(This article was first published in the July-Aug 2015 edition of Aurora.)
AMBER ARSHAD: What is the thrust of The Reham Khan Show?
REHAM KHAN: As Pakistanis, we need to emulate success. The purpose of the programme is to highlight Pakistani heroes – not only their success, but their pain and struggle as well; about how they did not resort to whining and fought on bravely. We have selected Pakistanis who are not only high achievers, but who can serve as role models.
I want to talk about their life beyond their profession and discover who they really are. For example, the world knows Jehangir Khan as a squash champion, yet he has an amazing family story. His elder brother, Torsam Khan, collapsed and died during a tournament match. This profoundly affected Jehangir and he vowed to carry on his brother’s dream. I want to bring forward stories which will inspire Pakistanis to achieve more.
AA: What was life like before you entered the media?
RK: I was born in Ajdabiya in Libya; my parents were living there, as my father who was a surgeon was posted there – so I was literally born in the middle of the Sahara! We moved to Peshawar when I was eight.
"When I was still in the 11th grade, I got married to my cousin and we moved abroad, where I had my children. I was not allowed to continue my education after marriage and faced a lot of difficulty completing my graduation."
A lot of people think I was born with a silver spoon, but it was very tough for me. After graduating I started my post grad in Sociology, but by then I was contemplating divorce and after I did, I could not continue with my studies as I had to start working immediately, although I also enrolled in a nationally accredited journalism course.
I used to apply for every opportunity that was advertised. I even considered becoming a dinner lady, but they would take one look at me and think me over qualified.
I then worked freelance, delivering company brochures door to door; I also did basic salon work from home. Finally, I was hired by Legal TV in Birmingham.
AA: What did you do there?
RK: Initially they asked me to sit with the host as a guest. However, they liked my work so much that they fired the current host and hired me as the anchor. They offered me a very disappointing salary at first and tried to sweet talk me into accepting it, but when I proved my mettle and drastically improved the show’s ratings, I was given a pretty healthy raise!
When you are good at something, you should never do it for free or let people walk over you!
AA: You also worked at a radio station during that period?
RK: I did and for entirely economic reasons. My salary at Legal TV was barely enough to cover my home expenses and fuel costs. In 2007, I was hired as a presenter for the Breakfast News & Sport Show at Sunshine Radio in Hereford & Worcester. I used to leave at 5:00 a.m. come home in the afternoon and then head to Birmingham for the evening show at Legal TV. This went on until 2008, when I was hired as a weather presenter for the BBC. Three months later, I was made part of the permanent staff.
"Working at the BBC is like working for PTV – once you are hired, no one can kick you out; it is really a ‘pakki naukri’!"
I worked there for almost five years, moving up from the weather to becoming a senior broadcast journalist. Then I had to move back to Pakistan.
AA: Why so?
RK: My father passed away in 2011, and my mother was finding it difficult to cope. As the only single child among my siblings, I was the one in a position to move back. This was at the time of the 2013 elections in Pakistan.
When I was offered the opportunity to work as an anchor at NewsOne, I thought ‘Why not? Working in a volatile and happening region like Pakistan would look great on my CV!’
AA: After the UK, what differences did you find working in the media in Pakistan?
RK: Firstly, there are hardly any trained people. The cameramen, researchers, editors, light men etc., are all learning on the job. Secondly, most media organisations do not pay their employees on time. On the outside our media appears very vibrant and the anchors are highly paid. However, the crew, which really make the show, is underpaid and not given the respect they deserve.
The Pakistani media is like a wild child who has grown up on the streets without the benefits of ‘achi tarbiyat’ (good upbringing). There are no rules or regulations to monitor a conduct which could have made that child turn into a ‘muhazzab jawaan’ (respectable adult).
AA: How did you cope with this environment?
RK: I had a tough time putting together a team. I had to teach them everything – and some of the people who did have the expertise were not pushing themselves enough. The reason I have been successful is because if I make my crew work for 16 hours a day, I work 18.
I lead by example; I am in the office earlier than they are. I try to keep everyone involved and connected.
AA: After NewsOne, you worked at AAJ TV and PTV, before joining DawnNews. Why the quick moves?
RK: I worked at NewsOne from January to March 2013.
I used to put a lot of effort in developing news packages, but they would not run them on time. For an anchor, there is nothing worse than stale news. I felt there was an organisational failure.
I then joined AAJ TV from April to July 2014. Then the IDP operation started and I limited myself to guest appearances, as I wanted to devote my time to the IDP situation. I then briefly joined PTV, but I could not last for more than a couple of months because I did not want to compromise on my journalistic principles.
“Most media organisations do not pay their employees on time. On the outside our media appears very vibrant and the anchors are highly paid. However, the crew, which really make the show, is underpaid and not given the respect they deserve.”
AA: When did you join DawnNews?
RK: In October 2014 where I began by hosting Infocus. The difference between DawnNews and other media channels is stark. DawnNews works like a proper corporation; they pay people on time and they extend respect to everyone, from the anchor to the janitor. Shakeel Masud [CEO, DawnNews] is a gem and we need more people like him at the decision making level. Even during the media circus between two major channels last year, DawnNews was the only channel which took a sensible and unbiased stance and did not resort to mudslinging.
AA: You are planning to establish a research body?
RK: I want to establish an organisation that publishes research on various topics done by Pakistanis. The research will be in-depth and on a variety of topics, from the fine arts to the biscuit industry and water shortage issues. The organisation will be independent and not attached to any political party. It will cater to anyone who wants genuine, authentic statistics – be it a TV show host, teacher or student. The project has been delayed because I was not able to find an independent financer. I am in talks with some people and will probably finalise an overseas Pakistani as the main funding source.
AA: You are also planning to produce films. Will these be commercial films or documentaries?
RK: Commercial films, because I want to reach the maximum audience and documentaries don’t attract that big of an audience here. I am producing two films this year. The first is a romantic comedy set in a Pushtoon family. I want to bring Pushtoon culture to the mainstream and show people that we are not barbarians!
My second film is called ‘Parchi’ and is a ‘cute’ look at bhatta (extortion money). Again, it is a comedy and revolves around four guys who are always getting into silly situations.
AA: You were recently named as ‘Ambassador for street children’ by the KP government. What are your plans there?
RK: I am working on assembling a panel of people who are already running their own social organisations to oversee all the initiatives that are taken. Our first initiative is to establish a boarding facility in Peshawar, a city where child sexual abuse is rampant. We will target kids between eight and 14; try to get them off the streets and work on their rehabilitation. Apart from shelter, they will be given education and vocational training.
Initially, my project for street children will be based in Peshawar. Not because of any bias, but because I know the geography of the area and street children are a huge issue in Peshawar, especially in the transport industry. It has nothing to do with the fact that my husband has a government in KP.
"I respect Imran deeply and did not marry him in haste; it’s like that ghazal by Jagjit Singh, “Meri aankho nay chunna hai tujhay dunya dekh kay!”
AA: Is life easier or tougher after your marriage to Imran Khan?
RK: Life is never tough or easy; the challenges are different. I had different challenges without Imran and I have different challenges with him. When I married him I had to give up my current affairs show, which I loved, to avoid conflicts of interest. Having been single and independent for so long, I was not accustomed to having a companion with whom I had to share all my decisions. But I have never been more relaxed in my life.