If a shoe falls on a president and no one is there to record it, did it make a splash? Excuse my tortured manipulations of an innocent metaphor, but I think you understand what I mean. The PPP has, over the last few days, managed to block and harass two local news channels over their coverage of something they claim never even happened. The world truly is a strange place. Indeed, if PPP activists put as much energy into flood relief as they have into burning newspapers, attacking news channels and shutting down cable operators, they would be able to change the entire course of rivers. But, as we well know, the mantra of all political workers is to never leave for tomorrow what you can burn, destroy, beat and abuse today.
What’s odd about the inability of any government to consider itself legitimate without blocking Geo at least once is that it helps lend credibility to the channel itself. If I wasn’t such an obsessive believer in freedom of speech, I would actually rejoice in the sudden blackout. The airwaves seem less…hysterical lately. No ill-considered animations of planes crashing into mountains, no bizarre digressions by hosts into how minorities should be killed and no animated devils tempting people into spitting paan on innocent passersby (please tell me someone else saw this segment, otherwise I am going to seriously worry about the quality of hallucinations my subconscious is throwing up). And no more discussions in polite society about how blatantly sensationalist and inappropriately disturbing the news coverage on Geo is, despite the fact that it still leads in viewership ratings by a frightening margin. Sometimes I feel we are the Roman mob and Geo is the Colosseum. Topics of import are led into the arena and fed to the hungry lions while we cheer.
Yet, by forcing the channel off the air and making a public presentation of their hatred of it, the PPP has given Geo the opportunity to indulge in the only thing it loves more than dancing alphabets: Being a Victim. Unfortunately, this will affect coverage that could have been given to the real victims.
As the flood creates a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, it is the one story that everyone capable of affecting change seems the least bothered about. The PPP, from President Zardari’s recent European holiday at the French Chateau his family apparently received as a gift from Louis the XIV, to Prime Minister Gilani’s tireless efforts visiting fabricated relief camps and praying on the edge of river banks, has demonstrated a complete disregard for the welfare of the nation. Geo, obsessing first over the groundbreaking news that the president is insensitive and then it’s own tendency to be off air more often than on, will squander its ability to truly mobilise the masses like no other channel can. The public, especially those of us capable of reaching into deep pockets and finding the wealth and resources that can bring relief to millions of victims, are so caught up in the spectacle of what is going on and so paralysed by our inability to overcome hatred for the government’s inappropriate behaviour, that we will become silent bystanders while our countrymen drown. Even western countries that usually rush to release new versions of 80s hits and send plane loads of celebrities to pose charmingly with survivors apparently don’t consider flooding as sexy a disaster as an earthquake. And so, all that is left for the victims of a natural disaster that could have been prepared for, could have been warned about and could have been dealt with in a more capable and considerate way, is to sit amidst the ruin and stare at us in horror. And maybe throw a shoe in anger.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2010.