We may have seen many people, making their marks in their respective field but there are a few, who shine equally bright in more than one arena. Barrister Fatima Shaheen is one of those, who is not only being true to her main profession as a lawyer, but also is very concerned to play her positive part to educate general masses too, on their rights and roles. Talking about her diverse role and powerful personality, Abid Hassan Minto, praised her by saying, “Organising such a relevant display as it educates people about their basic rights; one of the best hosts we have on TV now.” I would also like to quote, Barrister Harris Azmat admiring the young barrister, “Fatima is well-oragnised—thinks well on her feet which make her an abled anchor she is.”
Fatima did her O & A Levels from Lahore Grammar School after which she completed her LLB Honours Degree. Then she went to London for BAR and studied the Bar Vocational Course at Inns of Court School of Law (now City Law School). It might come as a surprise, but no one from her family belongs to or has in any way been associated with media. On the contrary, she belongs to a family of hard core doctors.
Here is a little conversation I had with her:
From law to television, when and how did you think of becoming a current affair show’s host? How did you end up in TV? Did social issues always interest you?
People often ask me this question. A lot of people do not know but in addition to conducting my weekly TV show, I practice independently and am also professionally engaged with various human rights organisations. I work with them as an independent legal consultant. Additionally, I teach too. My entry into Television was rather accidental, when a few years ago I was casually asked by lawyer Hasnain Bokhari, if I would be interested in doing a legal advice TV Show.
In a very limited time, the show (thankfully) gained much popularity primarily because it was one of its’ own kind (back then and even now) as no other Pakistani TV Channel was/is airing a show in which social issues of Pakistani masses and legal ways in which they can overcome the same are discussed.
What makes an anchor stand out?
I always try to be well-researched with whatever topic I am discussing on my each show and that honestly, it has always helped me immensely! True confidence comes only from thorough research and preparation prior to the show, so if an anchor wants viewers to take him/her seriously, they need to be well-read on the topic under discussion.
True mark of a competent anchor is that they will be firm yet polite, opinionated yet seemingly (on screen at least) professionally objective and neutral. Broadcast Journalism for me, I believe is also a test of one’s nerves, when faced with difficult situations it is extremely important for an anchor to be patient and to not let such problems lose their cool.
Common perception is that anchor persons are virtual bosses and do not take any dictation from the producers, is it true?
Well, I would partly agree and partly disagree with this statement. Whether an anchor takes dictation from his producer/team/Channel or not, largely depends on how established that particular anchor is, what Channel is he/she working for and what is the general policy of that TV Channel. I have worked with different private TV channels some of which have had stricter employee and show-guidelines than others.
Also, depends on the anchor too actually, I used to co-host a show with Naeem Bokhari Sahab and I remember him telling me that ‘producers make stars’, so we have very senior anchors like him who believe that there is no harm in adhering to guidelines put to you (as an anchor).
As a woman, do you think it is difficult to survive in this field? Did you face any hurdles or difficulties in becoming a successful host that you are now?
Yes I did face problems, from not being taken seriously as I appeared too young to talk about ‘serious’ issues on TV, to being dragged into work politics unnecessarily which adversely affected my work.
On the other hand, I have also been lucky in ways more than one. I have perhaps not faced as many problems as other women in this industry do, primarily because my family has been extremely supportive and also because (thankfully) I got the chance to work under very kind and encouraging individuals.
Fatima, every person has his or her own political affiliations and relationships with public figures, how does one maintain neutrality while conducting any show?
As mentioned earlier, this indeed is the benchmark with which (at least I would) measure an anchor’s proficiency. An able anchor is one who manages to very evidently keep his/her political affiliations/relationships with guests aside, especially whilst interviewing them. They don’t let any link influence them in any way.
I have interviewed a few of my uncles, aunts, cousins, even friends but I have made a conscious effort to detach any semblance of affiliation with them both on screen and off screen. Once they enter my workplace they are like any other panellist.
You have hosted many popular shows; would you like to quote any interesting incident during any of the shows?
I always say that media is a circus and one day it actually did come true. As we were on air live, several stray cats made their way into the studio! I should mention that I have a strong phobia of cats, and my entire team knew it. So there I am, trying not to shake or scream, holding onto the chair for dear life, trying my best to conduct my show to the best of my abilities while constantly thinking what would happen if the cats made their way to the set. Although they didn't.
Usually people prefer private organisations. What made you decide that it would be better to work for public sector? How is it different or better from the rest?
Before joining Pakistan Television, I have worked with a couple of private TV Channels. Like most individuals, I also had built up some pretty strong preconceptions of what a public sector job would be like. However, most of these inclinations turned out to be incorrect. The respect that I have acquired as a professional from PTV, the people I got to work with and the viewership I have received is much greater than what I would have had. I also know that in the private sector my pay would have been much more than what I currently earn, but then my overall compensation package is more than just my base salary, for me it includes my work-life balance, flexibility in work hours and a lot of other things which I may not have if I was working with a private TV Channel.
Who are the people both in your personal and professional life who you would like to thank in making you the successful person you are today?
In my personal life I have both my parents to thank for, I am what I am today because of them. My father on the other hand, has been an early supporter as well as critic of my media career. He maintains a keen interest in my work. In my profession, there are quite a few people I am profoundly grateful to as well. I consider myself lucky to have worked with people who have encouraged me and believed in my abilities.
Pakistan Television’s current MD Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera Sahab in this regard particularly, has been very inspirational and supportive. He has to be one of the most visionary persons I have come across in my TV career and I am extremely glad that I got an opportunity to work with him.
The success I have had in my career is due in no small part to the unconditional support and guidance I got from Shakir Uzair Sb and famous actor Mahmood Aslam Sb. Both have been my teachers and mentors.
What is your message to your fans who look up to you as their inspiration?
Always remember that you’re born for greatness, each and every one of you. Greatness is for everyone I believe and not just for the selected ones. Greatness is not this amazing, exclusive, rare feature that only the special among us can only taste. It’s something that truly exists in all of us.