A self-proclaimed “city girl,” Hafsah Syed grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. She was schooled in accounting but spent years in advertising before becoming a newsmaker. Syed is an executive producer at Dawn News TV, where she confronts norms and isn’t afraid of controversy.
Global Journalist: How did you get into journalism?
Hafsah Syed: After seven years of working in an advertising agency, I just realized, you know what, it’s a fallacy. I just decided that I couldn’t really continue to do something that was revolving around a marketing gimmick. You would say, “Oh, the soap gives you beauty.” No it doesn’t; it just cleans your face.
I left advertising. I got a great offer from CNBC, which was a business channel. I did two shows and produced those two shows as well. So I got my little bit of on-camera and off-camera at the same time and realized that I loved it.
It was only after two years that Dawn News, the organization that I belong to, gave me an offer. So I joined them as a producer. I ended up developing a show targeted towards urban women. Urban women are often ignored, the urban, educated women. It was called The First Blast.
GJ: Why was it called The First Blast?
Syed: There was this book [from the 16th Century by Scottish Reformer John Knox] by the name of The First Blast, which was all against women. You know what? 21st century, gotta turn it around and make it pro-women.
GJ: What was the focus of the show?
Syed: I tackled a lot of issues, whether it was Pakistani women, or Muslim women, or covering your head, or polygamy, or Sharia law, or abortion — the kind of things that you guys [in America] get riled up about. We would challenge the norms. And the core value for the show was very simple: celebrating life and embracing change. And while you do that, raise the national awareness.
Predominantly I’ve worked with women and young people. You have to take into account the demographic of the country. Sixty-three percent are young people in Pakistan [according to UN figures].
So this is the lot that, if you give them the right information — because as it is there’s an information flux — they will grasp it. And they are at that stage in their lives where they do have to make some very important decisions. So, instead of making a decision based on peer pressure, they can be involved in something.
GJ: Have you always challenged the status quo?
Syed: I would always challenge cultural norms, not just on TV but as an individual. Challenging the cultural norms or societal norms came very naturally to me and also was inculcated by my parents. They said, “You know what, just because you’re a woman, you shouldn’t lag behind.”
By Molly Bullock.