Mindless media-ocrity

Published: July 8, 2010
The writer is a barrister and a public policy graduate from Harvard University (mahreen.khan@tribune.com.pk)

The writer is a barrister and a public policy graduate from Harvard University (mahreen.khan@tribune.com.pk)

“I don’t watch TV anymore”. It’s the new mantra of the educated middle class, the “thinking classes” who are quite literally switching off their television sets and proudly making it known at every social gathering. From the excitement and hype that met the glasnost of the Pakistani media eight years ago, how has it come to this state of affairs? Is it simply that multiple channel choice has lost its novelty or is the quality of what’s on the box to blame? Well, despite being a part of the media fraternity, I would have to say that what’s on our channels, particularly in the current affairs and news genre, ranges from atrocious and offensive to mediocre and vacuous.

With over 80 channels, the majority being so called “news” channels, the Pakistani viewers should be spoilt for choice. Except they are not. Far from it. Most of the “news” channels are miserably short on original content and high on opinion masquerading as reporting, bias dressed as analysis, and rabble rousing substituting for impassioned debate. The multiple political talk shows resemble clones of each other, with standardised sets and unoriginal formats for nightly shouting matches between the political egos that appear as guests. There are of course a couple of notable exceptions where solid research and in depth analysis are presented in an informative and intelligent manner. But, by and large, what is offered is an ungainly assortment of “anchors” browbeating their guests, who themselves are regulars, often appearing simultaneously on multiple channels thanks to pre-recording. The end game is to encourage, cajole or instigate by any means necessary, a cat fight amongst the handful of politicians offered up for the evening. With the majority of anchors gunning for the government of the day, the result is a shouting match — the television equivalent of a neighbourhood backyard argument laced with scurrilous allegations, name calling and low blows.

This Jerry Springer version of political talk shows on our screens is literally turning “thinking” people away. For what does anyone learn from this daily exercise of the same old faces screaming allegations and counter allegations? All whilst serious issues remain unintelligible to the common man and insufficiently analysed for the more educated viewer. Instead, public personalities are openly and repeatedly slandered and defamed along with the offices they hold, often on the flimsiest of grounds, let alone evidence. Does the viewer come away with a better understanding of events or issues? Declining ratings for most of these shows would say not.

Okay it’s not all bad — yes the news/current affairs media has played a constructive role on some issues, most notably in the change in public opinion towards those who commit acts of terrorism on our soil. The self-imposed code of conduct has worked fairly well and stemmed the horrible trend of showing carnage and panic in the aftermath of tragedy, of sensationalising terror acts by adrenaline fuelled breaking news. But the electronic media is crucial for shaping public opinion on key issues, especially in a largely illiterate society and has a much greater duty. Yet the vast majority of these shows are compromising content quality to suit the lowest common denominator rather than raising standards and providing viewers with informed discussions.

I shall resist making appeals to sense of duty, since that has a poor track record for results. So let me exhort self-interest instead. Most news channels are losing ground and revenue due to the downward trend of viewership, so they should take action to avoid losses. Anchors are turning people away from the news/current affairs genre and losing audiences to entertainment — just witness the increase in TV drama productions and ratings in the past year. And, most of all, politicians are damaging their own (little remaining) credibility by taking part in these verbal brawls, so they need to take a stand by opting to not to appear on shows which openly disrespect and lower the tone of our political discourse. The viewers are already voting with their remote controls. They have had enough of this mindless media-ocrity.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • muhammad furqan
    Jul 8, 2010 - 11:55PM

    well said.The media is certainly biased & driven by personal agenda.For eg. all forms of media:tv,print,bloggers have deliberately ignored the targetted murders of settlers in balochistan,while all the anchors & reporters have given hundreds of hours of coverage to the hardships of the baloch ppl,but what about the etnnic cleansing of the punjabi settlers in balochistan that has caused the forced migration of tens of thousands of them out of Balochistan.No news report is conducted on this,no talk show on the murders of innocent civilians only because they are non-baloch.Recommend

  • Anum Khan
    Jul 9, 2010 - 2:28AM

    Salam Mahreen Khan,
    Your article is well written and it I completely agree with what you said. Current Affairs programs are not doing their job properly. The discuss the same issues over and over again with the same people. The same people are on another channel discussing the same issues at the exact same time. They need to listen the public opinion and due shows which are related the the people. More road shows and documentaries are needed. If they dont do this then they will lost their credibility and ratings. I as proud pakistani say ” I don’t watch TV anymore”.

  • Dr. Altaf ul Hassan
    Jul 9, 2010 - 3:20AM

    This is a very good article on this subject.People are fed up with the anchorpersons of limited abilities repeatedly seen in the TV talk shows who impose upon them their biased opinions instead of providing some food for thought to their viewers. Super-added to these are the under-educated,untrained and seemingly illiterate news reporters giving live news feeds from the field with poor linguistic comprehensive abilities are simply a display of people with very low IQ.Unfortunately the media personnels have become opinion makers instead of news breakers who want to instill and indoctrinate instead of to educate.Recommend

  • mussarat ahmedzeb swat
    Jul 9, 2010 - 7:14AM

    Very well writen article.Jerry springer,s programme is an intertainment while our talk show,s are boring.Our anchore,s need to come out to the street,s and hold talk show,s of a common man and his misery,s.Recommend

  • faraz
    Jul 9, 2010 - 7:43AM

    Each party has nominated few members who appear on all talk shows with the same old cliched answers and ideas. The talk shows which invite 3 guests from 3 political parties are most ridiculous.

    For more than a year, the media is warning us about the inevitable ADLIA AUR HAKOOMAT MEI TASADUM; why dont they discuss something else and wait untill then.Recommend

  • amjad faruqi
    Jul 9, 2010 - 9:41AM

    @ muhammad furqan,i agree completely.

    Don’t know why the media has decided to present only a one sided view of the balochistan situation.They have developed the narrative of the innocent,persecuted locals so that the deliberate ethnicity based killings of settlers have been completely ignored for the last many years.This narrative allows the liberals to assuage their guilt & the liberals feel happy in choosing that the lives of one group are worthy but not the other,whose targetted killing can be very conveniently ignored.This fits in with our meida’s portrayal of the largest province’s as the big villain & cause of all problems,so the deliberate murders of punjabis in balochistan receives no media attention whatsoever.Recommend

  • Jaffar Khan
    Jul 9, 2010 - 11:15AM

    The talk shows,with half educated,biased anchors,are spreading discontentment within the urban middle class.None of them can win even a councilor election,but look down upon Politicians with contempt,who represent people of their constituencies.They are free to level any allegation, against any one, without substantiating it with any evidence.One of them is indirectly responsible for murder of an ex ISI officer.Uncle Sargum show “kal tak” is disgusting.Recommend

  • Ghulam Abbass
    Jul 9, 2010 - 11:46AM

    well said but what needs to be done? how can one change the current trend?Recommend

  • Anas Ali Khan
    Jul 9, 2010 - 12:22PM

    Well, well, well. This may really be the first time when a media personality has given an opinion that reflects what the middle class in Pakistan truly feels.

    Most media, especially the so called largest media group in Pakistan represents the extreme right, and unabashedly airs views supporting the clergy, big business, armed forces etc.

    Demonize elected representatives and canonize the judiciary/army/lawyers community. Are they laying the grounds for the next round of army/bureaucracy rule.Recommend

  • Mansoor Khalid
    Jul 9, 2010 - 2:18PM

    If you design political programs on channels based on a ‘Jerry Springer show’ concept, this is what will happen. Although with that I must say that all channels do not indulge into such practices. The choice is left to the viewer at the end of the day. If people stop watching a certain program, why would that channel run it?Recommend

  • GM
    Jul 9, 2010 - 3:40PM

    Mehreen Khan, yes you are right. You have presented your article in a beautiful way, but you haven’t given any opinion abt ur own show, is it constructive or equivalent to other programs?Recommend

  • Pakistani Aloo
    Jul 9, 2010 - 3:48PM

    What can one expect of a media filled with executive producers and editors who dance to the tune of the advertisers, who end up deciding what content is wanted and what is not.

    Its time that the masses asked for a public broadcaster.Recommend

  • Jul 9, 2010 - 3:49PM

    Those switching off the daily gibberish could have better things to do or they have figured out when the media is trying to spice up the news if not shamelessly attempting to fast forward political developments. But let’s not forget that for the common folks it is still a bargain to watch cable TV at Rs.10-15 per day for the entire family. While women might like to watch drama serials, men generally follow the talk shows which double up as political dramas. Let’s not be too judgmental and just use the remote control, that marvelous tool of empowerment, the way we please! Can someone please enlighten us on how to access the TV ratings?Recommend

  • Ghafar Ali
    Jul 9, 2010 - 5:01PM

    I am one amongst those who have stopped watching the talks shows. It will not be an exageration if I claim that if any anchorperson asks me a question on a particular subject, I can answer that question in different ways–the PPP, the PML-N, the PML-Q, the PTI etc. Nothing is new in these talks shows.

    The showing of women wailing and crying on the deadbodies of their dearones raped or killed in an accident is also seplorable.Recommend

  • Ammad
    Jul 9, 2010 - 5:50PM

    I think media is doing 85% right work. There is room for improvement in every field, everybody is fallible. Don’t forget this media revolution is only 8 years old and with time they will certainly learn. Media has created and imparted so much awareness among people that people now know right and wrong and have a good sense in deciding between which is good and which is bad. Credit should be given to media for this. Recommend

  • Sadia Hussain
    Jul 9, 2010 - 6:00PM

    Interesting insight, terrorism has engulfed the nation in a trauma, for a 3 year old can decipher what a suicide attack is! We need to highlight the positive achievements of our nation which are quite a few. So we can either go in a state of denial or mourn the past or we could stand firm and support this war against extremism.Recommend

  • Jul 9, 2010 - 7:29PM

    Mostly agree but you have to give credit to the fact that the media in Pakistan is relatively very young. Like every other industry, it will have to learn through trial and error – So far, the masses had gulped down whatever content was spewed out at them.
    Now, with the level of awareness rising, and negative feedback rising with it, I hope some hard lessons would be learnt.Recommend

  • Fayyaz Alam
    Jul 9, 2010 - 9:17PM

    This article points to the fact that our media is losing direction and need to rethink what it stands for. Is it just earning money (which can be done better by selling drugs) or highlight real issues too? As far those good for nothing faces (most of them) who appear in these shows, they should be held accountable for wasting their time when they should be doing something positive for the country!Recommend

  • Khalid Munir
    Jul 9, 2010 - 9:54PM

    You have touched upon a topic which has become a national issue. The Talk Shows in which anchor wants the participants to speak only what they want otherwise they interupt midway. These anchors are making people sick . Majority of the anchors have own political leaning and and they pick up topics which serves their political ends. People are no more interested in the Talk shows. I will suggest that anchors should have some sort of training, tests, educational as well IQ. They have to prove that they know more about Pakistan and its problems than Dasti. Did these anchors ever touch upon corruption in Gen Musharaf’s rule?Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jul 9, 2010 - 11:56PM

    I do not find any thing new or exiting on the TV screens, as I normally gather information what is happening around the world by reading news from the internet sites of different newspapers.

    This also do not bother me to read the newspaers following morning, as almost all news published in the morning newspapers are old for me.

    Thanks to the internet which update my information from around the globe as and when required by me.Recommend

  • Zahid
    Jul 10, 2010 - 12:00AM

    Pervaiz Musharraf was right…Immature media….Recommend

  • Sameer Iqbal
    Jul 10, 2010 - 1:23AM

    We need more professionals like you in the pakistani media industry!!Recommend

  • Jul 10, 2010 - 11:33AM

    I completely disagree. This is just slick talk to sugar-coat print media’s jealousy/threat from its rising younger electronic brother. Talk shows regularly have more enlightened debates than Parliament. Live coverage regularly, and with admirable speed, bring terse ground realities into the immunized drawing rooms. Print media played a pivotal role in the lawyers mostly peaceful Long March which led to the toppling of a despised, vain, mega-corrupt usurper. Dictators sweat when they face gutsy anchors. A permanent check on mega corruption has been put into place The proliferate electronic media is maturing at a remarkable rate due to hyper-competition and relative de-regulation. Mssrs. Oprah Winfray & Larry Kings’ mundane talk shows fade in comparison. Hope this trend continues ad infinitum.Recommend

  • Murtaza
    Jul 10, 2010 - 12:01PM

    Sham on major National media which didnot cover a brutal incident took place in Garhi Khairo Sindh on Thursday evening perishing 21 human lives, only taking one issue trying to score points against the opponants is not the true role of media it must focus all happening in the society not only to be voice of victems but also be ears of other human beingRecommend

  • Saim Saeed Tanauli
    Jul 10, 2010 - 3:19PM

    I would like to all my friends’ comments that majority of the media channels are busy in presenting a very gloomy picture of the nation so as to show other nations that we are a lowly ranked nation in the international fraternity on merit…they should be the brand ambassadors of our nation and presenting optimistic views to further develop our international stake !! some anchors are busy indulged in blaspheming a particular class of politicians and change parties just on the slightest note of money !! let’s hope that media improves itself just like other institutions which need restructuring in the country !!Recommend

    Jul 10, 2010 - 11:35PM

    This is a very good article on this subject.Unfortunately the media personnels have become opinion makers instead of news breakers who want to instill and indoctrinate instead of to educate.
    Our anchore,s need to come out to the street,s and hold talk show,s of a common man and his misery,s.Recommend

  • hadia Khan
    Aug 29, 2010 - 3:19PM

    WE ARE COCKROACHES!!!! Don’t believe George and Fasi Zaka…just go ask our cricketers!!! Seven of them!!!


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