Television is unlike most other technologies because it also performs ‘hidden’ functions. Therefore, the west marketed it to the south as a constitutive part of two larger narratives – modernisation and then later globalisation.
The modernisation thesis, propounded by Daniel Lerner, held that the media, along with urbanisation, education and other social forces, would mutually stimulate economic, social, and cultural development. As a result, media growth was viewed as a sign of development.
The latest in western technology at the time (for instance, the direct broadcast satellite) was recommended by Lerner and his followers to poor countries wishing to modernise. One big attribute of TV at the time was its potential to help spread literacy. To this day, our media departments are teaching journalism students the sham that the media supposedly ‘educates, entertains, and informs’.
PTV was launched in 1964 under the first military ruler, General Ayub, who sought legitimacy by casting himself in the role of a great moderniser. The reform commission set up by the Ayub regime to report on major sectors of public life, urged “the government to move as quickly as possible towards the development of television”.
Gen Ayub himself employed the modernisation rhetoric to justify the television project. “Investment in the media of information should be regarded as development expenditure”, he declared. Also, the state-controlled daily The Pakistan Times, which hailed the launching of PTV, couched its support for the channel in modernisation rhetoric. Citizens were told how PTV would help educate Pakistan.
By the early 1980s, modernisation was abandoned by imperialism in the favour of globalisation. The south was told that the path to development was globalisation. Computer and commercial TV became new symbols of the ‘globalising’ world. While in the modernisation phase TV was – almost as a rule – a state-owned enterprise, in the globalisation stage, airwaves were liberalised to let TV ‘globalise’.
Both these narratives, projecting television as a symbol of assimilation in the global village, conceal two basic functions of television in the south. First, television generates dependency on the west and second, TV manufactures consumers for western products – through advertising, re-shaping of lifestyles etc.
Look at the case of PTV. During 1965-70, $55 million was spent on PTV’s development at a time when East Pakistan was agitating for clean water. Germany, Japan, the UK, and the Netherlands found a TV market as PTV went on air. The burden of development costs was passed on to citizens in the name of TV licences.
I do wonder whether any Pakistani ever managed to complete his/her matriculation through PTV. Despite 50 years of PTV we remain as illiterate as ever – and PTV has contributed next to nothing towards furthering literacy.
This is equally true about TV’s failure to help us ‘globalise’. First, the content on privatised TV channels has been provincialised, with hardly any coverage of global issues. I think audiences in Pakistan are less informed about the rest of the world than they were before the advent of the ‘globalising’ TV.
Second, liberalised TV has not helped Pakistan globalise either culturally or economically. Instead of assimilating in the global committee of nations, Pakistan has become a pariah state. Of course, one cannot blame TV for this situation – but it has only helped localise Pakistani discourses.
However, with the mushroom growth of TV channels in 2002-2010, the west has managed to sell more hardware to Pakistan besides winning new consumers for multinational products. We do not produce anything required to run TV channels. Our dependency is absolute. Meantime, back in my village in Narowal where TV has arrived but not the road, cola has replaced lassi.
The writer is a freelancecontributor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org