Naureen Aqueel

Archive for December 2010

Christmas has a magical aura that seems to draw everyone into the spirit of celebration. Colourful Christmas trees, glimmering candles, sumptuous cakes, melodious carols and Santa Claus act as the face of Christmas festivity. But for practising Christians like Menin Rodrigues, the real spirit of Christmas is “about loving, caring and sharing the goodness and graces of God’s love for His people, and about Jesus coming to our homes.”

Rodrigues calls Christmas a “Holy and Happy occasion”. “Christmas is about God’s People, no one is rich or poor, young or old to await, celebrate and welcome Jesus in their homes, hearts and lives!” he says. “All people come together for special Christmas prayers, commonly known the ‘Midnight Mass’ which is held in all churches on the eve of December 25. On Christmas day, many groups and families make it a point to visit the Old Aged Homes to share happy moments with the old and feeble. Many groups of people and individuals alike, prepare special ‘Hampers’ for poor children and families.”

Reverend Christopher Hawks of the Central Brookes Memorial Church speaks of the same spirit as the catalyst behind the festive mood. “We know that the real meaning of Christmas is that God came down to take care of and love and forgive the ‘undeserving’,” he shares. “‘Undeserving’ expands it to the whole universe; salvation is about the universe. It means we take care of not only humans, but animals and the planet too. Christmas is about taking care of everything and celebrating what God has done for us.”

It is the same spirit which drives Christmas celebrations that start with the Advent Sunday, which is symbolic of the lightning of the four ‘Advent Candles’, each lit on the four Sundays leading to Christmas. “The focus is on preparation for the feast of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ,” explains Rodrigues. “This period ahead of Christmas is called Advent – the New Liturgical Year – during which the Church involves her congregation, the faithful, in spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus. Special activities are held for children during Advent to make them understand the true meaning of Christmas.”

Prior to the beginning of these activities, Central Brookes Memorial Church prints a Christmas card detailing all the programmes lined up for the occasion. The cards are distributed so that people know about the activities beforehand and the Church encourages members of the community to participate actively, says Hawks. Different events like social dinners, prayers and sermons are organised to prepare people for the occasion spiritually. Specific areas attributed to specific services like the Women’s fellowship, the Children’s Bible School and the Youth fellowship organise their own events like singing, dramas etc for the occasion. Like all Churches, Central Brookes Memorial also holds Sunday Carols where the spirit is to worship through singing, explains Hawks.

Rodrigues shares that neighbourhood Advent services are also held in individual homes and Evenings of Carols are held in all the major churches in the city prominently including St Patrick’s Cathedral, The Trinity Cathedral, St Anthony’s Church, Our Lady of Fatima Church and St Lawrence’s Church, including Christmas pageants in schools and colleges. “Choral groups from various parishes (localities where Christians live) participate in these performances, attended by a large number of people,” explains Rodrigues. “Carolers also go singing ‘door-to-door’ – an activity which was very popular in the past but has lost its charm today due to security and safety issues.”

Traditional sweet and cake making is another highlight of Christmas that keeps Christians busy ahead of the big day.

“All Christmas activities lead up to the main event of the Christmas eve mass on the midnight of the 24th of December which is to remember the birth of Jesus Christ in the small town of Bethlehem in Palestine,” says Reverend Dr Pervez Sultan, the principal of St Thomas Theological College. “General celebrations then continue till January 6.”

Hawks says the number of participants in a single event can go up to around 500 to 700 people when other churches are invited to theirs. The main Christmas event, the Midnight Mass which Hawks describes as “the climax of Christmas events” draws approximately 1500 people in the Central Brookes Memorial Church. In St Patricks Cathedral which is the largest Church in Karachi, approximately 4000-5000 attendees show up for the midnight service. In the Holy Trinity Church in which Reverend Sultan’s college is located, the number of attendees come up to around 800 to 900. Marquees are sometimes extended beyond the Church buildings to accommodate the number of people attending.

Speaking about security, Reverend Sultan says the government is conscious is about security and so are the Church authorities. “We have never had any problem as such,” he says. “We look to God for His protection.”


Published in The Express Tribune – Techeye, December 19, 2010.

They are educated, tech-savvy and extremely vocal about their opinions. But they are not the familiar faces that beam through your living room television screens, nor those whose bylines are printed on the news stories that you read in your daily newspaper. Meet the new actors on the global media landscape. Motivated, confident and well-aware, this group is ready to take on the world – armed with their laptops, iPhones and Blackberrys.

With the advent of web 2.0 technologies and the recent social media boom, the media realm is witnessing a drastic transformation. Gone are the days when information used to flow in a one-way stream and the audiences were only passive recipients. Today, the audience is taking a more active role – not only in influencing the kind of content that is aired and published, but in producing that content themselves.

User generated content is driving change in the media. Variously dubbed citizen journalism, participatory journalism, grassroots journalism and new media, this recent trend refers to citizens playing a more active role in collecting, reporting, disseminating and analysing information.

While this change is being viewed by some media owners and professionals with suspicion, others are wholeheartedly embracing the phenomenon and integrating it within traditional news media. Some mainstream media outlets have opened their doors to the concept by introducing ‘citizen journalism’ segments like CNN’s iReport and DawnNews’ Citizen Journalist. Others are following a policy of incorporating Twitter feeds and blog opinions into daily news reporting.

The trend has gained greater momentum in the face of curbs on the traditional media. Blogs and Twitter have largely been able to evade attempts at censorship and garner international attention as the example of Iran’s election time protests being reported through Twitter and videos posted on blogs and YouTube has so aptly demonstrated.

However, concerns have been raised about the credibility of what some have called ‘amateur reporting’ and about how much such content can be trusted. We spoke to bloggers and traditional journalists to get their views on this growing trend.

Traditional journalists

Najam Sethi (Editor-in-chief, The Friday Times):

Citizen journalism via Twitter, Facebook and blogs is going to be an integral element of future media. Twitter today is being used to break news. This can be faster than any wire service or TV channel. I am finally on Twitter and I will start using it for media purposes. I’m going to have a Blog too. I do not think there are training issues in citizen journalism. For quick two sentence eye-witness breaking news, you do not have to be trained. You can provide the lead, a tip-off, and the mainstream media can pick up the thread from there. One can also challenge false or prejudiced accounts of incidents on Twitter and Facebook. Right now, Twitter/blogs etc are alternative media, but in the future, they will be part of mainstream media.

Rehana Hakim (Editor-in-chief, Newsline magazine):

I can’t say whether this new trend of citizen journalism through blogs, Twitter etc is really journalism. So far, it has been more about advocacy and activism. It has got people thinking about issues, formulating opinions and that is positive. It is bringing people together like in the case of the floods and the Sialkot lynching incident. It does sensitise people and mobilise them as well. So, it is participatory journalism.

But there are dangers involved. For example, when these bloggers are reporting, I don’t know whether it is in-depth and whether there is proper fact-checking involved. Fabrication is another danger. I believe some of these bloggers have gained a wide fan following. One hopes that they will use their star status to lobby for the right causes and not be propagandists.


Dr Awab Alvi (Prominent blogger known as Teeth Maestro):

For me, blogging is more about raising my voice. I think the difference between traditional journalists and bloggers is that bloggers don’t research their topics as much as traditional journalists do. We don’t really follow the ethics traditional media have more responsibility to follow. Traditional media have more responsibility to research their topic and speak to different people. A blog is one person’s opinion. It doesn’t fall into the old classifications of journalism, but with the technology boom, it is felt that this new form of journalism should be taken seriously. It should be understood.

Syed Ali Raza Abidi (Popular blogger and active tweeter):

Sometimes, tweets by individuals can be more relevant than reports from the mainstream media, because many users with similar reports can share additional information ‘live’ as it is learned, which leads to opinions being developed or immediately countered. If citizen journalism were not taken seriously, Julian Assange would not have been under death threats today. Yes, the future is very different than where we were heading before 28/11/10 (Cablegate). Responsible bloggers with a large active following have the power of developing perceptions and opinions, better than and quicker than the mainstream media, because citizen journalism is faster.

Web-savvy journalists

Nadir Hassan (Karachi based journalist and popular tweeter):

Twitter is a great resource for finding out breaking news since people with far more intestinal fortitude than me will post about what they see on news channels. Unlike, say, being a doctor, journalism doesn’t require any qualifications. As such, someone who is at the scene of a blast and provides first-hand information of what is happening is as much of a journalist as a reporter who works for a newspaper. Journalists like to think they are part of an exclusive guild but anyone who provides information others want or need is doing the job without getting the title. Ninety per cent of the job of a journalist is to read, listen and write what others say or do. If you cut out the middleman, why shouldn’t primary sources be called journalists? It’s just a matter of semantics.

Huma Imtiaz (Karachi based journalist and popular tweeter):

The social media has helped me in my job to some extent, since one uses it to interact with people from different professions and one can use it as a news source (i.e. look at Twitter feeds of various channels, wire agencies and print outlets) if they’re on the move. With regards to reaching a wider audience, definitely, Twitter has made a difference, especially since most articles are instantly put up on the internet. Sharing a link on Twitter means that people who follow you get to read it, and if they choose to pass it along, that allows your article/report to be read by a wider audience.

There are terms such as “citizen journalists”, “bloggers” and so on; everyone’s not grouped under the term “journalist”. Hearing, for example, a bomb blast echo in Karachi and posting that on Twitter does not make one a journalist, and I don’t think those who do post such news items consider themselves journalists either.

A poster designed by the FLP. PHOTO COURTESY: HIRA S MALIK

Published in The Express Tribune – city, December 10, 2010.

‘No more talk, Get to work’ is the motto of the Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP). While flood survivors and their woes have slipped into the background where it comes to media coverage and volunteer work, FLP is a group of students that still remembers and realises the extent of their responsibility.

They have been working for the cause ever since the floods started nearly four months ago.

The organisation, collaborating with Naya Jeevan Foundation for its maternal health programme, has adopted 12 relief camps, where they provided shelter, rations, healthcare and education to the flood survivors. Four of these camps have been shifted back to their hometowns in Jaffarabad.

But for FLP, the mission doesn’t end when the survivors return home. “We are looking into sustainable housing and providing a network of hospitals in their areas,” said Sana Saleem, a blogger and student working as the Sindh project coordinator. Providing basic healthcare and health awareness back home is also something the group considers an essential part of rehabilitation. Educating survivors on how to identify symptoms and diseases that warrant a visit to the hospital is considered crucial.

Education is another goal high on the agenda of this enthusiastic group. Sana talked about the eagerness of the flood survivors for learning. Many survivors came to us saying they want schools rather than houses in their areas, she told The Express Tribune.

The group is currently working out the cost of adopting schools in some of the flood-hit towns.

Survivors in the remaining eight camps adopted by this group in Jamshoro and Thatta will also soon be shifting back. Each of the camps houses 150 to 200 families and each family has approximately seven to 10 members. Four of the remaining camps also have schools run by Unicef.

“Rather than expanding, we adopted the policy of focusing,” explained Sana. “We revisit the camps to refresh rations and things that are required.”

The group has recently announced its ‘donate-a-quilt campaign’ on its Facebook fan page.

Funds for rations, basic healthcare and shelter were generated through donations and collection drives by the young members. A group that has actively used the social media to mobilise and coordinate relief activities, FLP has also helped women harness their talents and skills of embroidery and traditional artwork to make products that are sold in international markets in dollars.

Half of the earnings go to the women as stipends, while the other half is invested in rehabilitation.

The organisation is also providing each camp standby ambulances in collaboration with Edhi.

Jamal Ashqain, a blogger and freelance photographer, is another young member of the FLP who visits the camps every weekend. “Our goal is proper rehabilitation,” he said. “We want to change their lifestyles and mindsets and it is this [long-term goal] that makes us want to continue,” he added.

“There is still so much that can be done,” Sana said. “Apart from warm clothes, seeds are also very important. Their lands have been destroyed. So if we provide them seeds and cattle, that will help them get back on their feet and they will not be dependent on the landlords. This is the time we can break the shackles of the feudal system,” she said.

Published in The Express Tribune – Techeye, December 5, 2010.

The leaked American diplomatic cables released by whistleblower WikiLeaks this week have not only taken the world’s governments and financial markets by storm, they have also caused a stir in the Pakistani cyberspace, with Pakistan topping the global charts for ‘WikiLeaks’ searches on Google.

Pakistan’s obsession with the news is no secret. Being Pakistani means being accustomed to the many ‘happenings’ that provide fodder for a booming news media industry. Whether it is bomb blasts, natural disasters, match-fixing scandals, crime, corruption allegations or military operations – the news media is never short of things to report and Pakistani viewers and readers are provided with a healthy diet of news to feed off a huge appetite that has been built up throughout the years of a developing media.

Among the top 20 most visited websites by Pakistani internet users according to Alexa, four are news websites belonging to mainstream media outlets.

And when it is about secrets contained in leaked diplomatic cables, the value of the news seems to increase all the more. Statistics collated by Google Trends revealed that Pakistan had the highest number of searches for WikiLeaks in the past seven days (as on December 1). Italy follows second to Pakistan with 18 per cent lesser searches. Next come in Finland, Israel, Estonia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Norway, Algeria and Poland, respectively.

The statistics point to the importance being given to WikiLeaks by Pakistani internet users compared to those of any other country. They may, however, not be a very reliable representation of the situation as the sample for these results is based only on searches done on the Google website, ignoring WikiLeaks related content reached directly through news and other related websites.

My portfolio

This website is a collection of my published and unpublished articles.

Blog Stats

  • 17,708 hits

Twitter Updates

December 2010
« Nov   Jan »