A development activist, a corporate trainer, an entrepreneur and a media person, Sidra Iqbal has laid her hands on various things and she is doing all of these really well. Along with being a prime time TV anchor on national television, Sidra also stayed in limelight because of various international awards, the most recent of which was Great Women Awards in Gulf.
There are reasons that she is working on so many front, “I do not put my eggs in one basket,” says confident Iqbal who has been working in media for the past seven years. Currently associated with PTV, she has worked for various private media organizations as well.
An MBA by qualification, Sidra Iqbal did not have plans for joining media. “It was just a chain of event. I have been an internationally acclaimed debater. I represented Pakistan at international events. So I was very interested in economic, social and political matters. The broadcast media was expanding and I got an opportunity to be an anchor and then there is no looking back.”
Usually choosing media as a career raises many eyebrows yet Sidra Iqbal did not have to face any such issues, “My father has been in PTV for past 35 years. He is the senior Television Drama Producer and Director. So there was no stigma attached to being on Television and people around me always thought that I will do something like that because all my life I had been debating. Many knew I would end up in media. I was very clear that I could not act or sing. So this was a natural thing to do. My family has always been very supportive.”
Though having the support of the family, Iqbal still had to face different challenges, “As a journalist people have their own sets of challenges. My greatest challenge was to find the kind of work I wanted to do. Initially when amalgamation of dance and fun started on TV channel with serious stuff then it did not go well with my personality. Very often it seemed like that the kind of work which we wanted to do had limited appetite especially on TV.”
Everywhere with the rise of media, a discussion of entertainment vs. information raises its head. Sidra Iqbal thinks it’s not about facts vs. fun, it’s more about a race between media channels, “It’s a race to get maximum viewership and for that people are ready to do anything and everything. It’s not entirely endangering though. Reason being it’s everybody’s right to be competitive so the fundamental question is, are you compromising on information. You must keep in mind your ethics and the core idea of developing a program. Sometimes it seems like it is entertainment for the sake of entertainment and people are not really thinking that what the end results would be and what the objectives are.”
Despite media going rogue, Sidra Iqbal still believes that there is a lot to be optimistic, “Television in Pakistan is an evolving field. It’s very new. 10 12 years is a very short span of time to work on ethics and principles. These dangerous things will self go away in time but till then you have to give people a chance to watch what they want to watch. There should be freedom of press so that people can reject what they want to reject.”
The young anchorperson thinks that PTV is doing better service to Pakistan than private media enterprise, “I like the fact that I work with PTV because it has a very conscious effort in making sure that national perspective is brought to light. Other channels have this issue that whenever government comes up with a policy then instead of giving it proper time they start criticizing it. PTV and our team feel responsible for national interest. Other channels in the guise of freedom of press talk about things which go against national integrity. We do not do that.
“Terrorism issue for example has global influence. But from policy matter to minute detail, everybody becomes an expert. Even in incidents like plane crash, every anchor becomes the specialist on aviation. Similarly, showing video of Ziarat residency being demolished by militants surely shakes our national pride.”
Sidra thinks that it’s a misperception that PTV is entirely government regulated, “Most of the people levelling such accusations have not watched PTV shows where we are free to criticize federal and provincial governments. An important reality which is overlooked is that the private media is for making money whereas PTV is a public organization. Unfortunately people are so addicted to the idea of rude behaviour at TV shows that unless there is a row they believe that the anchor is coward.”
Irresponsible reporting has also developed a culture of conspiracy theories. Iqbal believes that “There is nothing like conspiracies. It’s when we want to blame someone else for our problem and we don’t have will to solve it, conspiracy theories come in. When we say that there is a third party involved, then we forget that it is our duty to deal with that third party too.”
The young entrepreneur thinks that the most problematic thing for Pakistani society is that it is becoming very polarized. “We have stopped to agree on disagreeing. We assume that Taliban are up there in North Waziristan. In fact they are in our every street and around every corner. If you are not ready to listen to other person’s point of view then you too are an extremist. What we don’t understand is that being Taliban is a mindset.”
Having worked with young people as trainer and as an entrepreneur, Sidra Iqbal is very confident about her own expertise, “I am still trying to figure myself out yet I have relevant experience of working with young people. I have applicable experience of being a young person starting my own business. There are ideas that I have had and that I put my strength behind these ideas, be it event management, TV production or business communication. I have few things that I found interesting and about which I was passionate. I have expertise in these fields and I can comment on these issues.”
However, Sidra Iqbal is not enchanted with behaviour of young people from upper and middle class. “I am not happy with upper echelon of our youth. The middle and rich class are given the best resources and opportunities yet their love for their state is less than the lower class. Middle class too want to leave the country, upper class to stays out. They can bring change but they are being myopic. The poor don’t leave the country. Even if they do, they don’t have resources to take family along. So they keep sending back remittances. However, we do not invest on the poor who are actual strength of our country.”
She, like many other things that there should be education emergency in the country as “our education system is lacking in instilling the values by teaching subjects like civics and ethics. Moreover, we have created dichotomies by making it English medium, Urdu medium and Sindhi medium. There are also issue like school maintenance, transparency and corruption.”
The vivacious journalist thinks that being too liberal and too conservative is the biggest challenge to our nation and especially to our society. “Polarized society is the biggest challenge to them. Either we are very liberal or very conservative so every woman who goes out to work, we look at her with one of two perspectives that either she needs money or she is wayward like an unchained beast. Nobody thinks that she could be ambitious or have desires.
“So if a woman tells that she wants to work then the first question which she is asked is, ‘Why? You have everything?’
Now how can one answer this “why” question! How can one justify it?”
Iqbal though critical of the society, is optimistic. Looking at the smooth transition of government, Iqbal believes that the things are improving in Pakistan though law and order situation is cause for concern. She believes that economic problems can be solved once we have worked with law and order situation. “Economic situation is not the major problem. It’s law and order situation which is our greatest issue. If we achieve peace by talks or by operation, all our problems will go away.”
Iqbal has very well thought opinions about various issues. Having hosted PM’s launch of Loan Scheme, Iqbal thinks that it is a wonderful idea with low mark up. She also has very well-crafted opinion about privatization policy. “Privatization is not a matter of finance it is matter of economics. We should not privatize things because they are causing financial loss. Nonetheless there are few enterprises government should get rid of. Making steel is not government’s work. Similarly it should get itself out of running airline business. But higher education and railways are government’s business. Public private ownership can be a second option for the endeavours where government ownership is necessary. In such cases the government should be the owner and management should be left to the partner.”
Sidra Iqbal believes that there is nothing wrong in media persons taking over bureaucratic responsibilities, “It is another kind of public private partnership that despite your being not a part of bureaucracy you are entrusted with responsibilities owing to credibility which you have earned.
“Moreover it is also up to the society, they have made media persons appear like lead-opinion leaders. The anchorpersons do have the power to move hearts and mind of the masses. This is a double edged sword and if used correctly then it can be used for nation building but if used wrongly then it can be drastic.”
Sidra Iqbal’s earlier shows were kind of chit chat shows and only later did she turn to hardcore business and political shows. This is very peculiar of her as many serious anchorpersons are turning to Shadi weeks and ghost busting, Sidra turned to serious issues. “When I did my first morning show, then morning shows were serious stuff. In my morning show I would firstly review the newspapers and this was for an entertainment channel. Then there used to be focus on information but this trend of Shadi weeks etc. has only happened very recently.”
Having worked for 7 8 year in media, Sidra Iqbal has witnessed many changes she reminisces, “I have seen our narrative being changed. In Musharraf era we called ourselves allies in the war on terror. Then we had a confused state saying that it’s not our war. We remained in that stage for like half a decade. Later we became apologetic saying that we are reaping what a dictator sowed. Then many started saying that this war is not ours.”
Sidra Iqbal, however, believes that this war on terror is our war as our people are dying and our property is being damaged and more importantly it is our nationality which is being questioned. “If the war has resulted in bringing bad name to our country then it is our war.”
Being very well rooted in her family, Sidra plans to get married but this would not be a marriage for sake of getting married.
Sitting in a café of Lahore, we both ate to our fill and I asked her, are not you worried about diet like other girls. The spirited journalist who is no other girl says, “I think you should eat and sleep well and take time for yourself and you will stay fit.”