“When you’re talking in front of the camera, you have to be very responsible and I think that actually trained me to do journalism as a whole also, because journalism is a responsibility.”
Israr Kasana, a well-known journalist in Pakistan, said having worked on the biggest television network, Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV).
Threats to the safety of his family resulted in him moving to Canada, where he currently hosts a show on Omni TV that bears his name.
But he has struggled to find sustainable work in the Calgary economy, even as he strives to contribute to Canadian society.
After obtaining his master’s degree in international relations in Islamabad, Pakistan, Kasana moved to Lahore — a metropolis in the Pakistani province of Punjab — to pursue a career in journalism.
Coming from a family of engineers and doctors, Kasana’s career choice was unusual but not surprising.
“I always wanted to give back something to society,” he said. “It was a training given to me by my parents. They were people-friendly and they used to advocate for different causes.”
To Kasana, journalism was the best way to do that, giving him the ability to inform the people and advocate their concerns.
He started out as a sub-editor at an English paper in Lahore called the Frontier Post. But, by 2006, he had worked his way up to a position at PTV where he tackled local and international issues.
As the executive editor of new and current affairs at PTV and the lead anchor on his own show, Kasana produced over 5,000 hours of airtime making his face familiar throughout the country.
That’s why, when the possibility of moving to Canada came up, Kasana was hesitant. However, his wife Arif was worried about the safety of their family.
“I used to talk about fighting terror tooth and nail and that wasn’t taken well by the terrorists and terrorist organizations,” resulting in threats against him and his family.
The couple discussed their options. Despite Kasana’s anxiety about Alberta’s economy, they decided to make the move. Arif’s sister and her family had immigrated to Calgary in 1997, so choosing the city was easy.
The threats against his family forced the discussion of moving open.
Kasana was anxious about the move to Alberta because of what he had heard about the economy — but with his wife’s sister having moved to Canada in 1997, his wife convinced him it was the right move for the family.
“If she was not here, my wife would never have thought about coming here. So, when we were about to come [to Canada], they were in contact and she said, ‘Don’t worry. We are here. We will take care of your family.’ They did.”
Since making the move in 2014, Kasana and his family have been living with Arif’s sister and her family.
Despite sending out over 100 resumes, he hasn’t been able to secure a full-time position in his profession.
What he has been able to do is secure his own show on Omni TV, creating the broadcaster’s first Urdu language program. That happened after he was introduced to Bin Wu, a community liaison officer and independent production coordinator with the station.
“It’s not easy,” said Wu, “especially in the journalism field, to switch from one country to another. You have to overcome not just language, but culture and the whole system.”
Within about six months of airing the Israr Kasana Show, the half hour program was extended to a full hour. In September, the show moved from being shown in Alberta and British Columbia to nationwide.
It touches on issues affecting Urdu community.
The Urdu language is understood by many South Asians, which make up 4.9 per cent of Canada’s population and 7.1 per cent of Calgary’s population.
“The numbers are huge,” said Kasana. “If we can capitalize that, it can be huge.”
Capitalizing on those numbers means advertising. Many Omni TV programs are independently produced, meaning show producers are not paid directly through their show.
“Omni provides airtime free of charge,” said Wu. “We don’t charge the producer the airtime we provide and the producer does not charge us with the production costs.”
If a show creator is able to fill that space — about three to four minutes for every half to full hour of programming — with paid content, they can become profitable.
But Kasana hasn’t been able to do that for the Israr Kasana Show.
“It has not worked, I don’t know why,” he said. “I feel that maybe because of my background. People here don’t want to risk on a person who has a different background. So, maybe that is the reason. But, obviously the economy is the major factor.”
Nevertheless, Kasana and the show’s director of photography Syed Zaidi – who shoots the program out of his basement studio – continue their work.
“That’s the only issue,” said Zaidi about their marketing dilemma. “We don’t have anyone with us who can do the proper marketing.”
“Nobody will stop us. There is no way that we can be stopped.”
Kasana said he would also like to contribute to the society he now calls home and be “part of this mainstream Canadian life.”
He also wants to help change the narrative around immigrants, refugees and Islam.
Kasana said events such as the mosque shooting in Quebec City last year are not representative of his community.
“I am afraid there are many forces who are interested in getting this country destabilized,” he said. “I am very sensitive about that [and] want people to live here peacefully, all the communities to respect each other and love each other. That is my dream.”
Editor: Mackenzie Jaquish | firstname.lastname@example.org