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The Media Madhouse

The free reign enjoyed by our media especially the immature and novice electronic media which gets almost all its human resources from the press mainly Urdu newspapers. It is no wonder that we observe sensationalization and are forced to see moles as mountains.

Some may recall the insensitive and ridiculous headlines of “Awam – Jang Group” and “Qaumi Akhbar” carried when they came out. They were driven in doing the thrilling act, as they put it, because they operated in saturated markets and it was impossible to make a mark in the presence of giants like Jang and Nawa I Waqt.

Similarly electronic media enterprises operate in similar situations. Their markets are saturated, the reader engagement and loyalty enjoyed by their predecessor, print media, is non-existent as it takes only a click to move from one station to the other.

The task of keeping the viewer at a particular station is proving to be difficult for the clever producers, anchors, editors (not sure there are any) and marketing and sales teams employed to sell air time. The TRPs, GRPs are more colloquially “ratings” have come to dictate more than ethics, training and professionalism.

To make matters worse advertising agencies, marketing companies, brands and businesses have grown clever and instead of spending their resources on mass media they employ them on engagement activities. Thus the outburst of channels has to compete for their slice of the shrinking pie (ad spent). The outrageous rivalry is evident from “breaking news” flashes and “sub se pehle aap tak khabar pohanchai…” clichés.

The rage is exhibited by maligning anchors to deter their ratings Amir Liaquat Hussain is a befitting example. Mubashir was bashed severely for his casual talk while interviewing Malik Riaz and he had to do a special show on MQM and Najam Sethi to wash his sins and to be declared a sacha and khara Pakistani.

This created an avenue for certain national and international groups to exploit the Pakistani masses through training our Journalists and sponsoring certain “good for all” projects mainly “aman ki asha“, “chal parha“, “brastack“, “zara sochiye” etc.

There is nothing wrong with airing such shows especially when they generate excitement and interest the viewers, drive home revenues for the producers and media outlet and the financier gets what he wants.

Lately tantrums have risen on the religious parties’ stance on Hakeemullah Mahsud’s assassination. Yes he is the same Waziristani, Mehsud who was according to dawn “a ruthless leader of TTP” and commanded TTP after similar assassination of another Mahsud who exited the stage in similar manner 3 years ago.

It would have been another killing had Imran Khan not termed it a conspiracy to sabotage peace talks. IK’s involvement made murder of Mahsud Junior a topic for the urban elite. However, the incident proved that it’s not only the anchors that are ratings savvy. The race for mileage started within the political factions.

Everyone jumped on the bandwagon and irrespective of their views, which were immature, uncalled for and baseless, as in the past, they tried to outdo their opponents. “Bayaan barai baayan” started making their way on the waves.

In this frenzy Syed Munawar Hasan, a seasoned infotainer got beaten by Maulana Fazl ur Rahman. So furious was Maulana that he was willing to call dogs, killed by Americans, ‘martyrs”. Not to be out done by his ex-ally Hasan took the opportunity of “jirga – saleem safi” to shift the balance in his favor.

Listening, and I mean listening not hearing, him didn’t raise my brows because I have also read a fatwa, by Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, issued a few days before his killing, which said the same thing asked by Hasan.

It has become our national obligation and favorite hobby to beat about the bush and avoid solution oriented debates or atleast talk about the problems or issues troubling us. So the media went bonkers, nothing new. The zealots went nuts, no surprise.

The problem that lay in front of us was not whether Mahsud Junior was “Shaheed” or not but what will become of the peace initiative, which by the way never had a chance to initiate, owing to the non-serious attitude of PML-N government. Instead we focused our brains on discussing whether the deceased mortal could be called a shaheed or not.

The word has lost its meaning because of being used for anyone and everyone so much so that a news channel termed the death of a horse as shaheed. So here we were the purest of mankind: Pakistanis, employing our energies on who could be shaheed and who can be halaak instead of pondering alternate solutions to ending this conflict which has engaged 1/3 or our armed forces and has taken 50,000 civilian lives.

Ratings started swirling for “who can talk more non-sense” and all was routine before ISPR got into the act. The uncalled for “eye for an eye” response seemed more like Tahir Shah’s “eye to eye”. Hasan has a track record for speaking first thinking later but I wish our national treasure of an institution were to be different. Calling Hasan to apologize has created new rifts and widened the old in our highly divided society.

The (pseudo) liberals in their hatred for Islamists and general confusion about their old imperialist and capitalist enemy: the US and Military became “ghar ke na ghat ke” as they, in retaliation to the statement; they started appraising the Army while condemning the same for committing atrocities in Baluchistan.

Wondering what has kept the judiciary occupied. Haven’t heard breaking news about a sou-moto action on calling “Mahsud” a martyr. Or better still on not calling “Jawans”, who laid down their lives so that Generals could play golf and extend DHAs, “shaheeds”.

The stage is all set for a Madhouse, where no one has anything but only hatred, resent and reaction for everyone else. The society has scaled further lows on the parameters of tolerance, intellect and principles.

By Rehan Ali – from his blog The Madhouse – Critic


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