The evolution of Dawn News – from English Medium to Urdu Minded – by Ahmed Iqbalabadi

Being stationed abroad, I do not receive many Pakistani channels. Until February 2010, I was a little spoilt for choice by receiving Geo!, Dawn News, ARY, AAJ News, PTV and Indus TV on my receiver. Having moved residences, the choice just boiled down to Geo, Dawn News and ARY. My love for Dawn goes back to when I turned 5. My mother started making me read Dawn from sports pages, to TV schedule (that used to be bare then with PTV schedule being printed), to city pages to the front page. By the time I was 8, I would check out the headlines on breakfast table before the school bus forced me to make a dash or else take a rickshaw to my school in Saddar, Karachi.

Naturally, when the “media revolution” of Pakistan happened, which basically should be read as churning of channels after channels than quality of content, the launch of Dawn News in 2007 at the peak of the “Lawyers Movement for the Restoration of Judiciary” was the best thing that could happen to me and my family. Finally, Geo would not monopolize my life. I had a source of information which was reliable to say the least.

To give a little history, Dawn News was Pakistan’s first 24-hour English news channel. The test transmission of the channel began in May 25 2007, and the channel went live on July 23, 2007. On May 15, 2010, Dawn News converted into an Urdu news channel after successful test transmission of four hours a day. There are no brownie points to guess why Dawn News had to convert to Urdu language. Ratings and Viewership.

Sadly, the move from English Medium wasn’t to Urdu Medium but Urdu Minded. The quality of the content has moved from 9 to 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. The quality of presenters from Urbane and Suave moved to the proverbial “khoonkhwar anchors”. The transition wasn’t smooth but was abrupt. I used to think many a times if I was watching Geo or my beloved Dawn. The reason why I say that they moved to becoming Urdu Minded was that people who would 10 times think of even attending a show on Dawn News became favorites there. Can you imagine Ansar Abbasi in an English speaking program? No sir! His “inqilab” against “crupshion” and for “gud governance” was only restricted to the Urdu programs like Capital Talk, Kal Tak, Off The Record, Islamabad Tonight, Dunya Today etc. It was on Dawn News that he got a statement of PPP Information Secretary, Fauzia Wahab, twisted related to the constitution and Hazrat Umar (RA). It must have been sad for the anchor, Kamran Yusuf as well as Dawn News that the said program was not watched on their channel but the statement was played repeatedly on other channels who benefited from increasing their viewership. Sadly for Kamran Yusuf, the program has been off air for the last one month.

Moving to Urdu minded programs, the tone of the participants has also changed drastically. No more was it balanced questions and answers but a volley of firing from either

Matiullah Jan's program Sawal has been taken off air

side. Matiullah Jan, a senior correspondent for Dawn and being a very staunch supporter of the “Azad Adliya movement” got a program called “Sawal” which was telecast live Monday to Friday at 8.05 pm. It was sad to see a reporter becoming an anchorperson and asking questions as if he was on the streets covering “huge processions”. He would ask questions in a tone as if uneducated people would fight on the streets. His program with Naeem Bukhari in early June 2010 was nothing less than surreal. Naeem Bukhari would laughingly respond to barrage of his questions whereas Matiullah’s tone was getting irritated by the minute. Matiullah asked “aap apnay bachon ko kaisee jamhooriat aur adliya chhor kar jana chahtay hayn?” to which Naeem Bukhari said “Mayn apnay bachon ko sirf yeh sikhana chahta hoon kay sach bolo aur doosray ka haq na maro. 12 sala bachay ka kaam jamhooriat aur adliya nahee hay!”. I wondered watching the program that nothing matches experience. Naeem Bukhari was doing programs on PTV when Matiullah would be a small time reporter on PTV Khabarnama.

Matiullah was particularly aggressive with any supporter of Musharraf. PPP without doubt had to suffer enormously as well on his shows. It seemed Matiullah’s personal agenda was in front of him than that of being fair and impartial. As of Friday, July 9, 2010, his program “Sawal” was aired for the last time. He ended the show saying “Media ka ihtisab to roze hee hota hay jis kee missal yeh hay kay aaj Sawal ka yeh akhri show hay kyoonki ratings achee nahee then”. Sorry Matiullah, your employers saw the light at the end of the tunnel and decided to pull the plug than to immerse us viewers of your biased shows.

Clearly, the transition from English to Urdu has not worked for Dawn News. Their two month stint as an Urdu Minded channel has tainted their credibility as far as news reporting and current affairs programs are concerned significantly. I hope they make their move back to their roots. Bring in the sensible presenters and follow their slogan of “truth with responsibility”. Dawn News has to repair its credibility and that too fast.