Pakistan, where merit takes a backseat and connections take the wheel
Growing up as the child of a journalist isn’t easy. Especially when your father was a struggling reporter in the 90s and Karachi was at its most violent. But apart from the violent riots and massive chaos during that time, journalism in the 90s was extremely different from what it is now; there were no social media connections, no online submissions and no Snapchat stories to pass off as reportage. You had to arrive at an office during the evening, start your work in the dead of the night because the ‘morning’ newspaper was where everyone got their news from.
Life wasn’t easy for a crime reporter back then. There were no quick smses or WhatsApps to send videos about criminal activities. Reporters often had to stand in the line of fire to get coverage instead of zooming in their phone cameras. They had to sit in their offices, pull all-nighters in order to draft their stories. They had to print them out instead of typing them up and clicking send with an ease we have now grown so familiar with, just to find reach within their target audiences.
Then there was that whole problem of ‘getting ahead’ if you ‘know the right people’. Or if you’ve managed to polish the right amount of apples in order to get where you want to be. Who was your father? Was he someone important? Who was your uncle? Did he have an important post in some ministry? What’s your family name? Is it worth the social currency of an important favour?
None of that has changed. If anything, it has simply gotten amplified as now, most ‘journalists’ have social media right at their fingertips. They are able to create more connections with people by smarming up to them. Connection-politics has turned digital. The more you ‘like’ someone’s posts or tweets or share their work (regardless of how silly or ridiculous it is), the more chances you have of being in someone’s good graces. Talent is still secondary. Flattery is primary.
I wish I could say that things were different in any other career in Pakistan but, unfortunately, it’s the same everywhere. The more you make ‘connections’, the greater your chances at finding success. Job opportunities become family opportunities. Talent hunts become friendly get-togethers. That’s not to say that family and friends can’t be talented. Some of them are even deserving of the opportunities they get—but there is a strong possibility that someone more talented didn’t even have the chance to prove their worth, simply due to the way the process works.
As someone who is extremely vocal and quite clear about her likes and dislikes as well as political and social opinions, I have been disappointed to see just how myopic some of the big names in some industries are. Even political personalities have shown similar attitudes while interacting with people: if you’re a friend of a friend who is also capable of providing tons of flattering and admiring statements, if you’re someone who can massage egos while also being connected to the right people at the right time—you can be sure to reap its benefits.
It’s sad but true. I have known people who would offer to pick and drop children, do their groceries for other people just for the sake of getting jobs and opportunities. I have seen people offer praise so plastic that even a nuclear holocaust wouldn’t be able to annihilate it. I have seen it happen too often and too commonly in Pakistan. In fact, many TV stars also have their own children foraying into the industry- which is okay and there’s no law against letting your kids take after the family business. But do they even have the acumen for it? Javed Sheikh, Behroze Sabzwari, even the Mawra and Urwa Hocane sisters’ had a brother who starred alongside Urwa in famed TV serial Udaari.
Today, journalists are made not on what they know but who they know. This problem has always existed, but because of the nature of the media, information explosion has changed considerably. There are more people in the running for who can polish the most apples. Who can be the biggest contender in this series of praises and adulation? Merit and talent about the job you want has little to do with getting ahead in Pakistan—and a lot to do with the talent of offering false admiration.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.