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Asharq Al-Awsat talk with Pakistani Television Anchor Sana Bucha | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat – Sana Bucha is a Pakistani journalist and television anchor. Following a distinguished career in print journalism, writing for publications including the Wall Street Journal and The News International, Bucha went on to work for GEO News, a Karachi-based Pakistani news channel. She initially served as host and executive producer of “Crisis Cell”, a current affairs program focusing on regional issues, before going on to front her own political talk show; “Lekin with Sana Bucha”.

Bucha claims to be especially interested in the dynamics of power in the Middle East, the spread of extremist ideology along the Afghan-Pakistani border, and the role played by the United States in the Middle East and the Asian Subcontinent.

Asharq al-Awsat recently met with Sana Bucha to discuss her views on journalism in Pakistan, and the role played by the media there. Bucha touched upon issues such as the role of women in the media, the ouster of former Pakistani President Musharraf, and the death of Osama Bin Laden. She also gave an insight into what she viewed as some of the failings of the Pakistani media, and what measures should be taken to ensure its credibility.

The following is the full text from the interview.

[Asharq al-Awsat] How does it feel to be such a famous and influential journalist?

[Bucha] Am I famous or influential? Hardly. Yes, some people may recognize me on the street but that doesn’t account for fame. I prefer being respected and maintaining an air of credibility rather than vying for the ‘most famous’ status. As for being influential, I believe I have the power to influence people in a positive way – hence I’ve got to be careful of what I say, how I say it, and above all if I believe it! It’s like walking a tightrope every day. Audiences can be unforgiving and I have to be mindful of that – but that fear keeps me from straying from the right path.

[Asharq al-Awsat] Tell us about your experience as the presenter of a television talk show. Do you find this to be an easy or difficult experience?

[Bucha] Well, it’s actually quite hard. You’re up against politicians and personalities who have a history of never giving a straight answer in their life! You have to be authoritative yet polite; you have to have all your ground covered and be attentive to every word they say. Also, there is a new trend of having people fight on your show, which I personally don’t have the patience for. I want to achieve something from every show I do, or each topic that I choose to talk about. If that’s not happening, I feel extremely frustrated. The world of television is competitive and makes you do strange things. I’m hoping I will not succumb to this! I only pick issues to discuss which I feel passionately about – if something doesn’t move me emotionally, I will not be able to move my viewers. And that’s precisely the point. One can only perform well if they are interested in serving others – the greater cause – rather than serving their own interests.

[Asharq al-Awsat] You discuss critical political issues in your program. Is there a vibrant, established tradition of woman leading the discussion on political issues in the Pakistani media?

[Bucha] I guess women have always been around in the media even when there was only state-run television. I remember the PTV News anchors. Then there are other senior female journalists who branched out from print journalism into electronic media, such as Nasim Zehra, who I really admire. Faeza Dawood is another who used to host a program but then disappeared from our screens. I was the first female journalist to host a political program on Geo News. That itself was an achievement for me, particularly with regards to the number of senior journalists that we [Geo News] has. The competition then followed suit and we saw many new female anchors entering the news arena. But I remain in a league of my own. Like they say, a copy is never as good as the original!

On a serious note, women have to be more mindful of what they say and how they say it, both on screen and off screen in their personal lives. Scandals and associations are formed in this industry faster than you think. For me, as a woman, it has always been tough to prove to my guests, my co-workers that I can do as good a job, if not better, than any man, with regards to hosting a political show. We may be in the 21st century but male chauvinism still reigns supreme in our industry.

[Asharq al-Awsat] Do you think the Pakistani media is overly politicized? It seems everything starts and stops at politics.

[Bucha] Yes mostly. More recently, channels have started focusing on human interest stories as well, which is a good thing. But having your own show means deviating from the norm and someone has to start.

[Asharq al-Awsat] Over the last ten years the Pakistani media, especially new media, has become highly influential in Pakistani society. In fact it has attained the power to make or break governments. Do you agree or disagree with this perception?

[Bucha] I think that perception is exaggerated. Yes the media has brought to light many issues and created awareness amongst the masses but we are still far from being “the establishment”. We can influence change by providing facts and information but we can’t dictate. Those who try to do so usually fall flat on their faces.

[Asharq al-Awsat] The Pakistani government accuses the media of bias, and contributing to instability in the country. How would you respond to this accusation?

[Bucha] Instability is a relative term. What is the media doing? I can’t speak for everybody but yes there are fault lines that need to be exposed. Many journalists and television anchors follow a certain agenda but sooner or later they will be exposed. My question is, if we are reporting an explosion somewhere in the country we are not responsible for the blast, but it is our responsibility to question whether this could have been avoided and lives could have been saved. How is that adding to instability in the country? Usually, this is the best defence for the powers-that-be to use against the media. We are not perfect but neither are they. We – the electronic media – have been around for 10 years at most, they have been around forever! They haven’t helped this country become more stable now have they?

[Asharq al-Awsat] There are political analysts in the country who think that powerful media institutions did play a role in dislodging General Musharraf from government. Do you think perception is true? Is the media really that powerful in Pakistan?

[Bucha] I already answered this in the earlier question. But specifically relating to General Musharraf, I wonder if you are upset that he was removed. If that’s what we did, weren’t we right in doing so? In answer to your question, yes we played a huge role in promoting democracy and advocating it. The masses are smart enough to decide what they want to do themselves.

[Asharq al-Awsat] What role should the media play in building a consensus in society against extremism and militancy?

[Bucha] The media can change perceptions, but can it dictate dogma? That is another misconception that needs to be addressed. The media, like all other institutions in Pakistan, is flawed. We have the good and the bad journalist, some credible ones, television anchors who have – not just an opinion – but a diktat to follow, not to mention the airheads who serve to shock the airwaves. The media has not only been reckless with regards to its ever-changing beliefs, but it has also silenced most of our populace who beg to differ. The bias and hatred on screen, in opinion columns, and on various blogs has added to the wave of extremism that has cost us the lives of many innocent people.

When Ahmadis were targeted in Lahore, we kept quiet. At least five per cent of Pakistanis were denied their inherent rights and we didn’t bother to speak up. Forget the media; even our politicians couldn’t bring themselves to condemn the attacks. The Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was gunned down, whilst our Federal Minister for Minorities was killed in broad daylight. The vocal media couldn’t find the right words to condemn these acts of extremism. The ‘liberals’ tried to outdo the silence but nothing came of it. This brings me to ask a very pertinent question. What percentage of Pakistanis are ‘liberal’? Ten percent? Five percent? Two percent? Switching through the many entertainment, fashion, and music channels on display in Pakistan, or images of style events, charity balls and so on, surely there must be more. Stand up and be counted. Strength lies in unity.

[Asharq al-Awsat] There are people who claim that the Pakistani media is strongly Anti-American and that it even occasionally displays sympathy for the militants. What is your view?

[Bucha] The media showcases men and women with firm opinions. Some support the Taliban, while others support [the US] drones. In the same way some believe the US to be the problem while others may see it as only part of the problem. The problem arises when opinions are mixed with facts. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, just have facts to support your claims. And most importantly, remember to be responsible at all times. Don’t add fuel to the fire just to serve your agenda. Suicide bombing is wrong; there is no justification for it. Drone strikes are a violation of our sovereignty however, if our permission has already been sought, let’s at least be honest about it.

[Asharq al-Awsat] On the one hand there are people who say the Pakistani media is highly influential in society. On the other hand there are occasions when society, in general, refuses to believe what the media is saying. Take for example the case of the Abbottabad mission that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. If you go onto the streets and talk to people they will say this is all lies. How can we reconcile these two conflicting points of view?

[Bucha] Yes, people are unconvinced of the Abbottabad incident. But that’s not because the media has lost credibility, it is due to facts being hidden on every level – by the Americans and by the Pakistani security agencies. We have established a commission to investigate the real story, let’s hope that comes through.

[Asharq al-Awsat] Are you planning to embark on any special projects with your talk show?

[Bucha] I want to promote the importance of education and I may do a series of shows focussing just on that.

[Asharq al-Awsat] Do you have any plans you are yet to put into practice?

[Bucha] I want to expand my horizons. I want to include more international issues on my show, and perhaps interview some renowned heads of state. [Former] Cuban President Fidel Castro, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, and Muammar Gaddafi would top my list.