Media bazaar -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media bazaar

Andleeb Abbas

There is a huge opportunity for channels that dare to be different, that decide to risk a new approach, that try to balance the negative with the positive, that try to have discussions with rules of ethical conduct in their talk shows and other programmes
How loud and low can you get on the electronic screen? The answer will differ each day as you see new records of shouting, mudslinging and accusations heaped by political parties on each other. The talk shows are verbal sumo wrestling matches where the obscene tongue wagging of the participants is as distasteful as the rather vulgar bulges of flesh hanging from the wrestlers’ bodies in the traditional art of knocking out pouncing opponents. As election time approaches, this political circus becomes more raucous, more mocking, and more embarrassing. The desperation of each channel to steal viewership has turned the media into a bazaar of fighting cocks where each fighter is ready to pinch, tease and bash the opposition into submission. This ugly brawl of the current and prospective leaders of our country reflects the state of affairs prevailing in Pakistan.

In a society starved of any diversity of thought, perspective or ideology, with the only preoccupation being to wonder apprehensively which news will bring the worst tidings, it is but natural that the media industry has become an auction house for the lowest form of talk and discussion possible. They thrive on spokespersons of various parties coming in with the intention of making such a ruckus that the viewer gets glued to the screen, not fascinated by its content but horrified by the style of discourse. Each political party prepares a frontline of stalwarts who are sent to bulldoze each topic to nothing by sheer force and volume of rhetoric and uninhibited use of profanities. Similarly, anchors on television shows have also adopted the louder than thou style of bickering and provoking. These anchors deliberately pitch guests against each other, intentionally dare them to make empty statements and then catch them off guard to make them even more upset and retaliatory.

There is a contest between channels, there is a contest between anchors, and there is a contest between spokespersons. Unfortunately, the contest-winning criteria are based on all the wrong reasons. With so much going wrong with the country, television channels have become addicted to showing the obvious. The government has defaulted on all counts and the public is sick of its repeated follies. Thus, to report on these two areas is easy and needed. Television reporters are judged on how quickly they can break news and how effective the news is for breaking the nerves of the viewers. In this race to be the first to depress the viewers, the authenticity of news many times becomes secondary, causing a lot of unnecessary anguish to viewers. Since there is hardly any accountability, channels continue their electronic gossiping with fearless fluency. To bolster this raunchy, rude style of reporting, most of the channels are choosing young, glib talking, mocking and hugely lacking in substance anchors. Since most of these anchors do not have political depth, the programmes they conduct are based on base repetitive issues that divert attention from their own lack of preparation and knowledge.

Another major problem with most of the channels is that they do not have professional teams backing up programmes with the right research and analysis. They are owned and run by people who have money but little know-how of professional management. With little strategy on programming, they just clone all major talk shows and try to attain viewership by going to great lengths to become bizarre and mega sensational. Most of these channels have little programming of their own and constantly use Indian movies and reruns of earlier programmes to fill up airtime. In such an environment, the life of a more professional and decent anchor becomes difficult.

Though the media must take responsibility for this degradation of standards, the ultimate responsibility lies with viewers. Each programme is now scientifically rated by independent media agencies that provide real time feedback on viewership numbers. The sad truth is that our viewers also love watching the most contentious and indecent programmes. The figures reveal a brutal reality: talk shows conducted by decent anchors based on in-depth research and analysis achieve lower viewership than the more raucous ones. Herein lies the real catch. When we ask the viewers about the mudslinging of our leaders on TV they all express total dissatisfaction, but when it comes to watching them doing so again and again, they still want to watch such shows. This strange contradiction has always existed in readers and viewers all over the world. Tabloids in newspapers are looked down upon yet they sell more than decent publications. However, in the developed countries viewers who are educated and also desirous of decent media offerings are far greater in number than those present in an underdeveloped country like Pakistan. Thus, the continued survival of these channels thriving on such substandard programming.

However, the media industry has to grow up. It must realise that to survive it has to stop cloning programmes. The lack of differentiation in channel strategy has become a serious hindrance to the maturity of this industry. As viewers in Pakistan become more choosy and demanding, the industry will find itself shelving many players who lack identity and are simply photocopying the better players in the game. Thus, there is a huge opportunity for channels that dare to be different, that decide to risk a new approach, that try to balance the negative with the positive, that try to have discussions with rules of ethical conduct in their talk shows and other programmes. With such media power it is also important that senior players in the industry lead the trend of producing a more responsible and mature output, of educating the public and presenting them with programming that elevates the intellectual level and understanding of the general public. As an industry that is greatly responsible for projecting the image of the country internationally, it should really have a strategy of changing the perception of the country that only shows bombs and screaming politicians. Highlighting the many unsung heroes in each aspect of life and promoting a decent code of conduct in public discussions would, for a start, not only do a service for the country’s image, but also give such channels a chance to differentiate themselves and to stand out in the negative muck the industry has become entrenched in.

The writer is an analyst, consultant and media and information head PTI Punjab. She can be reached at