Interview with Mr. Masood Malik, Director General of Associated Press Pakistan (APP)

JT 15:11:31 31-05-2018
M. Malik - "Journalism today and tomorrow"

Interview with Mr. Masood Malik, Director General of Associated Press Pakistan (APP)

Mr. Malik, thank you very much for holding this international conference - very important - about the opportunities and challenges of news agencies. Could you tell us what are the main challenges before the APP?
- Thank you very much for your time and your participation in this conference. All news agencies are facing challenges. As far as APP is concerned, at the moment we have this challenge: there is a flood of information from all over the world, and being a state news agency, we have to disseminate the information which is true and correct. So, I think that at the moment, all the news agencies, especially state news agencies, they have this problem: on the one side they have the competition with the private media and private news agencies who have no restrictions while they are working, while as a state agency, we have to follow certain procedures and a code of conduct. So, that is the problem: that competition that official news agencies are facing. I think that with the passage of time, we are going to evolve a mechanism through which we can compete with the private agencies. Of course, the credible news agencies have their own position and their own place in the media. So, at the moment the APP has no such problem. We are getting good space in all the media because of our credibility and our correct information. So, I think that the challenge is, out of this big ocean of information, you have to choose the correct, and the true news. It is difficult, but we hope that with time this problem will be tackled.

Being a state information agency, how does media ownership affect editorial independence and policy?
- As far as the APP is concerned, we have an editorial board, comprising of journalists, working in the news agency. Being Head of the news agency, I'm also a journalist. So, it's easy for us to decide the things. We give preference to professionalism in our news organization. As far as the government is concerned, there is no pressure, no bars, no restriction upon us; we feel quite independent. Whatever news is coming, if it is correct, it is transmitted. The APP provides coverage for all political parties, not only the ruling one, but all other parties - in the parliament or outside, they are given due coverage, their news are being released, their press conferences are covered, their videos and photos are published. So, we don't have such problems.

Are there any prohibited topics or guests for your agency?
- In our organization, we weed out those things which create hatred and violence in the society. You know that Pakistan is a country that has faced a lot of problems with terrorism and violence, so we have made a policy that no hatred material should be disseminated by the APP. So, we have this type of editorial management content system through which we ensure that no such things that create hatred and violence in the society, no such materials are disseminated through the APP.

What are the risks that social media pose to your news agency and to journalism?
- Social networks and media are very important nowadays. When APP was launched 70 years ago, there was printed media only, then electronic media came into existence, and we started to provide services through the electronic media. Right now, the social media is overlapping all over the world. News agencies are facing a lot of pressure because of social media, because there is no hurdle in their way to disseminate the information. They do what they like, because there is no editorial judgement or control, and there is no one to check the contents of the materials published by social media. Of course, APP has also a social media setup, and we also disseminate news through social media like Facebook and Twitter, but being a news agency, we have the responsibility to ensure that the news items and materials disseminated through the social media comply with the policy of our news agency.
How do you deal with fake news?
- Fake news is a big problem. This is an era of competition. Breaking news are getting the immediate attention of the readers and viewers. So, the APP - like other agencies - has to meet this challenge. Although we do our best to get the exclusive news, we also make sure they are always correct; we ensure that no incorrect or fake news is transmitted by the news agency. When we get an information through the social media from any source: a citizen, a journalist or anyone who has a smartphone and has captured a video for us, we will always recheck the information through our own correspondents, before transmitting it.
Where does your biggest competition come from? Printed media, radio, TV, Internet?
- Right now, we are basically the service provider to the printed and electronic media, but right now the biggest challenge to us seems to be social media. Since we are the service provider, we are going to disseminate the news: when the incident happens, our reporters and cameramen attend the function, then come back to the office, they make their stories, they edit their footage, then it is checked by the editors, and only then is it released. While on the other hand, social media just go live in any event, so their stories land much before our materials. That is the competition we are facing right now with the presence of social media.
What trends in modern society kill the basic principles of journalism? (Integrity, objectivity, transparencyЕ)
- In every society, the trends, moods and requirements of society are changing; they are not permanent. As time goes by, the values also change. Similarly, in our society, we are having the same issues. As far as professionalism is concerned, being a journalist, I can say that a journalist can handle all sorts of situation: given they know their job, and are properly trained. They will ensure, the correctness, truth and impartiality in their news reporting. It is the job of a journalist that he should be fair in their profession and follow the code of conduct of true professionals. In our case, we always advise our journalist, our reporter that whatever they are going to report, it should be according to our code of conduct. Our code of conduct is very simple: it is based on the one principle that only correct and true stories should go, and any material which can create disturbance, uproar or violence in the society - especially on religious issues - are to be handled very carefully, because if you do something irresponsibly, you can get into a lot of problems. We ensure such things in our system.

How do you see the future of the APP?
- APP's future is very bright. When the APP was established in 1947, it was a small agency with very few subscribers. Now we have over 500 subscribers within the country alone. All the newspapers are our subscribers, all the news channels are getting video news service. Similarly, radio stations also obtain our service. Besides that, we also provide economic feed to the business; NGO get the information they require from us. For example, NGO that are working in the social sector - education or health - they want to keep themselves updated through APP news service. We have a vast network; we have over 1000 people working with our news organization. We are headquartered in Islamabad, we have bureau offices all over the provinces, then we have regional offices in all the big cities. We have partners all over the country - it is the biggest network in Pakistan, and we provide news service to all our subscribers. Besides that, we have an international news network: we have correspondents in London, New York, Washington, Beijing, the Middle East, so we get coverage from all those important capitals. As these capitals are very important, we get all the information and news content from those stations, which is then provided to our subscribers. APP is expanding. Also we have news exchange agreements with 40 news agencies. We exchange news and video, and the relevant material with those news agencies, and the material we provide for the foreign agencies gets published abroad, so we get a lot of publicity. Similarly, they send us their material, and we release it through APP, and publish it in our media. We are working globally. That area of work is expanding day by day. You can see this conference and that conference: they are part of APP's strategy for expanding its global network. That's why we have invited heads and members of news agencies to participate in this congress and explore new venues of cooperation.
Are you optimistic about the future of free, independent media?
- I think in the coming days, marketing and financial contribution are really influencing the independence of the media. And although advertising is a life line for the media as it provides the revenues to run the agency, it simultaneously curtails the agency's independence. That is one of the biggest challenges. The clients who provide the advertisements and the financial support, they have their own commercial interests, and sometimes the news agency or the media have to compromise on their independence and freedom, and that is a problem. But here comes the role of journalist bodies: they should struggle to ensure the independence and freedom of the media. /Interview Boriana Dimitrova/ 13 May 2018