By Dr Qaisar Rashid
July 25, 2012
Poor Mir could not match the expertise of Veena Malik but he, through his writ petition, challenged the rating-obsession of the TV channel owners
In Pakistan, the number one anchorperson may be Hamid Mir, the number one film actress may be Veena Malik, but TV talk shows’ number one guest is none other than Sheikh Rashid. When there is no topic to converse on and no guest to invite, Sheikh Rashid is available freely as a guest with a score of topics to discuss.
On July 20, Hamid Mir, a famous journalist and ex-anchorperson, appeared on two TV talk shows and informed the viewers of his writ petition which he, along with Absar Alam, another journalist and anchorperson, filed in the Supreme Court with the intent to purge the electronic media of subjectivity. From the comments made by Hamid Mir, five major reasons for the subjectivity of the electronic media can be identified.
The first reason for subjectivity comes up when the owners of TV channels figure out the rationale of a talk show on the touchstone of viewers’ rating. The higher the rating, the more justified is the talk show. The pattern (topic and guests) is adopted that has secured a higher rating in the past as well. What was the difference between Hamid Mir hosting a political talk show and Veena Malik hosting a Ramadan talk show — this was the question asked by a senior journalist. That, according to Mir, prompted him, besides other factors, to think of filing this petition. Poor Mir could not match the expertise of Veena Malik but he, through his writ petition, challenged the rating-obsession of the TV channel owners. The rating of a talk show is also escalated by inviting Sheikh Rashid who has an interesting knack of roaming about freely from one topic to another and airing his spiced narrative. Some viewers consider that he enlightens them but some viewers deem that he amuses them. That is how Sheikh Rashid, an informer-cum-entertainer, affects the rating of a talk show and that is how anchorpersons make their talk shows a success to ensure their own survival. Unfortunately, the rating competition overlooks several important topics such as issues affecting women, children, the disabled, and minorities.
The second reason for subjectivity surfaces when Sheikh Rashid appears as a lone guest (to ensure he remains uninterrupted by co-guests) and throws up his embellished accounts to inveigle the military establishment. Certainly, Sheikh Rashid is not only a darling of the media but also of the military. General Hameed Gul expresses one face of the military establishment while Sheikh Rashid presents the other one. What retired brigadiers and generals cannot say explicitly, Sheikh Rashid is always ready and available to say in a frank manner. In 2007 and 2008, he kept on predicting the strengthening of the rule of General Pervez Musharraf but failed to see his downfall and subsequent escape. Similarly, his power of clairvoyance failed to forecast his own exemplary electoral collapse that occurred more than once in succession. If Sheikh Rashid is listened to carefully, it is not difficult to fathom that he yearns for a military-sponsored government, which could ensure his access to the power corridors. In fact, Sheikh Rashid, the stooge of the military establishment, is a headache for the Pakistani intelligentsia, which believes in democracy and fair commentary.
The third reason for subjectivity emerges when certain ‘hidden hands’ play their games through advertising agencies. These ‘hidden hands’ may be intelligence agencies or manoeuvring clubs, which offer opportunities to TV channels to swell their financial pockets through securing a load of advertisements. This financial help may be general for a TV channel or specific for a talk show. Pertaining to the latter, these hidden hands promote one type of anchorperson to conduct talk shows of their choice (topic and style). These hidden hands also hold the potential to compel the owners of a TV channel to provide more space (in terms of days) and liberty (in terms of selection of topics) to an anchorperson. The media-gate encompassing the names of Mubasher Lucman and Meher Bukhari — two anchorpersons who earned notoriety from their off-air clips — falls in this category.
The fourth reason for subjectivity comes forward when the hidden hands dictate to the owners of TV channels to refrain from holding talk shows on certain issues such as the unrest in Balochistan and the missing persons. For the past several months, the Supreme Court has been hearing the case of the law and order situation at the Quetta Registry of Balochistan but scarcely is any TV talk show conducted on the problems being faced by the Supreme Court in Balochistan. Comparatively, when the Supreme Court addressed the law and order case in Karachi, the whole media was all ears to the proceedings throughout the court’s presence in Karachi. Moreover, in this category, not the ratings but the dictation matters. This point also reveals the reason why TV talk shows on Balochistan have suddenly waned (after their appearance a few weeks ago) from the electronic media and why certain dailies (both English and Urdu) are indisposed to publish any point of view on Balochistan contradicting that of the military establishment.
The fifth reason for subjectivity comes into view when the ministry of information uses secret funds to buy the loyalties of journalists. The discretion to hold and spend funds is a big challenge to the concept of independence of the media (both print and electronic). If a journalist is enticed into reporting one type of story or writing one type of article, an objective opinion cannot be formed in the public. Additionally, viewers in general will lose faith in the media.
Can anything be more unfortunate than these observations of Hamid Mir who has hosted dozens of TV talk shows by now?
Dr Qaisar Rashid is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org