Jan 7, 2010


Harris Khalique

Michael Ignatieff is a significant historian, fiction writer and politician. I believe he now heads the Liberal Party of Canada and sits in the House of Commons as the leader of the opposition. For many years, while he used to teach in the UK, he anchored some popular radio and television programmes. We in Pakistan know very little about Canadian politics but from the outside, it seems that Jack Layton's New Democratic Party (NDP) is more appealing to people like us than Ignatieff's platform. But one must acknowledge his contribution as an academic, writer and broadcaster. He once said, "Television is the church of modern authority."

We have seen this authority being exercised in Pakistan. People belonging to all tiers of the middle class all over the country are glued to live coverage of events, sensational talk shows, news analysis, investigative reports and political interviews. The good part is that they get to hear different viewpoints, opinions and comments on issues faced by the country and society at large. A change in consciousness is the beginning for a real social change. I have seen the magic of television twice in the past few years. First, it was the earthquake of 2005 when the whole country was galvanised. Private television channels played a key role in raising both human help and financial resources. Then it was the movement for the restoration of judiciary and countrywide protests against the imposition of emergency rule during 2007 and 2008. Processions, speeches, fistfights, baton-charges and teargas shelling were all happening in our living rooms. There is a lot of public good private television channels have promoted. The couple of channels in English have better public messages and programming content but some in Urdu are also doing well when it comes to raising social issues and seeking their solutions.

Listening to radio is now largely limited to music and late-night entertainment on FM channels. An interesting difference between the print media and television is that newspapers are largely limited to Urdu, English and Sindhi. But television programming in Pakistan has reached new heights by the introduction of current affairs and entertainment programmes in Pashto, Seraiki, Punjabi and Balochi besides the three languages mentioned earlier. Active television programming in seven languages twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is a major achievement for a society which is backward and struggling to be civil and mature for so many years. Young women and men with a lot of energy and dynamism work day in and day out to quench our thirst for news and information. When I get up in the morning and flip channels, some remarkably well-produced programmes are on air. Likewise, during primetime in the evenings, some infotainment and news analysis offered by even middle of the line channels are educative and enlightening.

So when we establish that television is so significant, what kind of responsibility it imposes on people who run it? Incredible, humungous and massive. And while I have fully appreciated the struggling young women and men who put in a lot of effort to inform and entertain us, some of them who have become leading primetime anchors are miserably failing us in bearing this heavy responsibility. With a serious lack of knowledge on the subject being discussed and a weak sense of history, not only that they speak more than their guests, they palpably push their own views and prejudices. This will eventually make them unpopular but in the meanwhile, a lot of half-truths will be accepted as truths.

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