U.S.-Pakistan Program Fosters Culture of Understanding, Accuracy in Reporting

Dec 152014
  • Joe Little of San Diego's KGTV conducts an interview in Pakistan, as part of ICFJ's U.S.-Pakistan exchange program.

The 77 Pakistani and 10 American journalists who participated in ICFJ’s U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism program in 2014 were exposed to a different culture, helping to break down stereotypes and leading to more accurate reporting.

The Pakistani journalists spent three weeks immersed in one of 55 newsrooms in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Many covered major news events for their host media organizations – from the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the shooting of Michael Brown.

Others focused on topics closer to home, from exploring Pakistan Day celebrations in Seattle and commenting on Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai who receivied the Nobel Peace Prize to providing insight into the Karachi airport attacks, the Taliban and ISIS. Their coverage provided a new perspective on global issues to American audiences.

Hasan Naser Khan of Samaa TV completing his fellowship at KSDK in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Hasan Naser Khan.

Perceptions of the U.S. changed after spending time in American newsrooms. While at the Tallahassee Democrat, Ali Hussain of Pakistan's Daily Business Recorder was surprised to find a certain egalitarianism. “It does not matter in the U.S. who you are and where you come from," he noted. "In this society, you cannot feel like a stranger.” He had assumed that Americans would be "very arrogant," but instead found them to be "friendly, cooperative and open in their social interactions.”

The Pakistani journalists said they took the lessons they learned about U.S. culture and journalism practices back to their home newsrooms, where they are applying them in their coverage.

The U.S. journalists visiting Pakistan also noted that stereotypes had quickly shattered during their visits. They said they gained a more nuanced perspective of Pakistan. Over two weeks, they met with journalists in newsrooms in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. They visited historic sites, the stock exchange and with representatives of the Pakistani government. They even had tea at the home of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

The U.S. journalists also gained an appreciation of the hardships facing Pakistani reporters. “Never has my newsroom been bombed, shot at, lobbed with grenades. Never have colleagues been gunned down at point-blank range,” American crime reporter Tonya Alanez wrote for Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper. “This is the reality of my counterparts in Pakistan.”

Josh Awtry of North Carolina’s Asheville Citizen-Times compared his access to public information to the obstacles faced by visiting Pakistani journalist Faraz Ali of the Daily Ibrat. Awtry observed, “Pakistan’s constitution allows the government to restrict speech on topics like their constitution, religion and the armed forces. Here in North Carolina, we gripe about weak state freedom of information laws, but our biggest complaint is that there’s no specific time constraint. Anyone is able to request information on the doings of their local government, and piles of documents are only one emailed request away."

Since its inception in 2010, 209 Pakistani and U.S. journalists have participated in the program. The next group of American journalists are preparing to travel to Pakistan in 2015. At least two groups of Pakistani journalists will be embedded in U.S. newsrooms. The program will continue to develop professional skills and lasting ties between journalists in both countries.

The U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism program is supported by a generous grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Professional Fellows Division.