As soon as one crosses the walk-through gates to enter the main arena, loud music welcomed visitors to the 9th Karachi Literature Festival (KLF). Said music came from two speakers placed by two FM radio stations, blaring songs with no regard for language or genre. Next to the speakers was a stall set up by a news organization, almost overshadowing the standees of other media outlets fighting for space along the walls. The ninth edition of the three-day event provided a platform to a number of media organizations to mark their presence.
Inside, a number of panels discussed the role of media, both positive and negative. What was missing from the discourse, however, was the connection between media and literature.
Syed Mubashir Mustafa Zaidi thought differently. The Special Reports and Investigation Editor at Dawn News and Co-Host of news program, Zara Hat Kay, said, “Media organizations might not have a direct connection with literature but journalists do. Literature talks about social behaviors; journalism also reports regarding social injustices so somewhere they are connected.” He added that organizers request media outlets to participate in the event – on a quid pro quo basis – allowing the media outlets to showcase themselves in exchange for guaranteed coverage.
Standing beside the stall of her namesake film company, activist and Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy spoke about the news organizations’ presence in a literature festival. “In every literary festival, journalists are involved as session moderators or organizers or in different panels. Whatever is happening around the globe is happening here too and I am glad that media outlets are fulfilling their responsibility.”
The session, titled Electronic Media: Making and Breaking the News, was sponsored by News One – a national TV channel – whose sister concern sponsored the concert by Arieb Azhar. Both sessions were conducted in the main garden on Saturday, February 10th. During these sessions the standees of said organization were placed on the stage and the promo of channel starring program hosts and news casters were played on the background screen. Yusra Shah, assistant marketing manager at News One, rejected the notion of making money or grabbing the viewers’ attention through their presence at the KLF. “We are not here to generate revenue. We are here for the people,” she said, adding that the event also accorded them the opportunity to scout for talent for their publication.
Music icon Salman Ahmad, of Junoon fame, had strong words for the commercial side of media outlets. “This is a commercial world. Media is not a social organization,” he said. “I believe that media should raise those issues which are important for the welfare of public but this is a commercial era, they won’t work till the time they don’t see any profit.” At the same time, Ahmad deemed it a double-edged sword, pointing to the need for coverage to propagate the message of peace to the masses.
With each media outlet fighting for viewership and space in the national narrative, the public, it seemed, had a mixed opinion about their presence at Karachi’s premiere calendar event.
Amna Ahsan, 28, who was attending KLF for the second time, lamented that media outlets were somehow trying to overtake literature festivals around the globe to seek a larger audience. For Ahsan, the media had nothing to do with literature or the themes talked about at the event. On the other hand, Shahid Shah was happy because he himself is a blogger and felt that such platforms help in meeting famous journalists. The 24-year-old Shah said he saw the KLF as a networking event to promote his work too.