“I want to do journalism. Simple, plain, truthful, honest journalism. That is all I have in mind.”
Those were the words of Kazim Alam of Karachi, Pakistan. Alam is a recipient of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program at Quinnipiac. He is pursuing his master’s in journalism, and in August plans to return to Karachi where he hopes to be a reporter for The Express Tribune.
“So much is happening there,” he said. “The real reporting, the real action, the real thrill is in Karachi.”
Although Alam has wanted to be a reporter for about 10 years, he studied business and management in the Textile Institute of Pakistan, where he read the university President Irfan Husain’s weekly columns for a well-known Pakistani newspaper, Dawn.
One week, Alam decided to send a letter to the editor and comment on Husain’s column. After that, they met once or twice and Alam continued writing letters to the editor. By his senior year at the university, he was published in more than 100 English-language Pakistani mainstream newspapers. When he finished his degree in business and management, he then decided to become a journalist.
“I didn’t have any interest in business,” Alam said.
In Pakistan, college is very expensive and his family couldn’t afford it. But Alam has a distant uncle, Hamid Nawab, a professor of physics at Boston University, who paid for his tuition.
Alam finished his business and management degree, but ultimately decided it was not his true passion.
“This was not my cup of tea,” Alam said. “I wanted to do something close to my heart, something I was passionate for.”
Although Alam didn’t study journalism, he knew exactly what he wanted to report about.
“As a reporter, I’d like to write about the madressah, a religious school, network and rise of religious extremism in Pakistan,” Alam said. “These things are close to my heart.”
In Pakistan after 2002, the policy of limited TV journalism was liberalized. Today there are more than 50 news channels and many newspapers.
“It has been a media revolution,” Alam said. “Journalism is growing exponentially in Pakistan.”
But Alam said literally everything is controlled by the military.
Because of this, there are many laws and restrictions that journalists have to follow.
“There are things that you cannot simply discuss,” Alam said. “For example, the blasphemy laws. No mainstream newspaper is ready to take up this issue. If I say anything against the blasphemy laws I can be lynched by the mob and face instant death.”
Journalists in Pakistan also can’t criticize the military. In fact, one of Alam’s colleagues, Umar Cheema, was abducted and beaten because he wrote stories against the military’s involvement in real estate.
“There is a huge difference in the way we do journalism in Pakistan,” Alam said. “It’s a matter of ethics. In Pakistan, nobody cares about ethics.”
According to Alam, English media in Pakistan is hardly one percent. However, it is influential because it is watched in the capital, in the city of military leaderships, Alam said.
There are also the local domestic media, like Urdu-speaking media. Alam said the Urdu media is for people who are not very familiar with the outside world, “who are narrow-minded.” A lack of education is one contributing factor.
“The education process and schooling was…just pathetic,” Alam admitted, shaking his head.
Alam learned English in school differently than how it’s actually spoken in America. In Pakistan, English was taught as Pakistani English, where it is never a spoken language, but a written one. It was when Alam entered the university that he learned the majority of his English.
However, he still has a lot to learn. For that reason, Alam reads English websites for four to five hours a day.
“I also didn’t know anything about journalism,” Alam said. “In Pakistan, if you know a little English, you can make your way and write for an English newspaper.”
The Pakistani news, however, focuses primarily on politics.
“In America, everybody talks about sports and entertainment, but in Pakistan sports and entertainment aren’t taken very seriously,” Alam said. “We mainly focus on politics. Politics is our forte.”
The newspaper Alam worked for was “in the full front of anything political,” he said.
With the culture shock of different education and ways of journalism behind him, Alam will soon be home.
“All my life I intend to be in Karachi,” Alam said. “I don’t want to live in any other country, or any other city. I love Karachi.”
Photo credit: Ilya Spektor