A face which looks appetising on one TV channel may also prove its charm on the competitor’s screen too
Do you know what the biggest problem with Pakistan’s media is? Some say its sensationalism and a complete and utter disregard for ethics and the core values of journalism. Others blame the blatant marketing of sex, the feminine form and related topics as a means to obtain ratings. Those saying that dishonesty, intellectual and otherwise, is to blame are close, but still no cigar. Many maintain there is a complete absence of worthwhile discourse on useful, academic topics and issues. That producers today are repackaging ideas done to death by American TV shows from the 1980s and remarketing them as the new ‘in-thing’ is also not quite it. So what, you may well ask, IS wrong with the media today? If you wait for the next paragraph, I’ll tell you.
According to my friend and award-winning blogger Adnan Rasool, the biggest problem with our media is that TV show hosts and anchors are unconditionally labeled ‘journalists’, where most of them have absolutely zero experience in journalism whatsoever. Think about it. What do Dr Moeed Pirzada, Mubasher Lucman, Meher Bukhari, Kamran Shahid, Dr Maria Zulfiqar Khan and Dr Shahid Masood have in common? Apart from the fact that there are too many doctors in TV news (medical, veterinary and otherwise), it is that none of these people have a background in journalism, nor can any one of these people point to any non-talk show ‘street-cred’ they may have acquired over the past many years that they have been ruling the airwaves on our favorite TV news channels.
Isn’t it remarkable then that everyday hundreds of thousands of people tune in to these glorified evangelists, just to hear them ruminate on questions of prime importance to the people of this country? Mind you, those charged with asking the questions and finding their answers can be found – before and after their shows – sitting diligently at the business end of their bosses’ oak office tables every day. During such meetings with brain-dead corporate clones, our defenders of truth and justice can be seen nodding in agreement to the most inane of ideas and responding with quips such as “That’s an excellent idea, sir. I’ll just go put on a more revealing tank top,” or “Having audience-generated dirty text messages running at the bottom of the screen will definitely generate more interest in our otherwise dull news analysis program”. Pure fertiliser, but if they don’t agree, they may not have a job the next day. Ironic, isn’t it?
Broadcast media is, generally, a very incestuous place. This is due to the nature of the medium itself i.e., it is more visual than anything else. Therefore, that which looks appetising on one TV channel may also do the same for its competitor. So for the most part, the channel logos keep changing, but the faces stay the same. This is also true for crossover stars, those that jump into the news lifeboat to escape the grind of their otherwise taxing entertainment duties. While there have been successful crossovers, such as former news anchor turned-morning-show-host Sana Tariq, we can be sure that the era of the renaissance men is well and truly over.
Giants such as Shoaib Hashmi, Naeem Bokhari, Zia Mohyeuddin, Anwar Maqsood and Ghazi Salahuddin made the transition from journalism to fluff and back again seem effortless. But that was a different time, when the TV medium was highly selective. With PTV being one of the only outlets for such creative folk, you had to be a cut or four above the rest to get any airtime at all. Not that PTV from the 80s or 90s was anything to write home about, but it had its moments. More moments than any channel has had since. But that’s all over now. Today, we must contend with pretty faces who can’t properly pronounce place names in KPK and FATA, but will still get to anchor news bulletins or primetime talk shows.
But who do we blame for this lack of talent, or training, or depth, or vision? I mean, as a chronic shortcoming, we must find a suitable outlet which is to blame for this state of affairs. That’s how things work nowadays, isn’t it? You isolate an issue out of context, find a suitable scapegoat and then proceed to berate them and their ineptitude for the remaining 40 minutes of your primetime slot. There is no effort to understand the academic issues at stake, no real effort to identify all concerned stakeholders or any constructive discussion on possible solutions. Each show starts with “Aaj Pakistan mein yeh ziyadti hogaye” and ends with “hukoomat ko iss sey nimatney keliye jamea hikmat-e-amli tayyar karni hogi”. Truth be told, horse manure makes more sense than this formula.
But that’s the tragedy. You see, as with any other corporate venture, the media is, at the end of the day, a profit making enterprise. If cut-cutting means that reporters are not held to the minimum standards of reporting, not required to verify information from their sources and are asked to sacrifice diligence in favour of speed, you can hardly blame the unqualified correspondent employed for Rs 25,000/month for not covering his bases. It’s institutional hubris at its worst. The institution itself perpetuates the laziness because it is easier and cheaper to be less than thorough. Laziness is what’s wrong. We should change that. But let’s do it tomorrow.
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