Sink the anchors | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Sink the anchors

Masood Hasan

Of the few sensible things I have ever done, one consisted of firmly pulling out a jack at the end of a black wire which led into the television. One pull and cable television was gone. Magic I swear. Its insufferable talk show hosts, fuzzy, erratic and sub-standard reception, poor sound quality and an overload of commercials. All gone. Poof! Noise pollution? It’s a thing of the past.

The truth is TV anchors are everywhere. Some say they are extraterrestrials. Each channel has a zealous team of crusaders. There is now a veritable screaming tribe led by aggressive, shrieking, howling half crazed hosts and hostesses. High decibels shatter glass window panes hundreds of feet away. As is the fashion, guests are insulted, attacked and berated without fail. On these shows there is always only one voice. The Anchor’s. As they shout at their guests, the guests start shouting back. Mayhem prevails. Everyone shouts at everyone. Mikes crackle as if in their death throes. Sound waves go haywire. And to add to the madness hundreds of breaks appear cutting sentences midair. No one can complete even one sentence — between the hosts in perpetual love with their vocal chords, no discussion is ever concluded.

Everyone flits randomly from topic to topic. You can question Zionism and an Islamabad Cat House in one breath. Accusations and counter-accusations fly like bats out of hell. The most bizarre theories are floated. No one questions their veracity. No one questions anything. And since no one concedes an argument the shouting never stops. Insults are hurled. Sometimes crockery. Manhandling is common. Soon knifing and garrotting will be allowed on prime time. All this is termed here as ‘entertainment’. Surely not? Millions tune in, get thoroughly revolted, then switch channels and get a repeat booster dose on another infernal channel.

Pakistani anchors in a civilised society, could be imprisoned for defamation, slander and inciting hatred, violence, even murder. Not here. They are the stars, enjoy star status and flit from channel to channel raising their takings each time. They are paid obscene amounts of money — whenever they are paid — channels it is believed run more and more on hot air and intravenous injection of funds.

Almost all anchors believe that success and popularity depend on how vicious, vile and obnoxious they can be to what are euphemistically called ‘guests’. Attacks are frontal. The onslaught is savage. Facts are not allowed on any talk shows. Shell-shocked viewers now call them ‘shout shows’. The next fish market scenes can be shot on any talk show without fear.

Every anchor preaches as if global policies are made only after their concurrence. Self-congratulatory, full of admiration for themselves, the anchors stay far away from being quiet, calm, reasonable and self-effacing, God forbid. Instead the most bizarre fantasies are thrown up nationwide. Self-styled men with established fake degrees, strut about, flaunting their phony degrees without missing a beat. Modesty is in very short supply. Many preen like conceited roosters, schizophrenics on the loose mouthing the foulest obscenities off camera and then syrupy sweet with a glowing halo as they purify the blackened souls of their callers.

There are others who seem to be in a 24/7/365 day one-to-one with the world’s top leaders. This lot declares periodically that global peace depends a lot on what they have to say. Behind fake plastic smiles and false veneers of wisdom, are no ‘aalims’ but ‘jaahils’. Yet some people are captivated by their views. I suppose there is no accounting for bad taste. These anchors have made TV unwatchable. This new wave of information technology has gifted us, people with bloated egos and no scholarship. What is worse is that none of them understands what a good anchor or host must do.

Were they to study real professional broadcasters, they would perhaps begin to understand what this is all about. The David Frosts and Michael Parkinsons of the world, to name just two, are a pleasure to hear. They have interviewed this planetÂ’s super stars and power figures and they have always done two things. The first, an in-depth homework on their subjects. The second a clear understanding and implementation of their role which is to politely and firmly guide, direct and arrive at credible conclusions.

I have been watching old re-runs of that doyen of UK television, Sir Michael Parkinson. His talk show ran for thirty years (1971-2001). Regarded as one of the best over 2,000 guests appeared and entertained — the world’s greatest actors and actresses, comedians, singers and entertainers, yet you hardly ever heard ‘Parky’ hogging the conversation.

In a famous episode where Muhammad Ali (Parkinson’s all time favourite guest) unleashed an assault on him about Elijah Mohammad, all you see is Parkinson rolling with laughter as Ali goes on the rampage. It’s a classic of letting your guest have all the freedom they want. Erudite anchors like Sir David Frost interviewed the worldÂ’s top leaders and always managed to make global issues understandable to their audiences. Frost would comment and guide the conversation. ThatÂ’s it.

In these two pure professional broadcasters’ book, the guests mattered above everything else and what you could get from them without being boorish and nasty. It would do a world of good for some of our national award-winning pros to watch a few of these episodes but I guess they already know all there is to know.

What however further amazes me is this burning desire of people who are prepared to travel miles, spend endless hours, get paid zilch and are insulted and abused at random. What is this? For five seconds of dubious glory? This talk show circus has allowed the nation’s crackpots to surface like a bad case of acne. Half dead of old age sans any wisdom, geriatrics sit around barely breathing and managing to utter one inanity after another, as and when the anchors are not shouting them down. They look like fools but apparently it doesn’t matter, least of all to them.

Anyone invited to these infernal channels, simply and eagerly comply. Half deaf bureaucrats, crusty old irrelevant generals, properties oozing out of their armpits and various fossils of no particular description ramble on vacuously each one with their brand of ‘wisdomÂ’. May the Lord spare us this continuing punishment. We may not have gas, but is there denying the presence of so many hot air balloons?

In a culture that does not encourage discussion and debate, no talk show has the pedigree to be half-way entertaining. The sight of grown-up men and over-made women yelling like fishmongers is disgusting. Some dodgy and unrepresentative rating game is calling the shots. That in itself is made up of a sample not even a fraction of Pakistan’s TV watching public, but hey who cares?

When it is all over people switch off the infernal broadcast and curse themselves for having sat through a programme that had more commercial breaks than sentences and in the end, nothing at all to say. The entire exercise is a waste of time. It is a fact that our anchors are illiterate, opinionated, belligerent, rude, arrogant, narrow-minded and incompetent. Their guests are just as bad. All in all it stinks.

Anchors are heavy metal things that sink down in water. Here’s hoping it is true.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email:
Source: The News