Recognized as a columnist, historian and cultural critic, Nadeem Farooq Paracha is a well known media personality. His satire, knack for details, and an unapologetic liberal democratic leaning, all contribute in making him one of the most read journalists in Pakistan.
Recently we conducted an interview with NFP, as he is frequently called, over the scope of evolving media in the digital age. From a looming social media ban to an upcoming CPEC-esque business era in Pakistan, here’s how Paracha sees it.
PW: Nadeem, you’re an author, a journalist and also a social media celebrity. Succeeding across different media platforms with diverse success metrics, would you consider yourself an advocate of ‘the medium is the message‘?
NFP: Well, the medium shapes and decides how a message would be received. A news item on radio, TV, social media site or a newspaper would have different shades of impact, despite the fact that it is the same news. This is mainly due to the different core audiences of each of the mentioned mediums. So, yes, I do believe medium is the message.
PW: You author books documenting historical evolution. You write in-depth columns. And you keep a massive following at the microblogging platform, Twitter. How do you see the difference between the ways expression is impacted across the platforms? How much, do you think, is the general awareness of the impact?
NFP: There is a growing awareness. But with it has also come intellectual laziness. For example, most people tend to read Facebook posts more than they do articles, even if the articles are shared on social media sites. It baffles me because most Facebook posts, for example, are written in a rambling manner without much punctuation or paragraphing. To an oldie like me the effect is jarring. Yet, so many people read such posts in a rather casual manner and also manage to understand them. This is not a very healthy literary or intellectual trend, if one can call it that. But, hey, it has made a number of incoherent folks the Karl Marx, Rousseaus, and Muhammad Iqbals of our time. No punctuation or breaks required. Just ramble on.
PW: How do you see the future of publishing while standing at the cusp of traditional and new age media?
NFP: It’s not too bad, really. I heard horror stories when I was about to get my first book, End of the Past, published by Vanguard Books in 2016. I was told, nobody reads. There are no royalties in Pakistan. Well, it became a big-seller and is still selling. I also got a pretty decent royalty check. Books are making a comeback. There is a rise in book sales across Europe and the U.S. And books have always sold well in India. People do read books. Major bookstores in Pakistan such as Liberty Books have actually expanded. I don’t see books vanishing any time soon.
PW: As regards Pakistan’s looming social media ban, what is your opinion of blackout as a cure to the issue of propagation of the unhealthy content?
NFP: I never liked certain sites nor did they ever interest me. I do have a choice of simply never visiting them. There will always be stuff on the internet which may be offensive to ones religious beliefs. I do not visit sites I do not like or am offended by. My take is, if a site is not directly causing anyone to go out and commit an act of physical violence, just bloody well ignore it. But does the solution lie in getting rid of the Internet altogether? I agree that hate speech in all its manifestations needs to be checked, but that is not the issue here. The issue is whether this kind of checking is being used to silence political opponents? I don’t know. It is a slippery slope. We’ll have to wait and see.
PW: As a media analyst, do you think local advertising is employing social media to develop brand narratives, or is it only seen as means of instant gratification – Like, Retweet, Favourite: wham bam thank you ma’am?
NFP: I think local advertising agencies are just getting around to understand and comprehend the dynamics of social media in the context of brands. They believe it gives them and their clients lots of freedom to really develop brand narratives without the tyranny of the time and cost involved in, say, TV advertising. Let’s see how it pans out because I can personally vouch that a majority of the agencies’ clients are still stuck in the rut of conventional advertising mediums.
PW: Strictly in the local context, do you think businesses around have been able to harness the potential of culture-based sentimentality – not in terms of advertising, but in terms of products?
NFP: Let’s just say they have, but according to their largely superficial understanding of Pakistan’s cultural nuances. I say this because they still depend on the dime-a-dozen researches. Dime-a-dozen in the context of their frequency only, because those who dish out these so-called researches charge clients and agencies a mountain. But these researches just pick on surface-level trends and on certain cultural cliches. There is no in-depth thinking or any real observations involved.
PW: You’ve kept a close eye over the way Pakistan’s music industry has evolved over the decades. What shape do you see the music industry taking with the age of self publishing platforms like YouTube?
NFP: Actually I did in the 1990’s, but not for the past many years. So I really have very little idea about the music scene at the moment. And, by the way, it was never an industry, as such. It was a scene which was kept afloat by corporate money. Once that evaporated, so did the scene. But I do wonder what is today’s scene really offering. How do musicians make money these days? Not through YouTube. And there are hardly any concerts taking place anymore.
PW: Talking of newage publishing platforms, how significant do you think is the role of home grown platforms Patari, Mangobaaz, PakWired in promoting local content of different niches, among the generation X?
NFP: By Generation X you mean my generation. Folks who entered their teens in the mid-1980’s and came of age in the 1990’s. The whole internet thing began in the 1990’s so we saw its emergence first-hand. But since we were growing up during an uncertain vacuum between the Cold War wars and the early post-Cold-War period, we somehow tend to see the recent platform which you have mentioned as expressions of a new generation which believes that life on Earth began in 1990 AD! I’m not being condescending here because … okay, I am, but, hey, Gen X folks are now in their 40’s. Even Facebook and Twitter sometimes seems to be sprinting too fast for us.
PW: Now that we’ve made it to the local content, seems about right to ask you about The Pakistan Anti-Hero. Your recent book is a great read for anyone looking to understand the power of an individual in determining the course of collective history, in general; and for exploring the journey of Pakistan, in particular.
NFP: I hope so. Various robust forms of individualism have always fascinated me.
PW: Among a wide range of areas that you covered in your books and articles, of particular interest to PakWired readers shall be your take on the fall of Pakistani cinema and its causes. Do you see any course of redemption in near future?
NFP: The redemption has been in progress for some time now. It’s happening. Ironically, Bollywood films must continue to be screened. I personally do not watch Indian films, but they keep audiences in Pakistan coming to the multiplexes. So while the audiences come, we must keep slipping in Urdu films. They will be and are being watched in the momentum created by Bollywood movies.
PW: In your capacity of an analyst of Pakistan’s social and political trajectory, how do you see Pakistan’s nationalism and your thesis in The Pakistan Anti-Hero, taking shape in the recent wake of CPEC-esque business era?
NFP: If we are smart and if the state and government are finally willing to let go of the ideological baggage which we have burdened ourselves with ever since the late 1970s, CPEC can offer us a most remarkable opportunity to refigure our nationalist bearings to now mean a fusion of free-market enterprise, pluralism, Muslim modernism … in other words, make Pakistani nationalism to mean what Jinnah wanted it to mean. The hopefully fruitful results of CPEC can change the way we think. We have become too introverted and myopic about things. The economic and cultural effects of CPEC can open things up for us. We just need to be willing.
PW: Thank you for finding time for us Nadeem. Grateful for the opportunity.
NFP: My pleasure.
For those interested in reading, Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s recent most book The Pakistan Anti-Hero is available at Liberty Books, Vanguard Books, Readings and Saeed Book Bank. It can also be ordered via Amazon.