Talk show travesties -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Talk show travesties

Syed Abbas Hussain

Urdu broadcasting news in Pakistan on the contrary seems to have converged tabloid journalism with news analysis, resulting in a hotchpotch of sorts. The outcome is a cheapening of the political discourse

While flipping through news channels, one cannot help but notice the prominence that talk shows have gained. Discussion programmes on Pakistani news channels have evolved to become an indispensible feature. Such shows often showcase heated debates between notable personalities. A talk show as a matter of principle is meant to be a forum for a thorough intellectual critique: a podium where academic discourse is deliberated on. By tapping a diversity of opinions, such shows are traditionally intended to present a reasoned analysis on an issue.

Discussion shows on some Pakistani channels however tend to digress from the principles of a talk show. What begins as a discussion of ideas, often climaxes into a mudslinging contest involving personal attacks. The game of one-upmanship among the guests of such shows is marked by frequent interruptions.

An episode of Kamran Shahid’s talk show, Frontline, on Express News aired on February 15, 2012 is a classic case of a political show being usurped by a despicable exchange of profanities. Mr Talal Akbar Bugti joined at the end of the programme via telephone and launched a tirade against former President Pervez Musharraf. While Mr Bugti refrained from resorting to verbal abuse, the counter-attack by Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, a close aide of Musharraf, consisted of foul language and even a flagrant threat to Talal Bugti’s life. However, it was the reaction of the host that emerged as a source of pressing concern as he served as a mere passive bystander to the ugly brawl and refrained from making any attempt to quell the furore, let alone object to the uncalled for audacious behaviour. Surely, he failed miserably to play the role of a ‘mediator’ of the discussion.

Such episodes have unfortunately become commonplace on prime time television and past examples include Firdous Ashiq Awan engaging in Kashmala Tariq’s character assassination or Talal Bugti swearing at Sher Afgan Khan on a discussion programme.

The clash of egos and flaring tempers provide a surreal depiction of the barbarism of our so-called political elite. It gives viewers the opportunity to witness from a vantage point the cringe-worthy sight of how crass some of our political representatives can get.

With the decorum of a debate brutally torn to shreds, such episodes evoke feelings of exasperation, pity, and ridicule in some viewers. On the other hand, a large chunk of viewers whom these shows cater to, relish the altercations. They watch political figures engaging in a torrent of abuse with a smile on their face and a glint of excitement in their eyes. Meanwhile, the hosts of these shows cash in on the viewer’s insatiable appetite for combat and instigate their guests into conflict with dexterity; sadly following the footsteps of the likes of tabloid show presenter Jerry Springer!

Needless to say, the media is an industry that cannot elude profit maximisation. Scandal and sensationalism increase viewership and enhance public ratings, hence setting the cash registers ringing. A brawl between two politicians is viewed not just via repeat telecasts on TV but followed by internet uploads for those who have missed the ugly row.

It is important nonetheless, to keep in mind that talk shows touch upon pertinent socio-political issues, which need to be brought to the forefront and discussed. Topics such as corruption, terrorism and constitutional reform, for example, require thorough examination. With talk shows becoming a hotbed of drama, these issues fail to be analysed effectively and end up becoming trivialised.

That is not to say that the international news media is free of the trap of sensationalism. The powerful forces of scandal find their way into the world media in a big way. However, a distinction is always drawn between news sources that have a tabloid style of journalism and those that have established a reputation for news journalism. In Britain, for instance, The Sun is a newspaper that thrives on sensationalism and is associated with that particular style. The Guardian and Telegraph on the other hand have a more formal format of news presentation. Urdu broadcasting news in Pakistan on the contrary seems to have converged tabloid journalism with news analysis, resulting in a hotchpotch of sorts. The outcome is a cheapening of the political discourse.

The phenomenal growth of Pakistani media in the last decade is commendable to say the least. The media revolution in the country has been marked by a mushrooming of numerous private TV channels. A country that was once characterised by a single state-run channel now has numerous channels enjoying the unprecedented freedom to scrutinise political actors.

However, as the famous tagline of ‘Spiderman’ goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The cannons of media ethics need to be exercised with caution while executing media content. News channels therefore need to adopt a set of codes to meet the basic prerequisite of social etiquette on a programme. By adopting standards that allow for a mentally stimulating media viewing, the target audience can be calibrated to appreciate a more humane form of political debate.

Source: Daily Times