Empty vessels make the loudest noise. This saying comes to my mind whenever I hear TV anchors stridently interrogating politicians. But perhaps, nothing has revealed the hollowness of their screeching voices more so than the video showing Meher Bokhari and Mubashar Lucman’s rehearsal for their interview with property tycoon Malik Riaz.
In this leaked off-camera footage, Bokhari and Lucman openly discuss and plan the interview questions with the interviewee — controversy’s new child — Malik Riaz. The two Dunya News anchors (Lucman has since been ‘suspended’) blatantly jettison their professional integrity by letting Riaz control the content and flow of their supposed ‘interrogation’. In fact, in the video, Bokhari admits that the interview is “planted”, but cautions that “no one must know about it”. Ironically, there are few who probably don’t know about the interview by now, since the leaked footage has spread like wildfire on social media. The general public is disgusted by the power struggles in the country, which also embroil high-profile journalists. It’s a shame that those who supposedly question and point fingers at others on the nation’s behalf have sullied consciences and unclean hands themselves.
Let’s not fool ourselves — we need to really understand that completely bias-free journalism doesn’t exist anywhere in the real world. Whatever we see on our screens — often posited as the revelation of the ultimate sach — is tainted with subjectivity on many levels. This is a fact that needs to be accepted because in the world of journalistic inquiry, objectivity is, more often than not, a myth.
But what really complicates matters is that the media in this country (and in many others too) is a muddled game of money and power — media houses are often funded by big businesses and may even have strong political connections. Thus, it’s no surprise that several prominent journalists are actually hand-in-glove with businessmen and politicians. In fact, the ‘hard talk’ we see on TV channels, is in many cases, favourable airtime for powerful people. And now this leaked video has proven that anything will get a slot on TV if the price paid is a good one.
In India, where a troika of power exists between journalists, businessmen and politicians, a similar incident took place a couple of years ago. In 2010, senior journalists Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi were implicated in a scandal after tapes of their phone conversations with an influential corporate lobbyist Niira Radia were released. In a phone conversation with Radia, Sanghvi offered a completely scripted interview to India’s business magnate Mukesh Ambani. So, what explanation did Sanghvi give to clear his name? That he was merely ‘stringing her along’ to get information out of her.
Bokhari, too, aired an explanation — but one which was predictably unconvincing — to silence her detractors. But there was one important rhetorical question she raised: which journalist or anchor doesn’t have connections with politicians, generals, judges and businessmen? It’s not the partisanship of the journalists in our country, however, that is bothersome. It’s rather the act that they put up — the feigned interrogation, the exhibition of moral uprightness, the zeal for truthful inquiry — that’s highly unethical.
This isn’t the first time that TV anchors have been shamefully exposed on social media and certainly won’t be the last. But soon, this incident will lapse from public memory. Sadly, American philosopher George Santayana’s saying — “those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it”— fits our condition aptly. And so, as we conveniently forget, we now wait for another video, another scandal, another expose.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2012.
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