November, 2018

The Sach Gup of a Dedicated Life

By Imran Aslam

I was 17 when I first saw Shoaib Hashmi. I was hooked. Here was a teacher who was an anarchist, completely irreverent, who treated us little insects as if we were suddenly qualified to go to adults-only films. He had a sense of tradition and a rootedness that was enviable, a forever-nomad, like myself. Shoaib Sb. was an iconoclast. I saw many idols tremble when he fixed them with his withering look. And when he decided to speak, the idols would crumble. This man taught me economics. In his book this meant knowing the value of things. Not the prices. This was a lesson I never forgot.


The Role of Television

Television has become the dominant element of the media spread in Pakistan over the past 2 decades, ever since military ruler Gen. Musharraf launched his liberalization policy and issued TV and radio broadcast licences and print media declarations right and left. No one expected a military man to pursue a liberal media policy but it goes to the credit of the general that, unlike both military and civilian rulers before him, he thought nothing of the liberties he was giving. On the one hand, this was something the media never expected and they were a little surprised and non-plussed as the senior ones among them had grown under the draconian PPO and the RPPO and could not conceive of a no-holds-barred media environment. On the other hand, there were murmurs from within the government itself that too much freedom was being given to the media all at once. It is also a fact that it was this same freedom that struck back at General Musharraf when his bad days came and the very media persons who had benefitted from his liberalization policy reacted negatively and criticized him in every way they could. They thought of him as a dictator and usurper (as if he was the first one that Pakistan had ever experienced) and supported the imposition on him of Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan concerning the fact that he declared a state of emergency on November 3, 2007 and the Constitution was suspended.

Ever since television in Pakistan was liberalized and the monopoly of Pakistan Television ended, many private television channels have opened since it became easy for people to obtain TV broadcast licences and there were also no restrictions against cross-licencing. This meant that those who were already in the print publication business, such as newspapers, could also obtain TV and radio broadcast licences. In pursuing his media liberalization policy, Pervez Musharraf’s vision was to improve Pakistan’s image around the world and he wanted to achieve this by proceeding on all fronts simultaneously. It was his primary objective to defeat terrorism and extremism. At the same time, it was his purpose to further the image of a culturally rich, inviting and economically vibrant Pakistan. It was to this end that he wanted Pakistani media to gear up and sell Pakistan’s image as a modern and progressive nation.

It is unfortunate that while everyone jumped on the bandwagon and became TV broadcasters to the detriment of all other media (primarily print and radio), all that they could come with was predominantly news channels. There are over a hundred TV channels operating in Pakistan today but very few of these can be described as wholly entertainment channels. The mainstay of all these channels is news. You follow one TV news channel and you are informed of all that is happening. You switch to another channel and it has the same news and this keeps repeating as you move though all the channels. Some of these channels have obtained licences to exclusively broadcast news but not all of them. And, as was the original objective in the liberalization of TV channels, it was to build Pakistan’s image as a culturally rich and vibrant nation. That has not happened and all that these channels cover are protests and negative news in a very exaggerated manner while pandering to the whims of political and religious parties and thus attempting to create panic in society. These channels also fan sectarianism and intolerance through their analyses and tickers and thus work against the national interest. Their anchors and presenters think nothing of using derogatory language against institutions and personalities and some even go to the length of broadcasting unsubstantiated allegations against politicians and others.

Where is the positive image of Pakistan in all this? If you are abroad and subscribe to a Pakistani channel, all that you get to see or hear are negative stories. This has a cumulative effect of creating an image of Pakistan as an extremist and crime-prone country where nothing is good. This creates despondency among Pakistanis living abroad and many of them who come visiting Pakistan are always looking over their shoulder. While news cannot and should not be censored, there should be some checks that ensure that the TV channels create the right balance between the bad and the good. The number of news channels should also be limited while other channels should only be permitted licences if they demonstrate that they are promoting Pakistan’s culture by way of music, art, customs, the national heritage and sports. The channels broadcasting drama should also be encouraged to not follow formulas being pursued by other nations in the region and should depict Pakistan’s own, indigenous ethos, the way Pakistan Television did in its early days.


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Javed Ansari

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