Muhammad Danial Kublai Khan is a film-maker based in Islamabad, Pakistan. He graduated with Honors from the National college of Arts (Lahore) and holds a Masters’ degree in Industrial Design. Having extensive experience in the field of media productions, Danial joined Dawn News in 2007, which was Pakistan’s first English language news channel. He specializes in documentary film-making and investigative news reports on socio-economic, political and cultural issues.
Major stories covered by him in Pakistan included the Lal Masjid operation, general elections 2008, repatriation of Afghan refugees and assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He also has to his credit several programs highlighting culture and religious interest. He traveled to Germany and produced a documentary on the Shell Eco Marathon in 2009 and Sri Lanka to cover the World Bank funded workshop on hygiene and sanitation in developing countries.
In 2010 Danial joined CCTV News, as their International Correspondent. He has traveled to the Middle East, covering major stories, most recent being the withdrawal of U.S armed forces from Iraq.
Following Ink sat down for an exclusive chat with Danial Khan about his work and life.
I was born in Islamabad and I am the youngest of 7 siblings. I have lived in Islamabad all my life, on an orchard, so my lifestyle has been quite organic. I changed a lot of schools. I did my I-COM from the Punjab College of Commerce in Islamabad and moved to Lahore after I got admission in National College of Arts. I graduated in Product and Industrial Design with honors.
While I was in NCA, I joined dramatic clubs and participated in fashion shows, performed as a vocalist at musical societies, did hosting and commentary. I was awarded the Sadat Hasan Manto Award for the best all-rounder/performer on my graduation. It was an honor!
After graduating I started acting, did a number of television dramas, hosted some music shows and also film. While I was hosting a TV show I got a call from Dawn News so I decided to give it a try. I took a leap of faith and went to Karachi for training. It was my father, my mentor, who guided me all along the way. Whatever I am today is because of his guidance and direction.
2. You are currently working as the International Correspondent for China Global TV Network. Can you please share some further information about your role in this capacity?
I left Dawn in early 2010 when the channel decided to switch to Urdu. I got an opportunity with CCTV News, only a week after I left Dawn and I’ve been with them ever since. It has now been rebranded as CGTN (China Global Television Network). I am their international correspondent, covering news from Pakistan and the region.
I am a self-trained journalist and I enjoy covering beats ranging from crime, city and culture. CGTN had no specific beats for Pakistan. I have to cover stories from a wide gamut, from tourism to terrorism. For the last few years, since the initiation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, there has been a focus on this multi-billion dollar project and on China-Pakistan relations. I travel a lot within Pakistan and at times travel to the Middle East for special coverage.
3. How do you choose the stories you cover? Are there any particular topics you are more interested in covering or do you try to follow current affairs to keep your stories more relevant for your viewers?
I don’t bound myself and choose from a variety of topics. Reporting from Pakistan and representing your country on an international platform, where millions are watching you, brings a great deal of pressure and responsibility. I mostly try to project and promote a softer side of Pakistan. Having travelled the compete length and breadth of this beautiful country, I have come to a conclusion that what Pakistan has to offer, you can’t find that in any country of the world..
I mainly like doing human interest stories, stories that are character driven. If you look at my work, in every story you find a case study of an individual, in a particular situation. The story may go places, but the main narrator will be that individual, who will represent others like him/her in a larger context.
Apart from documentaries, I do need to keep myself updated with the current goings on. I do have to report stories, coming out of Pakistan, but only the ones that fit the criteria of an international level story.
4. What is the most challenging part of your job and how do you overcome it?
I take every story as a challenge. I do my research well before I step into the field to report it. I don’t like swimming shallow waters. There needs to be depth in the story. I try to make almost all my stories relevant with historical references.
There are times when you have to decide whether a story that you’re doing will hurt the national interest of Pakistan. I avoid such stories. There are anchors and reporters that would sell not only their soul but they will sell their country for some dollars.
But then there are stories that are unreported or underreported – stories that can get you in trouble with the wrong kind of people. You get phone calls, you get death threats. But I take it as work, because I strongly believe that your time of death is written when you’re born. So why live like a coward, and when you can help someone only by bringing his or her voice forward.
5. Are you an advocate of work/life balance and how do you try and balance both?
I love my work and I know I will die working. This is how passionate I am about my work, but that does not mean I don’t keep a balance.
I have a lovely wife two beautiful sons Mashallah. I make sure I give them more time than any ordinary husband or father would give to their family. All work and no play is not good. One can always balance the two and must do so to have a healthy life, after all, you work for your family.
6. Your nature of work involves a lot of traveling. What are your favorite and least favorite places you have traveled to so far? Any memorable travel experiences you would like to change?
Since I was a kid, my father used to take us around on summer vacations. We used to go camping. At that time there were no roads and only jeep tracks, up north. I travelled across Pakistan before I was 12. I love to travel and I can’t get enough of it. Every time I travel, it’s a new experience and I meet new people. I have never had a travel experience that I would want to change. Every single assignment has taught me something new.
7. Since you work for an international TV network, how do you see mainstream free press in Pakistan? Do you think they are headed in the right direction or do they require betterment?
The first priority of any news channel, whether local or international is to cover important events, which are news worthy. Unfortunately, what has now happened with the local/private news media organizations is that they have started sensationalizing things. For example if there is a bomb blast, they would put dramatic flute music, with vivid pictures and use unnecessary affects to I don’t know – maybe play with viewers’ emotions? I mean there is less news and more drama. But then there are several factors behind their actions. Unlike international channels, the local media are mostly owned by some influential personality and he may or may not have political affiliation, he may or may not be working on an agenda. At the same time they have sponsors paying for their content so things often tend to become biased. Then there is a race to win top spot at the ratings chart. Every move any third class politician makes becomes “breaking news”. I’m sorry, but I have to say that some local news channels have way passed the line of ethical journalism. To give you an example, when Edhi Sahib passed away a reporter went and gave an exclusive live-cross from inside his grave!!!
Reporters need direction, training and a lot of betterment. There is a need to check what’s airing. But then again, it’s not the reporters’/anchors’ fault, it’s the owner who tows a certain agenda. And at the end, the poor reporter or cameraman is killed.
Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places for journalists!
8. You have recently also started your own YouTube channel which is an extension of your journalism work. How has the experience been so far, and what difference do you find between the stories you cover for CGTV and the ones you upload on your YouTube channel?
Well I won’t call it an extension of my journalistic work but now I wonder why I didn’t start it earlier. Even now, this wasn’t my idea. One of my old friends from NCA had come to Islamabad and we were discussing my work when he gave me this idea. He said that he had watched my documentaries and that even though they were compelling, but he wanted to know what me and my team went through while actually filming the stories. Something like ‘behind the scenes’, and the idea really struck me. This is an initiative to show our efforts that go into producing a documentary or any news item.
I have just started it recently so there isn’t too much work at the moment, but I hope to continue it and will be uploading stuff regularly now. I hope this would also be helpful to aspiring film-makers to decide whether they should really go for it or not. It is not an easy job. You can subscribe to my channel here:
9. Which story of yours that you have covered so far been the most important for you and why?
There is not one. Every story that I do adds to me as a film maker and as a person. In my limited experience, I have seen a lot. I started my career as a city reporter, and made it to the international arena. It is all the stories combined that have gotten me this far, so there is not just one.
10. What message would you like to send out to youngsters who want to pursue a career similar to yours?
Be sure. And once you’re sure that you really want to do this then be passionate about it. Anyone can tell a story, but it’s about becoming a part of that story. You need to do a lot of research. Do not come into this field to make money. It will come in its own time. Invest your time with like minded people. Do not be afraid to experiment.
Getting a fancy gear/camera/equipment will not make you a film maker. Neither will criticizing other people’s work. Begin with simple equipment and when you can afford it, get your own camera. Remember it’s not the equipment; it’s the person using the equipment. Learn how to frame things. Look at pictures of famous photographers, and see how they have shot a scene. Let your pictures talk. When you feel that you don’t need to give a title to your picture, is the time when you have made it to the first step. It will be a long journey, don’t be afraid. You’ll get there at the end. Learn to take criticism. And again, be PASSIONATE!