Does no one see the dirty double game being played by our TV channels?
It all begins with the ratings dwindling. Then, advertisers start being stingy with their money. Salaries are delayed. Lay-offs ensue. Content suffers and the channel is struggling. The talk shows don’t pack as much of a punch as their competitors’ melodramatic offerings.
That is when the bosses decide they need to spice things up.
Enter Dr Maria Zulfiqar Khan. An experienced newsreader, Dr Maria honed her skills anchoring the primetime 9PM bulletin of Express 24/7, at one time Pakistan’s only English news channel. Also the least watched one. But after the sudden demise of the English-language dream, Dr Maria is forced to hawk her wares in Urdu. It begins with her filling in for absent talk show pundits, presenting “specials” on “issues that no one talks about”. Her big break comes when she invites certain “transvestites” to her show to discuss the problems facing “their kind”. A fight breaks out and during the physical altercation; the combatants begin to deprive each other of articles of clothing. And thus, Dr Maria Zulfiqar Khan is launched into the world of talk shows as the intrepid reporter who loves nothing better than to expose the seedy, taboo underbelly of Pakistan.
To be fair, the good doctor knows her audience. In a span of four months, she does shows titled ‘How do ‘blue films’ of Pakistani girls make it onto the Internet?’, ‘Criminal negligence by medical practitioners’, ‘Sexual abuse against women’, ‘Cyber sex at an all time high’, ‘Vulgarity: our compulsion, your pleasure’. Some of these topics represent valid avenues for debate, discourse around which is central to a healthy society. But sifting through the smut to get to the good bits, one would be hard pressed to see the humanist or journalistic angles in these broadcasts.
However, Herr Dokter finds herself in a fix now. She is being shunned and crucified by social media hacks and civil society activists for her latest, Maya-esque episode on illicit massage parlours. In the episode, Dr Maria Zulfiqar raids (alongside police) a private residence purported to be a brothel, running under the guise of a massage parlour. At the outset, the good doctor claims to be working on a tip off received from one of the women who were being forced into prostitution at the massage parlour. However, when she arrives at the scene, she has all the airs of a provincial chief minster about her, ordering people into custody and yelling moral dogma at hapless ‘sex workers’. She then goes on a moralising spree, all but cussing out everyone from girls’ parents to the proprietors of the ‘establishment’. The show ends with a soliloquy on the evils that have permeated our society and the need to rid ourselves of such unclean practices.
Imagine if you will, a private residence. It can be located in any part of our fair backwater where normal, Pakistani law applies. In order to enter the residence, you must either be an owner, a guest or someone invited into the premises for a specific task i.e., housemaid, plumber, cable TV operator etc. The only way law enforcement agencies can obtain access to said premises is to obtain a warrant. In civilised society, there is really no other way of entering private property. You would think that like law enforcement officials, journalists would hold themselves to a higher standard and not resort to cheap, crowd-pleasing tactics. Well, you’d be wrong. This is a far cry from when the Burqa-brigade from Jamia Hafsa began kidnapping Chinese masseuses and triggered world war three in the heart of the capital; it is now morally justified for a rogue TV show host to barge into private property and accuse the occupants of running a brothel and operating a prostitution ring.
I exaggerate, of course. But so does the right honourable doctor, employed by the Red-and-White Media Group. Yes, the same people who brought you hits such as Maya Khan’s Emmy nominated apology, Veena Malik’s demolition of a religious cleric with penchant for ogling beautiful women and the on-air intimidation of already-marginalised Baloch leaders by one Barrister Saif, now present (for your viewing pleasure) a foray into the seedy, X-rated underbelly of Pakistani society.
Does no one see the dirty double game being played here by her employers? By taking these taboo subjects and airing the dirty linen in primetime, the channel is, in fact, catering to the perversions of the very segment of society that they seek to decry i.e., the sleazy, seedy and uncouth individuals who would take pleasure in watching such stories of depravity are the same people who this show is trying to villainise. With each show, the intent seems to be, more and more, to tantalise and titillate rather than educate or liberate.
Maria Zulfiqar Khan is just a pawn in this dangerous game of “my morality is bigger than yours”. It’s time we woke up and smelt the coffee. The moral fabric of our society is being replaced by outrage, pure adulterated and misguided outrage. And like a homing missile without a target, such outrage can only do more damage.
Follow @mightyobvious on Twitter for more incoherence in 140 characters or less