A Voice for the People

A Voice for the People

Byline: Cody Holt

On Sept. 15, The first privately owned, 24-hour news channel was launched in Pakistan, bringing a new era of broadcast journalism to the Islamic nation. GEO-TV, which is broadcast in Urdu, the primary language of Pakistan, will attempt to resist the censorship and government regulation associated with the nation’s state-run news channel, PTV (Pakistan Television).

David Hazinski, associate professor at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, is the principle architect of GEO-TV and managed the station’s launch. Hazinski was contacted by the Jang Group, Pakistan’s largest newspaper publisher and GEO-TV’s owner, after he shepherded the successful launch of a similar station in India in January 2001. Aaj Tak, the first all-news, Hindi-language channel in India, now has a 60% share of the news audience in India.

As one of the owners of Intelligent Media Consultants, an Atlanta-based company that helps its clients design efficient and profitable network operations through the creative application of broadcast technology, Hazinski has worked all over the world launching news operations in markets starved for unbiased reporting. “This is really the cutting edge of technology and journalism,” says Hazinski, a former NBC news correspondent who says he and his partners have helped launch at least a dozen news operations in the last 10 years. “These are new markets. They haven’t been exposed to lots of TV.”

Because most of Intelligent Media’s clients are unfamiliar with broadcast news techniques, Hazinski says he is able to tailor unique approaches that maximize their limited budgets. “These people are willing to try new things because they don’t want to pay the outrageous costs associated with news production in the United States,” he says. “Right now, based on what we learned in Pakistan, we’re convinced we can launch a network today for half of what it would have cost three years ago. And no one would see any quality difference on the air – even if we aired it in the U.S.”

At GEO-TV’s main broadcast center in Karachi, Hazinski built a newsroom around 24 Mac G4s running Final Cut Pro. News footage is captured with 40 Sony PD150s and 15 PD100s. NewTek Video Toaster 2 systems are used at bureaus in Islamabad and Lahore to switch between the main broadcast center.

In addition to designing a systems approach for GEO-TV, Hazinski helped teach the station’s staff how to use the equipment and how to produce television news. Greg Pope, a freelance editor and producer formerly with CNN, spent one month in Karachi this summer training GEO-TV’s news staff, which primarily consists of newspaper journalists. “We basically had to convert people from print journalists to TV journalists,” says Pope, adding that he had never taught production techniques in a classroom setting to non-English speaking students. “These print people were basically issued cameras and editing equipment and within months were transformed from pen and paper to this new electronic media. Some of them didn’t even know how to use a keyboard when we started.”

Considering the steep learning curve for the Pakistani journalists, Pope says he was amazed at their perseverance and enthusiasm. “These people are tired of having Western news and government news shoved down their throats,” says Pope, who estimates that he taught 100 people to shoot and edit video. “They want their own voice. They want to represent themselves in their own way.”

But there is still a chance that the government will shut down GEO-TV. Pope says that while he was training the news staff, it was widely believed that there were spies for PTV within their ranks. However, in recent years the Jang Group has won many battles for freedom of the press, so there is hope that GEO-TV will succeed.

“If they have minimal government interference, [GEO-TV] will change the face of Pakistan,” says Pope.

Cody Holt is a freelance writer based in the Midwest. Email him at codyholt@kc.rr.com.

COPYRIGHT 2002 PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group