Media mess — II
It became a hay day for unethical functionaries of television channels. Very likely, large amounts of money exchanged hands. It became a free for all. Television power could do anything. It could intimidate the civil machinery, politicians, businessmen and all such groups. Money could be extracted in every way. Plots were allotted to many. Sometimes such plots were under individual names, but it is said that one media tsar had acres of prime land allotted in the names of his employed journalists and took it back from them to build a crazy palace. This tsar intended to engage robots to pick up the towel in his one kanal bathroom and bring it to his bathtub! There were others who took full advantage of their media power, particularly those with cross media ownerships. The trend encouraged those who did not have the complete range of the cross media to develop their media power, and those who did not have newspapers took declarations to start papers. Again, here the fatal fault was the government’s incompetence to foresee the power and to understand that such power would have corrupting influence. Most of the media entered a mad race. One group became the leader of sensationalism and wielding its power for financial advantages, others willingly or unwillingly followed to compete and get their share of the booty. Few held their graces and seemed to take backbencher position.
With a huge rush of so-called ‘current affairs programmes’, the standards of neutrality by comperes evaporated and each compere promoted some ‘agenda’ for suspect reasons. Sometimes subtle but at other times naked support to even terror groups was provided on one pretext or other. Pro-terrorist actions were appreciated, and those who acted in their favour were given the gift of maximum media coverage. In a recent period of time, when some courts were identified as publicity hungry, some media functionaries took full advantage in encouraging and publicising court decisions that fit their agenda and pocket. A free for all continued without consideration as to what happens to the country and its populace.
Gradually, sensitive viewers started to notice the tilt. They recognised the trends of different anchors/comperes and gave them a license for having a ‘point of view’ or playing ‘devil’s advocates’. However, soon the viewers started to suspect these intentions and grew to realise that a certain agenda was consciously and persistently being pursued by some leading media houses. The media group currently in the spotlight seemed to be the leader. Some favourite ‘agendas’ included: running down the current civil government or supporting it selectively, supporting Indian products and policies, running down Musharraf and his era, supporting imported cultural software and ignoring home products, and promoting all negative news in the state to create disgust and unrest in the viewers. This is only an incomplete list and newer ‘items’ were added as and when required.
A regrettable tactic employed was to encourage the political representatives of different parties to come on live television, shout and even resort to vulgarity in their physical expression. This, in the eyes of the hosts increased the intensity of the programme, provided interesting ‘heat in arguments’ and consequently higher ratings, and of course the financial benefit by increased advertisements in the programme. It happened quite often that these programmes had longer ‘breaks’ for advertisements and lesser time for the actual programme. One single ad was repeated in the same programme and in the same ‘break’ to complete the total for billing to the advertiser. The over advertising was not limited to current affairs programmes, it extended to entertainment as well. Popularity at any cost seemed to be the goal because it brought in revenues. In the process, little attention was paid to the important role of the media to carry out its social responsibility of providing wholesome content to the viewer.
Attracted by the low cost of second-hand imported programmes, the channels gave a ‘landa bazaar’ (flea market) of programming to its viewers. The limits prescribed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA’s) rules were openly violated and the so-called ‘autonomous’ PEMRA preferred silence or turned its face to something else. Why? The question needs an answer. PEMRA, the main control authority, is dominated by nominees of the government! Could these nominees be in league? Could they be corrupt? Or incompetent? Or were they being forced to toe a policy line? Answers to all these questions must be sought.
As of now, the mess has reached its highest point. The media group under the spotlight felt so high and mighty that, after browbeating all and sundry, they moved forward to try their tactics on the armed forces. The media organisation’s game could have been well calculated. They sensed a gap between the civil government and the armed forces so they used it. They felt a definite difference of approach towards the terror groups. While the Nawaz Sharif government and its allies favoured negotiations with the Taliban and its terror groups, the armed forces wanted preconditions attached, like the terror groups’ acceptance of Pakistan’s constitution, its democratic values and commitment to Islam, not Islamism.
The terrorists consider the armed forces an enemy while Pakistanis hold the armed forces in very high esteem. There was uproar in the public over what went down with the media group. The other channels, which were already suffering because of the media group’s policies and dominance got together in condemnation. The ministry of defence objected and several political parties masses took exception. Then an entertainment show belonging to the television channel of the same media group made the thoughtless mistake of matching a religious qawali with an actress’s marriage. The public in general, and cable operators in particular, were annoyed. Religious segments were infuriated and the matter went to the courts.