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Pakistan Today: The Gadfly

NCM Profile

NCM, Benjamin Pimentel Posted: Nov 19, 2003

For many ethnic publishers, putting out a newspaper or a magazine is a way to stay in touch with the old country. For Pashbih Sayyed, founder and editor-in-chief of Pakistan Today, his newspaper is his way of helping immigrants to better connect with America.

Founded in 1991, the publication, which is based in the southern California town of Fontana, focuses mainly on issues affecting South Asian communities, although Sayyed says he hopes to reach an even broader readership.

"The basic philosophy and reason we started this newspaper is to bring together all the South Asian nations along with the American mainstream," says the 59-year-old immigrant from Pakistan. "We cannot live like fragmented pieces. When we decide to come to America, we have to become part of this American nation and start contributing."

The Karachi-born journalist has master's degrees in political science, international relations and comparative religion. He helped establish Pakistan's national television network in the 1960s, serving as its first national editor of current affairs. He has written several books, such as "Left of the Center," a collection of essays on South Asia and the Middle East, which was published in Pakistan in 1979. Two other books, "The Root Cause of the Middle East Conflict" and "The Shadows of Jihad," are about to be published in the U.S. In 1981 he moved to the United States to do research.

"When I came here I found that most of the ethnic newspapers were not trying to work for the construction of one unified nation," he says. "They just wanted to put out small newsletters and were only talking about themselves. Somewhere there is a party. Somewhere there is a wedding. I thought we needed a newspaper that can talk about American issues rather than about our neighbors."

With a circulation of about 15,000, the weekly reaches South Asian communities throughout the country, he says. With a fulltime staff of four, Sayyed also works with contributors in cities throughout the world, including Mumbai, Kolkata, Karachi and London. The newspaper reports community and international news, although it runs a great deal of analytical pieces on current events. Its name does not reflect its scope, Sayyed says, adding that the publication also "caters to the needs" of people from other South Asian and Middle Eastern countries.

English, he says, is the "one language that provides a bridge to others." Still, he has added a special section in Urdu "to satisfy the needs of those who cannot read English." "Once you come to America, the emphasis should be to become part of this nation," he says. "How can you do that if you continue confining yourself in your native language?"

He adds: "We do not encourage reporting that divides people. There are disputes and feuds going on between India and Pakistan. We rise above these disputes and we want to present a fair viewpoint."

Pakistan Today remained true to this dictum in covering the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Sayyed says. He sought the views of prominent Jewish leaders and played them up prominently in the newspaper.

"No Muslim newspaper has given a chance to other people to explain themselves in their newspaper," he says. "A newspaper like Pakistan Today has become more important in the aftermath of September 11. Because on that day we realized how important it is to make everyone understand each other."

Sayyed's efforts have not always been welcomed by other Pakistani Americans because he dares expose the community's dirty laundry, he says. "People from the Third World have not learned to accept criticism or differences of opinion because in the Third World, in most Islamic countries especially, there are dictatorships. You can only print stories that praise. Criticism is not accepted."

He cites the example of a Pakistani American businessman in Los Angeles who was sued for alleged improprieties involving his technology company. Pakistan Today covered the case. "His friends and he himself called me," Sayyed says. "'Why are you washing the community's dirty linen in public?' they ask.They think that if there is anything wrong, we should not expose it. We should sweep it under the rug. This is the thinking process in the community. And we are working diligently to become American journalists who believe in exposing everything, but fairly. Our motto is: nothing but the truth."

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