Why Do You Want to be a Journalist?

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

The following is the winning essay, by Zuleqa Husain, on the subject “Why do you want to be a journalist?” She received First Prize, a $1500 scholarship.

By Zuleqa Husain

ZHusain-Photo American’s fourth estate, the press, is one of the most influential game-changers in US living rooms. As an undergrad who majored in marketing and PR, I was always fascinated with the public’s information intake and subsequent behavior change based on that information. I joined the nascent International Media program at American University because of my desire to straddle the worlds of media analysis and mass communication.  Having worked at a policy shop—the Muslim Public Affairs Council—and an international media organization—Voice of America—I had an acute appreciation for the role of good journalism and its impact on the globe.  As I honed my interests through internships in radio (WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi), TV production (Story House), and international broadcast news (Al Jazeera English’s Riz Khan Show); I became increasingly interested in long-format programming. As I gain international media experience, I hope to join the policy-making community in the public diplomacy sector of the federal government.

When I quit medical school back home and came to the US, two months before 9/11 hit the nation, I wasn’t quite sure which direction my life would take. I knew that a good liberal arts education would help me decide what I wanted to do with my life. Marketing and PR seemed a good choice and I was good at it and so I majored in those subjects. Speaking skills, presentation skills and selling ideas, this came naturally to me. As America sought to understand Muslims and Islam, I co-founded the nation’s first publicly funded Muslim student organization at the University of Minnesota. Here, I was able to conduct workshops and presentations on Islam at high schools and community centers, churches and hospitals. I joined the Islamic Speakers Bureau and created packets of useful information on Muslims so that I could help contain the hysteria Americans were facing with George Bush’s War on Terror.

I graduated in 2004 and moved to Washington, D.C. That same month, Muslim Public Affairs Council’s national office offered me a position. Working at a policy shop such as MPAC was the best place to get the pulse of the Muslim American community and be able to define a unique Muslim identity for ourselves. Planning national communication strategies for MPAC’s ‘Countering Terrorism’ initiatives, helping abate the media frenzy during the Danish cartoon crisis, and fighting Islamophobic rhetoric stateside and abroad, helped me develop an appreciation for a focused strategy in media communications and an understanding of framework and messaging that is utilized in brand management.

The more we were in the spotlight of the media, and the more we were meeting with top government officials, the more I saw the need to change the paradigms that were present in our media systems. It wasn’t enough that we had a civil liberties organization like the Council on American Islamic Relations, looking out for our best interests. It wasn’t enough that top government liaisons for the Muslim community understood the predicament that American Muslims were facing because of the actions of a few misguided Muslims halfway across the world. To make the American people understand what was going on in the world, you had to get into their living rooms. I felt that if any change was to happen, it would be through the American media system. And that’s when I realized I wanted to be a journalist. I was busy telling the story for so long, I didn’t realize that the mike was turned off.

When I got a job as a reporter for Voice of America, for the first time, I felt like I was making a significant contribution. I was telling the true American story to the people of Pakistan and there was a considerable effect. We would get calls from viewers in Pakistan amazed that a hijabi Muslim in America was able to report on a story without being attacked on the street for being visibly Muslim. At VOA, I was able to bring the American-Muslim story to light for the Muslim populations worldwide. Our show was broadcast to 11 million viewers across the world.

Having worked for VOA for a year, and done numerous stories on American Muslims, concluded that the way forward was not to remain in the reporter track, but to become a producer. Producers control the content of the show. They decide what to air and what not to air. They have the final say in what stories get covered and how the show will be structured. I realized that if you wanted to change the dynamics of America’s newsrooms, the best route is to be a producer.
And for this, I went back to school.

During my three-year joint degree Masters program in International Media through the School of International Service and School of Communication at American University, I developed a solid academic grounding for how international media and communications work in today’s ever-shrinking world. In my coursework, I learn about international communication theory and why certain countries manage their journalists the way they do. I learned about propaganda, its role in mass media, the elements which make it effective and how to turn them in our favor. I also learn the art of producing a well-crafted news show that has a multi-media platform, including radio, video, web, and social media networks. I am also working on becoming a producer trained for long-format programming that is more conducive to good story-telling.  My final Masters project is a biopic documentary highlighting the historic tolerance and pluralism found in pre-independence India between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. Such narratives of tolerance and harmony need to be told, both for the American Muslim audience and for the Muslims around the world.

I have had the opportunity to learn the art of journalism at various prestigious media institutions during my degree program. I was a research assistant with The Kojo Nnamdi Show at NPR’s local affiliate in Washington DC. My input was most appreciated not when I was giving them a story idea about Muslims or Islam, but when I was giving them a fresh perspective on an existing story idea. They appreciated my nuanced insight on various subjects, political or otherwise.

I was also the assistant producer intern at the internationally acclaimed Riz Khan Show on Al-Jazeera English. There, I provided research and story ideas for the live daily talk show. I was able to direct the show to do stories that are under-represented in the media. Al-Jazeera English is keen on becoming the ‘Voice of the South’ and was open to my suggestions. 

Just last week, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale rolled out a new communication strategy with the Muslim world, one that involved pro-actively shaping global narratives. In a statement to Congress, she announced a redefining of the State department to include a position for Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Media. This would bolster communications outreach to “inform, inspire, and persuade target audiences and to counter misinformation.” There is a visible paradigm shift in such a strategy compared to previous administrations that were trying to ‘win hearts and minds’ by bolstering those voices that helped their cause. Countering misinformation is a bigger, more challenging task and media efforts weakening the effects of disinformation is a more powerful strategy.

After working for a number of years in the news networks, I see myself working for the Public Diplomacy arm of the State department as an international media expert. Having worked with international media networks, I will have insight into what are the effective ways to utilize messaging to generate a positive response vs. those that create media trauma.

As for the Muslim American community’s media needs, there is a significant gap between the effort that the Muslim American media outlets are putting into getting the word out on the peaceful nature of Islam and the impact of this effort. This gap needs to close, if there is to be any change in the minds of the American people about Islam and Muslims. Public relations efforts and putting out fires as the Muslims American community is hit by one media nightmare or another is not the solution. A concerted effort is needed wherein Muslim journalists have a set identity within the media networks of the nation. The Muslim journalist is not exclusive with his/her reporting. There cannot be just a Muslim beat, or an ethnic or religious beat for the Muslim. Juggling various identities fluidly is the mark of a Muslim journalist today.

I want to be a journalist because I want Muslims to be able to present their stories, their narratives, their perspectives, their understanding of the world around them, without feeling that they are constantly defending their religious and cultural identity. Muslim Americans have a lot to offer to the diverse fabric of America. The United States of America is one of the best places to live as a practicing Muslim today and our job is to make sure that the press fulfills its duties to the citizens of our great nation.

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Bomb Blast near FIA Building in Lahore

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

A bomb blast near the FIA building in Model Town Lahore on March 8th 2010 shook the entire city. “Eleven people have been killed and several others injured in the suicide car bombing. The target was the FIA building and the Special Intelligence Agency which also had a building in the vicinity.

Reports state that 14 people were killed in this blast and 61 are injured and out of those 29 are in critical condition. Out of those 9 were policemen and the rest were women and children. Seven of the constables killed in the explosion were identified, their names are: Naveed, Habib Ullah, Arif, Manzar Alam, Abdul Aziz, Muhammad Afzal and Aziz Ahmed. The bodies were later shifted to the city morgue.

The DCO of Lahore and the Inspector General of Punjab, Tariq Azeem both confirmed that an explosive laden vehicle rammed into the Investigation Agency’s building.

Around 600 kilograms of explosives were used in this attack. The police said that the massive explosion has managed to create an 8 foot deep crater. The bomb even killed a woman who lived 300 meters away from where the bomb originally exploded. Many buildings, including houses, were damaged and a considerable number of cars were also damaged and destroyed because of the blast. Security has been placed on high alert across the entire city.

Witnesses say that they saw two people step out of the van which means the suicide bomber had accomplices.However, a case under Sections 302 and 324 of the PPC, 7 of ATA and 3/4 of Explosives Act was registered against the unknown suicide bomber and “his two accomplices” on the complaint of an assistant director of the SIA.

Witnesses have told the media that the FIA building completely collapse people were buried under it. Khusro Pervez, the top administration official in Lahore said on Monday, “I fear the death toll may rise. We believe there are still people trapped under the rubble.”

This statement came out to be true since on Monday the death toll was 11 and by the next day I had risen to 14; if there are anymore bodies under the ruble that is still to be discovered.

“The blast also severely damaged a nearby religious school and houses. All schools have been closed in the area in order to avoid further losses or to prevent the possibility of another attack,” said Mr. Parvez Rathore who is Lahore City Police Chief.

Police said 30 to 50 people were in the building, used by police and intelligence agents, at the time of attack.

Interior Minister Mr. Rahman Malik stated while talking to the media that people who are carrying out these acts are not Muslim and these people are agents from outside who are committed these crimes. He also added that Muslims cannot kill other innocent Muslims so brutally. Mr. Malik also added that in his opinion the target was the Special Investigation Agency and not the FIA building.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan took responsibility for these acts soon after the fact, “We claim responsibility for the Lahore blast. We will continue such attacks in future,” Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP reporters in telephone calls from an undisclosed location.

“The attack was to avenge (US) drone attacks and (Pakistani) military operations in the tribal areas. We will carry on such attacks as long as drone strikes and operations continue.”

The concern by the public that has been raised in the past has become a more prominent voice in the wake of Monday’s attack. This concern is that official government and police institutions in the middle of a residential area are a bad idea.

The public of Lahore are too familiar with this drill, where there is a police building or some kind of army, police or intelligence building suicide bombers are sure to follow. As much as this situation saddens the public just as much they hope to be far away form it. The residents of Model Town claim that they had brought this issue to the notice of the government because they knew this was a disaster waiting to happen-which it actually was.

We are left to wonder whether this is going to start a string of attacks as the attackers claimed that this was one of the many attacks that they plan on carrying out against the government. If this is a first of many the question now is what is the government going to do to protect the public now? As we speak the drone attacks in the northern area keep killing more people. It is obvious that there is no negotiating or stopping of the war against terror and war against Al-Qaida.

This question of how the public of Pakistan should be protected is on the minds of every body who is living and beathing in this country even if they didn’t feel the physical shock this attack. Even though they haven’t felt this one many people in Pakistan have heard other bomb blast from close up, many have lost someone they loved or knew in these attacks, many of them are not with us today to ask the same question we are asking-how will our leaders protect us now.

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Paan—Red-Stained Scourge of the Middle East

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

Paan2_new For many residents of Kuwait, litter and pollution have taken a back seat to a more heinous environmental disaster. As the tiny Gulf State continues to looks for ways to improve its global reputation as a country that cares for the environment, at least one segment of the society is determined to pollute the landscape as mindlessly as they can.

It used to be that second-hand cigarette smoke was at the top of everyone’s list of noxious pollutants. However, in many parts of the Middle East, poor Southeast Asian laborers have dotted the landscape with their own homemade pollutant. Commonly known as “Paan”, which is a concoction of natural and chemical substances bundled into a Betel leaf, this chewing-tobacco like substance creates dark red tinged saliva, which the person chewing it usually spits out at any available target. Paan stains can be found outside of buildings, inside elevators, at bus stops and just about anywhere the public shares a common place. As a result, the spit stains its target thus leaving a blood-like appearance on the surface. Most residents would agree that the red hued Paan stains are more offensive than graffiti especially since they contain millions of disease carrying bacteria.

Many business owners in Kuwait have called upon the Kuwaiti government to intervene. Paan is banned in Kuwait, as most of the ingredients are forbidden entry into the country. However, it is widely available on the Black Market, as clever businessmen have found ways to smuggle the ingredients into the country. Since Paan is more affordable than cigarettes, it is a hot commodity with an eager market. Yet enforcing a law against Paan could be difficult, as it would really entail looking in the mouths of every possible offender. However, Paan-spewing crimes might soon appear in Public Service Announcements (PSA) that already educate the public about litter and saving water. Perhaps future PSA’s will include proper receptacles for spitting as well as the dangers of chewing it.

2052708660_1 Paan is just as deadly, if not more so, than cigarette smoking. Since the Paan rests against the interior of the mouth when it is chewed, it can cause a host of oral mouth cancers that affect the throat, cheeks and tongue. Treatment for the cancers may involve the removal of the entire jaw or portion of the mouth.  Chewing Paan also permanently stains the teeth red and causes the gums to recede, which can cause the teeth to fall out prematurely.  And it also creates severely bad breath and is fast becoming a social stigma.

Kuwait is not the only Gulf state suffering from Paan chewing and the by-products of the habit. Dubai has seen its share of Paan stained surfaces and is cracking down hard on anyone who chews or sells it. According to the Director General of the Municipality, Hussain Nasser Lootah, anyone partaking in Paan will face harsh penalties, which includes a fine and deportation. The Dubai government has also offered a $1400 reward for anyone that offers information about people who sell or chew Paan. The municipality recently launched an awareness campaign by distributing leaflets to inform the public about the dangers and unhygienic nature of Paan chewing. In addition, the Dubai government has also launched a media campaign in local newspapers and magazines informing the public about the new laws that will punish Paan dealers and chewers to the fullest extent of the law. 

Even European countries are not spared from Paan staining their capitals, as more and more Southeast Asian immigrants flood to the region looking for a better life. London, for example, is just one city that has recently faced a spat of red-tinged spittle staining its most treasured landmarks.

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Surprising Results of CFR Survey

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

What the U.S. Elite Really Thinks About Israel

By Jeffrey Blankfort, Counterpunch

The Council on Foreign Relations is always near the top of the Left’s list of bogeymen that stand accused of pulling the strings of US foreign policy. It is right up there with the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission, right? Wrong. If that was the case,  those arguing that US support for Israel is based on it being a “strategic asset”  will have a hard time explaining a Pew Research Center survey on America’s Place in the World, taken of 642 CFR members between October 2 and November 16. The Pew poll  not only reveals that the overwhelming majority, two-thirds of the members of this elite foreign policy institution, believes that the United States has gone overboard in favoring Israel, it doesn’t consider Israel to have much importance to the US in the first place.

What can be concluded from the answers to questions that dealt with the Israel-Palestine conflict is that the general public forms its opinions from what it hears and reads in the mainstream media which are largely biased towards Israel while CFR members have greater access to as well as interest in obtaining more accurate information and are less susceptible to pro-Israel propaganda. That apparently not a single US newspaper saw fit to report on the opinions of CFR members, under those circumstances, is not surprising. The evidence:

(1) That on a list of countries that will be the “more important as Americas allies and partners” in the future, just 4 per cent included Israel which placed it in a tie with South Korea and far behind China, 58 per cent, India, 55 per cent, Brazil, 37 per cent, the EU, 19 per cent, Russia, 17 per cent, Japan, 16 per cent, the UK and Turkey, 10 per cent, Germany, 9 per cent, Mexico, 8 per cent, Canada, Indonesia, Australia and France at 5 per cent. CFR voters were allowed to make up to seven selections.(Q19)

(2) When asked which countries would be less important to the US, Israel, at 9 per cent  was behind 22 countries including Canada and Mexico and in the region Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.(Q20)

(3) What was particularly revealing is that “in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” only 26 per cent of the CFR sided with Israel, compared with 51 per cent of 2000 members of the general public who were polled over the same period. While but 16 per cent of CFR members sided with the Palestinians compared to 12 per cent of the public, 41 per cent of the CFRers sided with “both equally” as opposed to 4 per cent of the public. Supporting neither was 12 per cent of the CFR and 14 per cent of the public. (Q33)

(4) That the CFR has not had a major hand in making US Israel-Palestine policy nor is it in agreement with those who did is strikingly revealed by the response of its members when asked their opinion of US Middle East policies. The problem, according to 67 per cent of CFR members (as compared to 30 per cent of the public) is that the US favored Israeli too much, while only 2 per cent (as opposed to 15 per cent of the public) believed that US policy overly favored the Palestinians.. Twenty-four percent of the CFR believed US policy “struck the right balance” as did 29 per cent of the public. (Q34)

(5) The overwhelming majority of CFR members, 69 per cent, think that Pres.Obama is “striking the right balance” between the Israelis and Palestinians as compared with a slim majority, 51 per cent of the public. Thirteen percent of the CFR believes that Obama is “favoring Israel too much,” as compared with 7 per cent of the public, while 12 per cent thinks he is siding with the Palestinians, a position taken by 16 per cent of the public. (Q35)

Regarding Iran, one detects the same gap between the CFR and the public. Whereas a 64 per cent-34 per cent majority of the polled CFR members see Iran as a major threat to US interests, compared with a 72-20 per cent per cent  majority of the public, only 33 per cent of the CFR  would support an attack on Iran should it get a nuclear weapon as contrasted  with 63 per cent of the public. (Q7)

The percentages are almost reversed when it comes  to Pakistan with 63 per cent of the CFR supporting US military action were “extremists…poised to take over Pakistan,” whereas only 51 per cent of the public would approve such a move. (Q24). This is another indication of the success of Israel’s  porte-paroles in the mainstream media  in  building up the Iran threat while downplaying the potential threats to the stabilty of nuclear-armed Pakistan. The entire Pew survey can be viewed here: http://people-press.org/reports/questionnaires/569.pdf

[Jeffrey Blankfort is a long-time pro-Palestinian activist and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He an be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net]

“Healthcare, Yes or No?”

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Keith Ellison: Do We Want Health Care or Do We Not?

By Rep. Keith Ellison

EllisonObama So, my friends, what were we thinking? Did we really think that extending health care coverage to all Americans would be easy? Did we really believe that those who reap g’zillions of bucks from our ‘health’ (read: ‘sick’) care system were going to give it all up without a fight? Of course those who benefit from the status quo are attacking the Public Option. Of course they are falsely claiming that Medicare reimbursement for end-of-life discussions are “death panels”. Of course they are disrupting town hall forums — some even carrying firearms. It’s not an element of reform they oppose; it’s reform itself.

The special interests and protectors of the status quo acted worse when America was on the brink of passing Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation. They spread lies and fear when America was contemplating women’s suffrage too.

Maybe it’s us, and not opponents of reform, who have failed to grasp the magnitude of this moment. We are on the verge of bringing about health care reform 60 years in waiting. Yes, we’re going to have to fight for it. I worry that a little rough stuff has discouraged some progressives. As Frederick Douglass famously said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.” It’s easy to figure out who the “Power” is. The 10 largest health insurers took in $13 billion in 2007 with CEOs earning an average $12 million a year, according to Health Care for America Now.

I have been a little concerned about some Democratic leaders who appear to be dancing away from the Public Option. But momentary wavering in leadership has provoked expressions of clarity from the people. Sixty Progressives in Congress have roared back in favor of the Public Option declaring their unwavering support in a letter to the White House. Thousands of people are raising their voices for the Public Option around America. Everyone has someone in their family who has been hurt by not having health care, and now is the time to speak up for every denial for a pre-existing condition, every forgone procedure, and everyone facing bankruptcy due to medical debt.

We are relearning a valuable lesson, aren’t we? The ones who want to conserve the status quo, sometimes known as Conservatives, will accept no compromises. Nothing. Jettisoning the public option won’t bring forth a bipartisan bill.

I appreciate U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s candor. He recently said that defeating healthcare reform would benefit Republicans politically. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told reporters on a recent conference call that he stands opposed even to health care co-ops. Rush Limbaugh had this to say: “These co-ops, like we’re too stupid to know what that’s all about,” Limbaugh said. “Co-op? Why don’t they just call them communes?” Sen. Jim DeMint famously said defeating healthcare would be Obama’s “Waterloo.”

So Good. No more wasting time. Now, we need a new message: Can you say “reconciliation”? With a reconciliation vote, you don’t need 60 votes to pass a health care bill through the U.S. Senate, but rather a majority vote of 51. Given the intransigence of Conservatives, reformers must begin a drum beat for a reconciliation vote for health care.

We have the power to start that drum beat. Call your representatives every day. Post it on your Face book. Twitter for Healthcare. Bring it up in casual conversations. Talk to the clerk that sells you your groceries. Call your Mom. Call your Broker. Pray for the public option in church, synagogue, or Mosque.

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