial policy highly critical of bureaucratic structures, state and political dynasties. It demonstrated this independence within Pakistan at time of judicial crisis resulting from the dismissal of the chief justice of Pakistan and out side Pakistan at the time of Mumbai terrorist attacks. These events brought acclaim and increased viewership for Dawn News. The Iranian, Russian and Chinese English language News Channels are notorious for being mouth-piece of their regimes and view the world news events through the rose-tinted glasses of their respective ministry of propaganda.
Marketing Dawn News brand remains a big challenge for the management. As the saying goes, “only a mint can make money without advertising”. It took me a while, after googling Dawn News, to access the live TV streaming Website .The only publicity in UK and USA so far has been the “word of mouth” loyalty of die-hard fans and their website links. The restriction on Pakistani channels in Indian cable TV market remains the biggest hurdle for Dawn News growth.
The United Kingdom, where nearly 7% of the total population is of Pakistani and Indian origin, has seen a mushrooming of South -Asian channels catering to different niche segments of the Diaspora. It has been made possible by Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB satellite platform providing digital slots for multitude of television, radio and information channels very cheaply. These channels bind the hundreds of millions European viewers to the audiences in United Kingdom. This bouquet of channels lacks a credible news channel which can bridge the language barrier between the minority south-Asians and the majority Anglophone populations in the European Union.
The geographical distance between South-Asia and the North America makes the South-Asian Americans almost a captive audience, eager to keep themselves updated of the situation back home. The prosperity and confidence of 2nd generation English speaking Asians will make Dawn News an attractive proposition for satellite channels looking for collaborations and sharing of facilities in the short term.
Economic recession and limited finances make it harder for Dawn News to survive in an era of dwindling advertising revenue. The Pakistani Diaspora in Europe and North-American has demonstrated its nationalistic loyalty to all things Pakistani, despite occasional disappointments in quality of Pakistani Airlines’ services and banality of official Pakistani News TV. There is huge opportunity for Dawn News’s quality programmes in Europe and North America. The question is. Are they ready to accept the challenge?