The Friday Times: Pakistan’s first independent newspaper
Ziyad Faisal was once just a teenager with a blog that caught the attention of renowned journalist and Ithaca college professor, Raza Rumi. Rumi took an interest of Faisal’s posts, that mainly centered around the political climate of his home country of Pakistan. Shortly thereafter, Rumi introduced Faisal to Pakistan’s first independent weekly paper, The Friday Times (TFT), where Faisal is now a Features editor.
“[Rumi] eventually decided to get in touch with this (teenage) kid who was writing about all this political stuff in a rapidly changing Pakistan,” Faisal said in an email interview. “He introduced me to The Friday Times, somehow I became affiliated as a freelance writer for them, I learned stuff from them, and before I knew it, after studying economics at college I found myself working for them.”
The Friday Times published its first edition in 1989 by the husband-and-wife editing team Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin. Their idea for an independent weekly was inspired by Sethi’s arrest in 1984 under the rule of General Zia ul Haq who used “preventive detention” laws to detain Sethi.
“A lot of political forces take [Sethi] very seriously, and a lot of powerful folks in Pakistan pay great attention to what he writes and says—whether they like him or not,” Faisal said.
Because The Friday Times is a weekly publication, its journalists can report on emerging trends at any point of time. They don’t have to worry about devoting resources as frequently as a daily would. Being a small organization, The Friday Times also has a relatively small staff compared to other newspapers.
“You have to be more versatile when working with a smaller organization, you can’t just delegate everything to the relevant department,” Faisal said. “You have to figure stuff out for yourself, and rely on yourself and a handful of colleagues.
The Friday Times exists by itself as a publication, except for its “sibling” publication, Good Times, a fashion, entertainment publication. Otherwise, most newspapers are part of a larger media group, such as the Jang Group or the Tahreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.
“We don’t see eye-to-eye with [Tahreek-i-Taliban Pakistan] on editorial issues and free-speech issues at all,” Faisal said. “Nor are we excited by their vision for society.”
Although TFT is independent of the large media groups, there are still limitations to topics that can be reported on. Journalists are restricted regarding content in Pakistan by institutions, governments, political parties, religious-political groups, terrorist groups and more.
“There are issues you can talk about, some issues you have to be very, very careful in talking about and some issues that you just can’t talk about (period),” Faisal said. “These rules apply to everyone, no matter how big they are or how inconsequential they are.”
As Features editor, Faisal looks for new writers and works with existing ones for The Friday Times to edit and create interesting reading material for the audience. The Features section in The Friday Times covers anything that isn’t “time-bound” he said. This includes but is not limited to history, art, culture, literature, social and political commentary, and the exploration of issues through different perspectives.
Faisal describes social media as an “immense force” in Pakistan, explaining how networking has helped develop the field of freelance reporting. Many contributors to The Friday Times aren’t established employees, but they’re relied on if they have extensive knowledge on a field or study. Sonya Rehman is the English coordinator of one of Pakistan’s largest school networks, The City School (TCS), and she agrees that digital media has changed the field of journalism in Pakistan.
“Also, as a result of the digital media boom it’s easier to get published in foreign publications — the world has not just become a smaller, more tangible place but also, the diversity in opinions and perspectives is very exciting,” Rehman said in an email interview. “Mass stereotyping and bias can be combated with the power of digital media.”
Rehman has a portfolio of over 400 publications that have been featured in TIME, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and TFT.
Faisal intends to continue writing and to keep the Features section of The Friday Times interesting.
“I hope that whatever I do within the field of journalism, that I can contribute in some small way towards a more democratic, open, humane, compassionate, just and (above all) interesting society, where people have interesting conversations, and where you are free to speak your mind,” Faisal said.
The Friday Times has both an online and print edition for readers, their articles are accessible for free at www.thefridaytimes.com.
I contacted Mr. Faisal via email, and told him I was conducting a case study for journalism in Pakistan. He agreed to an interview, and we emailed back forth regularly with questions and answers.
I contacted Ms. Rehman via email, and informed her I was conducting a case study on journalism in Pakistan. She agreed to an interview, but preferred it was done through email. She pointed me in the direction of TFT.