More than newspapers, news television knows the popular mind. This is because it responds to daily ratings and can calibrate pitch and tone accordingly. What appears on their television should worry secular Pakistanis. In what other nation would Zaid Hamid be an analyst?
Let’s have a look at the roster of Pakistan’s other television stars.
Kamran Khan is first-rate, easily the best TV journalist in Pakistan. He got nothing from US Ambassador Cameron Munter after Osama’s killing, but not for want of trying. He’s an excellent questioner and a good listener. His interview with Ishrat Husain went farther than anything before it in explaining Pakistan’s economic condition. Rahimullah Yusufzai appears on many shows but only Khan is able to extract value from the old reporter’s experience.
Khan’s opening monologue, combining fact and opinion, is now the Pakistani staple across channels. Khan offers a secular greeting (‘Assalaam aleikum’), as opposed to Hamid Mir, Javed Chaudhry etc. who also add the Bismillah.
After May 2nd, Kamran Khan has rebelled against Pakistan’s anti-India orientation. Editions of “Aaj Kamran Khan Kay Saath” after the Osama incident were relentless in pressing home the data on violence. Without doubt, those shows would have changed the thinking of thousands of Pakistanis.
This turn by him was acknowledged by Munter and noted in the western media. In what was otherwise a positive story, The Guardian’s reporter slipped in mention of Khan’s looks (“a tubby 50-year-old journalist with neat glasses and a small chin”). Another fine interviewer, noted for the way she looks, is Sana Bucha. She is a good journalist, asking short questions and letting guests finish. She’s also quite gorgeous and holds herself most elegantly while seated.
The interrupting style of anchoring is found in Meher Bukhari (“Qata kalaami maaf”), one of Pakistan media’s most terrifying products. I cringed at her monstrous interview with Salmaan Taseer on blasphemy. Bukhari is sharp and informed. Knowing (hopefully) what sort of country she works in, she must have sensed she was putting Taseer in grave danger. But she pressed on. I wonder if she sleeps well at night.
After Taseer was murdered, Naseem Zehra appeared shocked and frustrated that her studio guests flatly refused to condemn Mumtaz Qadri. Being an analyst herself, surely she has known for some years where Pakistan is headed? Only a couple of people — Hassan Nisar and Nazir Naji among them — showed any humanity on that show, and it made for sad watching.
Of all the journalists on Urdu television, Najam Sethi can see farthest. He edits what is to my mind the best weekly newspaper in South Asia, and brings analysis and clarity of uncommon quality to his audience. His partner, young Muneeb Farooq, is thoughtful and likeable, and will likely get a bigger role (than just questioning Sethi) in time. Geo was wise to ship him along when they lured Sethi from his Dunya TV perch.
Hamid Mir is boring because of his constant heroic references to himself. His selection of guests tends to be poor: Either politicians who are bullied or people like Ansar Abbasi who can introduce gloom to the most joyous evening.
Sullen Ansar Abbasi represents the Urdu mindset of Pakistanis in the English press. He is angry (see his views on flogging girls and on blasphemy) and is out of place in English journalism, which is naturally liberal. Another angry young man is Dr Shahid Masood. Geo did well to let him go, though he is back to scolding Pakistanis, this time as a guest.
Mubashir Lucman is intriguing. He is usually imbalanced on the classic Pakistan issues: 9/11 conspiracies, America, Lashkar-e-Taiba, India and so on. But he produced the most sensitive, enlightened and liberal programme on Ahmedis ever made in Pakistan. See his outstanding interview with Altaf Hussain to know what I mean. Whatever else might be true about the MQM boss, that one half-hour shows him as a man of courage and someone who, though religious, had kept his mind open.
Pakistan’s news channels often run caricature. The best and most original such show was ARY’s “Loose Talk”, written by Anwar Maqsood.
Moeen Akhtar was the greatest mimic in the subcontinent, fluid, alert and superior to anything in India. His Parsi, Pakhtun, Bengali (but not Tamil), Sindhi, Hyderabadi and Lucknowi caricatures were pitch-perfect. His depictions of Manmohan, Miandad and Bedi are Oscar-worthy.
I was taken aback to watch him on Geo’s “Aik din Moeen Akhtar kay saath”. He was one of my favourite actors — till that moment, when he revealed himself. He was asked for his views on religion. Moeen Akhtar said kuffars should be butchered “chun-chun kay” if they don’t accept Islam, that piri-mureedi is not Islam, that women should have limited freedom and so on. He was an atrocious singer (watch the episode on YouTube) and a second-rate lyricist, but strangely unaware of this fact.
None of the fawning obituaries Pakistanis wrote had any texture about him as a man, which is not surprising. The absence of English news television hurts Pakistan. Urdu does not make for unemotional debate, and Pakistan has skewered languages like Gujarati that have a vocabulary of compromise. Karachi’s Millat Gujarati (www.millatgujarati.com.pk) carries this banner: “We have inserted Urdu pages to cater for the younger generation of the community”. It’s not good that young Gujarati Pakistanis cannot speak their language. I will explain why in my next few pieces.
Even so, there are some excellent analysts in Pakistan, scholars like (Gujarati) Pervez Hoodbhoy and Jami Chandio, and some passionate secularists like Rauf Klasra and Nazir Leghari. These men are invited infrequently on television. This leaves imbalanced, what is otherwise an extremist media in love with Pakistan but unconcerned with the well-being of Pakistanis.
The finest interview of a Pakistani analyst on television was conducted, unsurprisingly, by an American. Watch Khaled Ahmed’s long conversation with Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler on YouTube to know the sort of intellectual quality Pakistan’s media is capable of producing.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2011.
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