TV rhetoric: Shut up and say something

Get rid of all-in-one analyst guy and give people something worth watching. TV is a medium for the people!

Altafkhan November 05, 2010
"Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads."

These words by George Bernard Shaw seem familiar. Aren't we living in a society where every word we read has a background?

The audacity of expression has been long lost and we have also lost the courage to read what we wish - to read what is not considered “essential reading,” to read something that is not a must for floating in the sea of absurdity around us. Do we need to change this? Yes, we do.

Spectators of our own history

Our arguments revolve around the news of the day: terrorism, power tariffs, corrupt politicians and so on. This is the taste of our times. We have become  social robots or men "of great common sense and good taste." This makes us socially acceptable, but as Shaw puts it the cost is "originality and moral courage."

The birth of the Urdu column

The role of the media is nothing new in the sub-continent. This country has emerged and lived through confusing times. From its very inception, there has been a lot of debate in the national discourse. The division of India, which became the independence of India and Pakistan, led to one of the biggest migrations in human history. Both new nations, Pakistan being newer than its counterpart, needed information about these deadly travels. The need was satisfied through the media and also literature, which until recently, had the tragedy of the partition as its most dominant theme.

Even earlier, the unification of Muslims across the globe remained an important theme for major Muslim thinkers and politicians, whose one important vehicle of expression was the newspaper.

This defined the character of the new nation, as well as the role of its media. Columns in Urdu newspapers are a continuation of this lead role. These roles are in dire need of change due to the growth of private television, armed with live talk shows. The dominant discourse has also changed a lot. We are living in a state of war, with no definite enemy in sight.

The transition from newspapers to TV

The structure of television offers a solution to traumatised audiences who look towards the media to receive guidance and sympathy at the same time.

Yet the limitations of private TV are not difficult to understand. Private TV knows that it is the 'new book' are  we all supposed to read. What it doesn’t understand is that through decades of training in self-censorship, the very fabric of our self-proclaimed independent media is not fit to become the book we need to read. After years of censorship, the media imposes censorship on itself and most of the time, does so unconsciously. It chooses easy targets.

Private TV is new, but its ineptitude is not due to to time, but capacity. The workforce this medium gets is mainly from the print industry.

From print journalist to television anchor

Lead TV anchors are people from print. They deal with audiovisual as they used to deal with print in the good old days. But their problem gets deeper when they are asked to do what they have never done in print, in their self-designed columns. That is live interviewing. Interviewing is the most difficult art for a media professional. Its scale gets even higher when it is audiovisual, reaching the highest when it comes to live interviews, especially group interviews.

This is what talk shows affecting many lives are all about. A fashion talk show is different from the ones that are based upon the day’s happenings, which deal with frustrating and tragic themes most of the time.

How about training anchors?

First and foremost, the requirement for a good TV show is for its hot shots, also known as prime time TV anchors, to receive some kind of orientation and training. Most of these men and women either have a useless narrative, sarcastic style, or are in a habit of imitating US talk shows. The aggressive style of many female anchors is nothing but imitations of western, English-language programmes. This is an ethical issue. These guys need to learn the ethics of their job. These ethics are based upon social responsibility towards the audience; of not taking the audience as wet clay waiting to be moulded by the magic wands they carry in their words. They must understand the reason behind the whole media structure and specifically the needs of the Pakistani audience.

No matter how big the egos of famous anchors are, they need training. They need an introduction to TV journalism, to the art of concept-building for programs and then selection of topics. This effort should be supported by intense audience research. This is something the whole world is doing - except for Pakistan. Audience research is an integral element of modern TV. It becomes imperative when live talk shows aiming at everyday life issues are aired.

Don’t shout on TV

Once they get this conceptual training, they need to learn how to behave on this “cool” medium, as Marshal McLuhan defined it. It is harmful to shout on TV. It is counterproductive for the participants, but fatal for the host. If the host remains aggressive all the time or tries to be sly, it won’t do any good.

There is one last thing that needs to be simply removed from the TV screen, no matter how useful it seems to be: the insipid narrator who poses as a historian, politician, philosopher, academician, reporter, philanthropist, human rights activist and defender of national and religious ideology- the all in one analyst guy.

To cut a long story short, it is high time to give the people their medium back. To make a serious effort in gearing TV towards the audience. To give the people a book that everybody reads and understands.

This blog was originally published here
Altafkhan Chairman of Journalism department at the University of Peshawar, Khan is global adjunct faculty at the center for International Studies at Ohio University. He completed his doctorate in communication and media sciences from Germany. He lives in Peshawar with his wife and three sons.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Kamil Haider | 13 years ago | Reply "Most of these men and women (T.V. anchors) either have a useless narrative, sarcastic style, or are in a habit of imitating US talk shows." --- Hahaha, so definitely true.
irfan urfi | 13 years ago | Reply DR. ALTAF ULLAH KHAN TRULY MEDIA SCHOLAR !
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