David Hazinksi, a professor of communications from Georgia (USA), wants to see the end of the Western networks’ media monopoly.
The government-controlled media in Pakistan is being given a run for its money by upcoming private satellite television, which is providing viewers with independently produced news programmes. This is also the case in Bangladesh, where the satellite-cum-terrestial channel Ekushay has established itself as a force to be reckoned with, while India’s Zee, Star and Aaj Tak have been giving stodgy old Doordarshan stiff competition for some time now.
But the time has come to take all this technology and information a step further, reckons David Hazinski, the larger-than-life associate professor of communications and media consultant from Georgia, USA. Sent to Vietnam as a sailor in 1969, he spent 14 months there trying to “string for whomever would read anything I wrote”, he says with characteristic good humour. “I ended up sending some stuff to a correspondent I met from Newsweek… can’t remember his name now, but never got any byline credit. It still helped me with perspective… of seeing what I saw, sending in what I sent in, then reading something else”.
Hazinski’s present dream: to see the news networks of Asia team up and break the media monopoly of the Western networks.
“What’s needed”, he says, “is an Asian news network that has a cultural flavour, not necessarily a bias, and a uniquely Asian perspective, with an international standard for what news should be”.
Having worked with major US networks such as NBC and CNN. Hazinski, 54, currently heads the Broadcast News Program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication – currently ranked fourth out of 150 such programmes in the USA. He was recently in Karachi as a principal partner with Intelligent Media Consultants, a communications system design consulting company, along with a small team of television journalists like himself who between them have helped launch about a dozen television networks in Asia and Europe. In Pakistan, they are training media people for Geo, Pakistan’s first 24-hour news network, being launched ‘some time this year’ by the media giant Jang, which owns the country’s largest group of newspapers.
Obviously, the governments of the region, caught up in their hostilities and politics, may not be able to cooperate enough to come together for such a purpose, says Hazinski, “but the capitalistic organisations can”.
One of these organisations is Aaj Tak, the 24-hour Hindi news network in India that has garnered some 60 percent of the country’s television audience. Hazinski was project manager for the Aaj Tak launch last year. “They have 45 cameras, and 40 sub-bureaus, and a viewership of 17.1 million in just a year and a half. That’s a major network already. America’s biggest networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, together, have a viewership of 32 million; CNN has one million only”.
Hazinski does not see why Geo in Pakistan should not share resources with India’s Aaj Tak, Qatar’s Al Jazeera, Hong Kong’s TVB, or Indonesia’s Gramedia. He has floated the possibility to the Aaj Tak and Geo people already, and believes that something can be worked out. “They’d need a third partner to make the network workable”, he says. “Together, these networks could pose a real challenge to the domination of broadcast information by giants like the BBC and CNN”.
Not, he adds, that the Western media corporations are evil or bad, “and it’s not a question of competence; they just have the majority of the money. The problem is that the majority of the people and most of the growth is in Asia or the Subcontinent. So this is the same cultural filter that the Africans complained about in the 1950s, when news of Tanzania would come into the country via London. Effectively the same thing is happening now. It is in fact a filter, a kind of cultural imperialism”. Hazinski points out that CNN has done a good job of leveraging other entities, such as CNN Turkey or Canal Plus in Spain, pulling in many local journalists and workers. “But the economic advantage still goes to CNN”. So why have not these Asian television networks taken the initiative and started such a network? First of all, says Hazinski, they have got their own parochial interests. Secondly, they are all clients of Reuters or CNN. “Why don’t they become their own clients? Share resources? Cost goes down. They all have the same interests in many cases”.
“The Asian networks are still fairly new, the oldest being about 10 years old, versus the 50-plus years that the Western corporations can boast of”, says Hazinski, coming back to the question of why an Asian television news network has not been formed. “A critical mass needs to be achieved with private broadcasting. The Asian networks have a bit of an inferiority complex, in a business where the Western networks have been doing this for so much longer. There is a cost-performance ratio involved. For an Asian channel to send a correspondent to Washington means a lot of money. So for now they just depend on news from Washington to come from Western sources”.
“But part of what Aaj Tak is doing, what Geo will do, is making money, doing well journalistically, expanding. It needs a critical mass, it needs organisation. Partner news organisations can be efficient, with less overhead expenses”.
“It would be a really big deal if it does happen. And, I think it will”.