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New Media and Social Change in Pakistan | Program

UM-Pakistan Conference 2015

April 3, 2015  |  Room 1636 School of Social Work Building

11:10: Welcome from PSA
11:15–1:00: Panel I: “Practitioners: Negotiating the New Media Landscape”

Raza Rumi, consulting editor at The Friday Times and currently a Fellow at National Endowment for Democracy

Rise of New Media in Pakistan: Possibilities and Contradictions

Pakistan’s new media has emerged as a vibrant, contested platform for political pluralism in the past few years. Despite the limited Internet penetration, the urban and peri urban youth are major consumers of social networking sites and use the new media as a space for political engagement. Yet, the new media remains hostage to the domestic power equation in the country and the global ascendancy of corporate interests. There are four contradictory trends evident here: first, a large number of young Pakistanis leverage virtual spaces when faced with limited political mobilization opportunities given the weak political parties and ban on student politics; second, communication technologies are also being employed as a means of empowerment and self-expression. Political parties are also responding by using the new media as a tool of advancing their agenda and support. Conversely, the military and its public relations wing are also active users of the new media and effectively disseminate and influence the trends. Not unlike the global trend, the Islamists have also organized themselves and the several extremist organizations and group also use the new media to influence its users.  Corporate interests – from the local to the global – also mediate news and opinion. It is too early to say whether new media engagement will result in social change or reproduce the old divisions, contradictions and powers structures of Pakistani society. At least one thing is clear: The Pakistani state is nervous and has time and again attempted to regulate and censor new media outlets for a variety of reasons. This trend indicates the extent of challenge to a postcolonial, insular state  - accustomed to censorship - is experiencing with the rise of new media forms.

Mahvish Ahmed, co-founder of Tanqeed and doctoral student at Cambridge University

What Makes the Front Page? National Imaginations and War within the Pakistani Press

On June 15th, 2014, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. Exactly six months and one day later, on December 16th, 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan carried out what they have called a reprisal attack against the Army Public School in Peshawar.

Based on my personal experience with reporting on the operation, a Media Watch carried out by Tanqeed–a magazine I have co-founded with journalist and scholar Madiha Tahir–and a close observation of reporting on these two events, I explore how the Pakistani press imagines “the national”–and how it determines what counts as front page, or national, news. I argue that state-centric and high political ideas of the national means the Pakistani press has internalized “establishment”-friendly imaginations, limiting its own ability to act as a check on power and (re)producing the notion that certain territories and people matter less than others. For that reason, I conclude, censorship and self-censorship is only part of the challenge as we collectively seek to establish an independent press.

1:00-2:00: Lunch

2:00-4:00: Panel II: “Interrogating New Media: Limitations and Possibilities”

Sana Saleem, journalist and blogger, director of

Disruptive Insights: Internet and Society in Pakistan

Mobina Hashmi, Assistant Professor of Television and Radio, Brooklyn College

Private Publics: New Media and Performances of Pakistani Identity from Party Videos to Geo News

This paper examines a range of online Pakistani publics to ask how the performance and presentation of Pakistani identities is shaped by a negotiation between norms of private and public behavior. Ranging from the official websites of television channels such as Aaj TV and Geo News and blogs linked with newspapers such as The Friday Times to amateur videos of weddings, dance parties, and encounters with sex workers, these online spaces publicize intimate and private spaces of conversation, opinion, and socializing. Naturally, the comments sections on many of these sites become a fascinating space of contestation over the version of Pakistan that is being performed, and I am particularly interested in the kinds of anxieties and desires that are expressed in these spaces.

Marta Bolognani, Research Associate, University of Bristol

The ‘Depressive Side of India’? A cultural studies’ perspective on new media potential and pitfalls for Pakistan

This paper argues that challenging the representation of Pakistan abroad holds some potential to help Pakistan towards re-entering the international political stage rather than sitting at the margins. It will provide examples of how a certain type of connectivity between Pakistan and the world may help social issues. It will discuss the argument that the switch in representation can only be operated within a postcolonial framework where social actors acknowledge their status and position in the current great game and use it in their favour.

4:00: Coffee & Wrap-up Discussion

This conference has been organized in conjunction with the Pakistan Students’ Association, and is co-sponsored by the U-M Department of Communication Studies and Institute for the Humanities.