Waseem Mahmood of Pakistan has a distinguished professional career in the media sector. He started his professional life as the youngest-ever credited BBC producer. There, while primarily based at the General Programmes Unit, he managed to work across a whole range of programming genres, both producing and directing television and radio output. He left the BBC to set up 'TV Asia', where he was appointed controller of programmes. TV Asia later went on to become Zee TV. Unlike many journalists, Mahmood has been active in the development sectors as he mentioned in the interview: “For several years I worked for a Danish government initiative primarily aimed at assisting media in developing and transitional democracies. Thus, a great deal of my work has involved working with broadcasters on issues as diverse as poverty reduction, gender equality, human rights, minority rights and child rights in geographic areas as varied as the Baltic states and Balkans to South Asia, the Middle East and Africa”.
For the past few years, most of his work has been focused on reconstruction in post-conflict countries - he has been posted to Kosovo, spent two years in Afghanistan and is currently (security situation notwithstanding) posted to Iraq. His work in these areas focused on two main issues: working with the government to ensure that a legislative environment is created to ensure media freedom, and then working with the broadcasters and programme-makers to ensure that a communication strategy is implemented that supports conflict resolution and peace.
Recently, Mahmood has been working in strategic communications and de-radicalisation. The 'Yeh Hum Naheen' campaign in Pakistan in 2008 created worldwide media interest with a number one song in Pakistan and a 62.8 million strong petition condemning terrorism.
Mahmood said that “the motivation came from my children who were concerned that the positive aspects of Islam as a peaceful religion were being overshadowed by violent extremism and wanted me to do something to redress the balance. Pakistan was chosen because it is a proven fact that all violent extremism has its roots in Pakistan”.
It is certainly a dilemma for parents in Pakistan today to answer the questions and concerns of their children in relation to the prevalence of terrorism in the country and allegations of terrorism in Islam. Therefore, the ‘Yeh Hum Naheen’ campaign aims to encourage parents to give a message of peace to their children. The main objective has been to create awareness of the problems of terrorism and engender public debate on the subject. A high profile campaign advertising has run in support of the campaign.
"'Yeh Hum Naheen' has managed to move beyond being merely a media campaign to reach out to people at the grassroots level," says Mahmood, “I am now targeting specific problems at grassroots level". In a short span of time, it is clear that the Yeh Hum Naheen movement has achieved something in relation to peacebuilding in Pakistan. In this regard, Mahmood said, “I think the biggest contribution of Yeh Hum Naheen has been to bring the debate on terrorism/violent extremism into the public space. Until we ran Yeh Hum Naheen, the Pakistani people were in a state of denial about the problem of terrorism. Since we ran the campaign, research shows that terrorism has become one of the most important issues effecting Pakistani life. They are more aware of the problem. Of course it could also be argued that the level of terrorist attacks has increased incrementally in that time. People are more security-conscious”.