Farzana Ali one of the senior female journalist from Peshawar, have experience of print and electronic media. Currently she attached with AAJ TV Peshawar as bureau chief KP region. Its great honor in Pushtoon society where the society is male dominated, Farzana Ali in Top Position, not only in her Reporting but also in administration side. Farzana Ali also the general Secretary of the SAFMA of KP Region.
Please tell us a little about yourself and how you chose to step into media for a career. (You can tell briefly about where you come from, your education, when you chose to work in media and what inspired you, where you started your media career, and what media sources you have worked for)
Farzana Ali. Basically I am from Dera Ismail Khan, Southern District of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa bordering Tank and South Wazirstan while also sharing its border with Punjab and Balochistan. But for the last fourteen years I am based in provincial capital Peshawar.
I got my basic education from D.I.Khan and than moved to Kuram Agency as my father was posted there. During my graduation my Urdu teacher told me about my written communication. So after graduation I decided to get admission in Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) at Gomal University D.I.Khan. That was very tough decision because my family was very conservative towards female education. But with support my father I did my Master in JMC. During my Masters, I was inspired by my Cousin who was running a local Newspaper from D.I.Khan and that was the beginning of my first attraction to the news world.
I started my career from Daily Mashriq Peshawar, the largest circulation Newspaper of the province than known as N.W.F.P.I entered as sub editor on news desk but very soon transferred to Sunday Magazine as feature writer. Shortly after a year, I was promoted as Magazine Editor. During eight years experience in print media I wrote numerous articles on social, political and women issues. It was 2005 that I joined AAj TV as reporter and I think that was another milestone of my career as journalist. Although I did a lot in print media but TV journalism was more challenging by that time. Now-a-days, I am working as Bureau In charge in KPK.
- Did it ever become an issue to consider whether you, a lady, should enter media, especially a TV channel? (Did you have any fears, did your family support you, etc)
Farzana Ali. I often laughed when a term used by my colleagues “Lady Reporter” for female journalists, I don’t know why in our society female is always treated on gender basis. Why female considered just as the rest of colleague. If there is no “Gentleman Reporter” than why “Lady Reporter”, anyway there were always issues in the beginning I faced being female like you can’t do this and that! But I was quite rebellious in that sense. I always did what I thought was right by that time. As well as the question regarding my family support is concern before I get married my father was with me and after marriage my very loving and caring husband is with me as my big supporter. He never intervened in my professional life.
- How do you compare working for print media and for electronic media from a woman’s point of view? (Which of these is easy or difficult and why)
Farzana Ali. Both mediums are totally different from each other. In print you are faceless and only words represent you, but in TV Journalism, you have to be there right in front of camera. You can’t hide yourself and so you are exposed to the world physically. Simply you are exposed to threat especially when you are working in conflict areas like KPK or reporting from Tribal area it becomes almost playing with one’s life. Married in Malakand and working in a pure Pushtoon society where religious extremism and misconception at such heights that even women faces couldn’t tolerated, if you remembered MMA rule in the province when women faces on billboards were painted, sometimes I faced criticism but I have to reveal the truth and nothing but the truth. Being a woman it is very difficult to work in War Zone and that too for TV it really needs a brave heart and an always-alert mind. If you have the courage and a supportive team than nothing is impossible and luckily I have both.
- What are your main job responsibilities now at the duty station? Do they sometimes affect the time you mean to give to your family? (Tell how you maintain the balance, especially in times of emergency call from office, any emergency assignment, etc)
Farzana Ali. Nowadays I am working with AAj News, as Bureau In charge for KPK and Tribal areas. Both responsibilities administrative and reporting. It affected me a lot. It affected my family life because if you breath in your profession, any profession, if you consider it as your life and TV journalism which is 24*7 duty and likewise being a mother is also full time engagement, I don’t know about managing these in my life but I think the credit goes to my husband, my son and my team all always remained very supportive and kind to me. I think when you decide something with commitment and hard work than whole of the universe come forth to help you. There is a saying, that there is always a women behind the success of every man but in my case behind my success there are four men, my father Syed Shabir hussain Shah, my husband Syed Amjad Ali, my son Zarak Hassan and lastly my colleague and my former Executive Director Syed Talat Hussain, who is pioneer of TV journalism in Pakistan, always guided me on every step of my coverage and show “Hot Frontier” by saying that I can do everything but if I have the strong will to do. In TV every second is new; bring change with the running tickers on screen. You are always on call so I felt all the time myself in an emergency room but now everything managed automatically, so now emergency to me is no more an emergency. All is quite smooth.
- Given the lower status of women in most parts of our country, do you feel there is a need for more women to join media and bring to public awareness women’s issues?
Farzana Ali. In my opinion only a woman can understand the problems of other women, and in Pushtoon society women can’t express their problems in front of a male journalist, so there is dire need of female journalists in electronic media. We are now 7 to 8 female journalists in different TV channels, but just being a part of is not enough we have to do something for our voiceless womenfolk. Women is Working in minority, lack of will among us Majority of men always carrying us as sheep. As well as the matter of difficulties joining electronic media, there are difficulties as in our society it is difficult for obvious reasons, but in my view every new thing seems difficult at first sight but if you have courage, devotion, will, passion and take your work as mission than it is very easy to manage these hardships. If our female journalist come to understand things at this way I hope we will become the voice of those voiceless women who are living there whole life behind the walls as prisoners.
- What have been some of the most challenging assignments you did for your channel? (
Farzana Ali. Coverage of Operation Rah-e-Rast in Swat, Operation Rah-e-Nijat, documentaries in different parts of KPK and in Tribal areas besides hosting lone top ranking regular live show from Peshawar ‘Hot Frontier’ all was challenging and risky. When for the first time I was covering suicide attack that was very much stressful as I never saw a mix of flesh and blood like. By that time I was standing inside hospital, over there number of dead bodies were laying on the floor, and surprisingly I was watching these bodies to know how many women and men are dead in that blast, counting the dead one. Sometimes I ask my self what I was doing, is that the same Farzana, who were always afraid of blood and dead. But yes that was Farzana, just a reporter.
- Today, a number of people feel that news reporting is all about creating sensation to get attention. Do you feel that news reporting on our electronic media needs reforms? (Please tell what kind of reforms they need)
Farzana Ali. There is saying, “Change thy name is life” or “There is nothing permanent except change”, I thing the same apply to media. I agreed, the thing we are doing now-a-days is not really the essence of journalism. We have mixed entertainment with journalism. The truth has been over shadowed by the theatrical pun. It’s probably the essence of market capitalism; commercialism forced our media to sensationalism, which is driving force to lead us to consumerism. For TRP’s (Popularity-to catch more eyeballs and advertisements) every TV channel is doing it. And the other very dangerous element is that many unseen driving forces are also involved in media game, who wants to run the media according to their own will and for their interest. To me public interest is the supreme national interest. I believe that like everything it would also change and there would be times when the public would get aware and would set the editorial judgment of the media. It already happened in the form of emerging social media. If the existing channel couldn’t realize the change of mood the instrument of TV would soon become merely wires, lights and a box.
- Beside your channel, what other publications or information sources are you fond of? (Newspaper, digest, magazine etc? Also tell why you like it?)
Farzana Ali. I use every tool of communication from my cell phone to multi-media (It includes every form of medium). I want to know at earliest whatever the medium and form is.
9what in your opinion is the real meaning of success?
Farzana Ali. To me real meaning of success could be a little piece of writing or a small report for which I received appreciation from common person that is my real success as journalist and enjoyed these moments all the time.
- You live and work as a journalist in a very volatile region where the potential for violence and bombings is very real. How dangerous is it, and how do you deal with the situation on a daily basis?
Farzana Ali. What should I say about the level of violence as we have even lost the sense of it? For a common U.S. citizen it’s like a city where every day is 9/11. I leave home saying good-bye to my husband and son as if I am looking at them for the last time, and they would receive my dead body any time from the hospital.
- You received an award recently for best female TV journalist by the provincial government there on International Women’s Day. The next day you were covering a suicide attack at a woman’s funeral in Peshawar. How do you report on these stories without putting yourself in danger?
Farzana Ali. It was the funeral of a lady who was a sister of a volunteer fighter against the Taliban. A suicide bomber blew himself up while the funeral procession was about to conclude. Yes, I am putting my life at risk while covering the story. But what should I do? There are fewer female reporters in the field. I can not leave this missionary profession. I have been told by many of my friends around the globe and even in Islamabad to shift to a safer place. But is there any safer place in the world? “My duty is to tell the truth in this extremist society…”
Not only the journalists but even the progressive national political figures, the teachers, social workers, lawyers, and scholars… nobody in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa and Tribal Area is safe. Has anybody left their profession? My duty is to tell the truth in this extremist society and that as a female is much greater than my individual life. Look at Benazir Bhutto. I want to be hope for present and future female journalists as well as a symbol of courage for all global women.
- What does winning the journalism award mean to you? You dedicated it to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Farzana Ali. It means that there still are people here to publicly recognize the efforts f women. It is just a piece of metal, but for me it’s an honor and a realization by the government of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa led by the Awami National Party which by itself is suffering the most.
I dedicated it to the journalists with the same passion as I have who lost their lives in the line of duty to tell their families and community that I haven’t forget them. They deserved such awards in their lifetime. I think reporting as a woman is more productive. They are more supportive and committed to their sources and organization. In our society where women are not allowed to talk to any stranger, I sometimes get a scoop by visiting females inside their homes. There are certain areas where I face difficulties, but my brain helps me a lot in solving the issues.
It is, of course, difficult for me to do live reporting from the spot as males are doing. But the danger and threat over here is for everybody and particularly to our womenfolk. I never liked to be known as a female or lady reporter. The basic thing is to reveal the truth and inform the subjects whether they are male or female. So to me a reporter is a reporter; it has nothing to do with gender. “By reporting and highlighting these stories, I always find myself a catalyst in resolving issues.”
- What is it about being a journalist that makes it your passion?
Farzana Ali. The only purpose is to serve the womenfolk. I found that I have helped thousands of women by just reporting, whether it was about their health, education, finances or any issue. By highlighting these stories, I always find myself a catalyst in resolving issues. Sometimes through my personal contacts with officials I was able to help hundreds of women in the war on terror and particularly in the flood.
- You are working on a book that’s important to you about ten women who were terrorized for a decade during the war on terror in your country. Tell me about it and why you wanted to write it.
Farzana Ali. I have finished the basic synopsis of it. It’s based on nine women who suffered during the war and one who was in a dangerous flood. These were the women whose news was reported in the global and local media but not their sufferings. There was a dancer who was brutally murdered in Swat; a teacher who was gunned down in Bijou; there is a mother who was killed because of charges of prostitution; a social worker who was shot and then finally saved in Bannu hospital; a girl stoned to death in Orakzai Agency; a mother harassed by a social worker during a flood in Nowshehr; a girl publicly whipped in Swat and other stories like this.
But I am writing it in a literary way and mixing the reality and fiction. As I can not report the whole truth, I am trying at least to report some of it by terming it fiction. Title of the book is BLEEDING EVE.
- You want to connect women living on both sides of the Af-Pak Border. Is it possible to get women more involved in policy making?
Farzana Ali. I think disintegration is not the solution of this region; rather integration might help the region to restore peace and harmony. I am adopting a kind of regional approach to the Af-Pak issue. Also I think that probably Islamabad and Kabul are not sensing the subjects important to women living there. It is just a first step to solve the issues of women living close to the Af-Pak border. I have started meeting with male journalists of those areas to connect me to their female colleagues on the other side of the border.
The first thing is to gather information, addresses, and their contact numbers. I have also met with some of the female journalists in Bhutan while covering the SAARC conference for SAWM (South Asian Women in Media).
16.You say you went to where the head of the suicide bombers once lived in Tank and South Wazirstan–a no go area for journalists. Will you go anywhere if the story is important?
Farzana Ali. I will try my best and would love to go cover and unveil the truth, but at the same time I want to live to report. I do calculate the level of threat and editorial importance of stories directly linked to militancy and operations. There are areas where I can do social stories like health and educational development with minimum threats.
- Are there enough female journalists reporting from Pakistan and covering women’s issues?
Farzana Ali. There are a lot of women writers and journalists at the national level. But our case is different living in a city like Peshawar. We have a shortage of such women, and our voice is often unwelcome. That leads to the misunderstanding of Pashtoon women-related issues at the national and international level.
- What is the toughest story you’ve had to report on?
Farzana Ali. Every story is dangerous while working in a war zone but covering stories in Swat, Bajur and Dera Ismail Khan were the toughest stories to cover.
- You have a young son. How do you handle such a demanding job and being a mother?
Farzana Ali. To tell the truth it was impossible without the kind and continuous support of my husband and son. My husband Amjad Ali was my former colleague who left journalism and now works for Pepsi International. He understands my duties and obligations. We have a good domestic understanding and team-working relationship. “Whether I live or die, I will leave some of the images for the next generation.”
- You’ve written hundreds of articles on women’s issues. What are the ones of most concern to women where you live?
Farzana Ali. The status of women in Pushtoon society is to me the most alarming issue. After that, women trafficking, honor killing, the exploitation of women in the war on terror, and financial issues. When extremism is at its peak, I think women are the softest target.
- You say Pakistan has become a living hell. What will it take for the country to change?
Farzana Ali. Not only me but to all who live here I say this. I have learned while reporting in Swat that women can change a heaven into hell and a hell into heaven. Give this nation an educated, enlightened, and financially capable mother, and you will get the desired result. Eradicate extremism in the lap of a mother. We need to produce a well-hearted and broadminded mother so she will give forth a progressive and human-centric child who is unbiased towards any religion.
22 What is your most important goal now?
Farzana Ali. To complete my book, help those affected by war, and connect to global women starting from my own home region.
- Will you support your children / Relative to join Journalism?
Farzana Ali. Yes of course why not but if they want to join it as passion not as profession.
- What is the toughest story you’ve had to report on?
My work during Operations in KP and South’ Wazirstan
- During Reporting what is the behavior of male journalist?
Farzana Ali. If you are tough and confident than every one is always good to you.
- How do you handle such a demanding job and your family issue?
Farzana Ali. Timing is the basic thing, if u would be able to manage your time than you can never face any problem and luckily i have very loving and caring husband and son.
- Did you receive any award of recognition as women journalist?
Farzana Ali. Yes i got it in 2011 from KPK Gov.
- Being a woman journalist what you suggest for upcoming Women’s Journalists in KP province?
Farzana Ali. Don’t believe on others just believe on yourself.