“Born, raised and living in Denmark, I never had any cause to be proud of my Pakistani origin till now, when I can silence my Bollywood crazy friends with just two words — Pakistani drama!”
“Thank you for Shehr-e-Zaat — it has made us revisit our own values!”
“My children’s Urdu has improved watching Humsafar.”
“We are huge fans of your dramas because as Indians we have nothing to compare.”
This is feedback from encounters with random viewers that made me proud of being a small part of a revolution called Pakistani drama!
Thanks to this unique product, Pakistani identity started being recognised globally; channels previously focusing on news found a whole new market of viewers abroad that were (and are) hooked to Pakistani shows and drama; DVD sales scaled unprecedented heights with the demand for Pakistani drama; copyright laws benefited the government coffers. But in this charged environment, greed became the driving force.
Channel owners forgot that it was Pakistani drama that enabled them to expand their networks; production houses forgot that it was the content and quality of their plays that had beaten the Indian soap culture. The government forgot that Pakistani television had become the face that was neutralising its poor image and anti-Pakistan propaganda abroad. Media became a lucrative business — hence, regulations were bent to make room for foreign entities; channels compromised their own image and identity and producers their craft and creativity.
Slowly but surely, local content started giving way to foreign dubbed programs and is now being replaced by it.
Turkish and Indian soaps — glamorous, sexually titillating, showcasing western mindsets and the colourful Hindu culture — may be alien to our Pakistani values and sensibilities — yet popular, in the form of one Ishq-e-Mamnoo — easily understandable because it is human nature to be tempted by that which is forbidden or “mamnoo”! It started with Urdu1 raking in profits from this “foreign”, second-hand product with other channels jumping on the bandwagon citing “viewer demand” as the reason for replacing fresh hence, relatively expensive local content with old foreign material bought cheap on re-run rates. At first, the channels pleaded that they had to air foreign content in prime time as the 10% allowance left no margin for repeat telecasts. But now, in flagrant violation of that Pemra regulation, they are repeated throughout the day taking up almost 40% of airtime.
The United Producer’s Association came into action calling for safeguards for the Pakistani drama industry against this hostile takeover by approaching Pemra, media channels and recently, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting. But even as the chairman of the committee directed Pemra to implement their recommendations within one month and most parliamentarians pledged unconditional support for our local industry, surprisingly, the minister had reservations on putting restrictions on Indian content. Has Mr Kaira forgotten that his government’s conciliatory efforts towards India are as one sided as the Aman ki Asha campaign of a media channel that is itself banned in India, but shows Indian content in its prime time slots? Or is it a case of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” because the government cannot afford to upset the media and news channels it is on the brink of elections?
Even more shocking is the advice given to UPA by some politicians — that UPA should take the matter to court. What then is the job of these “democratically elected” representatives if basic regulatory matters have to be resolved by the courts? Should the judiciary then also be given the offices of legislation, execution and enforcement of laws if our legislative bodies are so inept? Or is it a ploy again to enable certain stakeholders to get stay orders and carry on with their business?
Yet again, we see a lack of political will, a lack of pride and ownership, a lack of identity by the very institutions that are meant to protect it. Yet again we see greed overriding nationalism. We as a nation stand to lose our culture, our identity, our creativity, even our livelihoods but the channels too will lose a lot in the long run. Our overseas viewers are not interested in Turkish or Indian content — they subscribe to Geo, ARY, Hum and Express to watch Pakistani drama. What, pray, will the channels show their subscribers a few months from now? What will they show viewers when they become bored with foreign soaps, as every Turkish soap cannot be Ishq-e-Mamnoo just as every Pakistani drama is not Humsafar? What will the big boys of media do, when the smaller/regional channels start showing the same cheap foreign content? The answer is that they will lose subscribers and advertisers as credibility and identity would have already been lost.
Ironically, the Pakistan Broadcast Association is running a campaign claiming to “protect the viewer’s right to know”, but the very same channels are holding producers hostage by demanding re-negotiation of approved contracts or else simply not buying the content. Producers are squeezing actors, directors and technicians citing channel pressure as a plea. Media professionals today stand to lose a lot but so will their silent viewers — it may be too late when they realise that their silence has cost them a loss of their own future, the future of an industry that they owned and were so proud of! Is this what the viewers want?
The writer is an actor, anchor and columnist with 17 years of experience in the media industry. Human development and social issues are her area of expertise and she is actively involved in related causes.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2013.
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