Of course there are more important things for journalists to focus on but for some odd reason, three recent stories seem to have carved a permanent place in my mind. One was a report on a private TV channel about a protest against a school in Karachi for teaching reproduction and contraception in its O levels biology class. But that was not how it was described.
As breaking news graphics flashed on screen, a sombre faced newscaster told us that parents and students were up in arms against “objectionable material” being taught in their school.
Next came shots of pages from a Cambridge University approved biology text book, which, as it turned out, constituted the objectionable material in question. Perhaps mindful of its moral obligations, the TV channel had painstakingly blurred the diagrams of the reproductive system.
A young student was interviewed. “This is filthy,” she wept hysterically. “We will not read such filth.” An angry parent was next and I will ignore the state of his facial hair. “We cannot send our children to this school. We demand an inquiry,” he fumed as saliva liberally flew off the corners of his mouth.
The newscaster was soon back, looking even more sombre. “Education ministry officials have just searched the school and recovered more objectionable material from the library,” she announced.
The school was shut down pending the promised inquiry, the report concluded.
The second story is actually a talk show that prides itself for its intellectual content. Four academics, including senior university professors, were invited to debate which language should be used to educate Pakistanis.
“We must take pride in our national language and make it a compulsory medium for education,” was the collective opinion of three out of the four. The fourth, a dignified NGO leader, tried to suggest that we may be a few hundred years too late for that. Knowledge, she pointed out, has grown primarily in the English language for several centuries.
“We should not be too impressed with western culture,” she was reminded disdainfully.
But the NGO lady was assertive. “What about all the scientific knowledge in the world. Shall we ignore that?”
The programme’s anchor seemed to be ready for that and had probably lined up a caller for exactly that particular eventuality.
“We should devote a large part of our education budget to translations,” was his ingenious suggestion which seemed to be the perfect answer for our xenophobic trio as well as their very intellectual host.
I blanked out here, my mind wandering, again for some odd unknown reason, to another report on a TV channel that I have since tried many times to shake away but with little success.
It was a reporter standing in the bathroom of the presidential suite of a five-star hotel that the hotel management, for reasons known only to itself, had offered on complimentary basis to cricketer Shoaib Malik and tennis player Sania Mirza. (No, I will not call them Shoania.)
He gave a graphic description of the bathroom as his cameraman zoomed in and out of its various nooks and crannies. He moved out of the toilet while commenting on the gold plated taps adorning the sink and turned to offer a running commentary on the bed which by that time was stretching across the length of the camera’s lens. The parting shot in that report was of a couch in that room which the reporter said could be used when the couple wanted to relax. The couch, he added, was in addition to the sofa on which the two would be a snug fit.
I have no idea what connects a biology text book, a suggestion to translate all knowledge in the world into Urdu and a bathroom about to be fouled by two struggling sports persons. But it is 650 words already and I only have 50 more to go.
Having committed myself to starting my column this Sunday, I promise I will try and erase these stories from my mind by the time I come back next week. There must be more important stuff to write about.
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