Our media’s war on America

Due to dysfunctional rating systems, Pakistani television is convinced only US bashing, radical views can sell on air.

Farrukh Khan Pitafi October 25, 2013
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi

Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s four-day official visit to Washington may have accomplished a lot, but generally, our electronic media seems livid. Even before the premier’s departure our news channels were sowing seeds of discontent. That the PM was not invited to a state dinner and that upon his arrival he was received by the US ambassador to Islamabad, Richard Olson, and US coordinator for non-military assistance to Pakistan Robin Raphel. They apparently were unaware of the matters of protocol and that even the Indian premier was received by the State Department’s acting deputy chief of protocol Rosemarie Pauli during his recent Washington visit. Such trivialisation of an important if not watershed moment is queer.

Many anchors who used to tell us how Musharraf’s visit to Washington was a resounding success, during his generalissimo tenure, now enlighten us that the PM’s interactions there amounted to a dishonourable and treacherous surrender. If these know-it-alls were at all to be placated, the PM would have to return home with Dr Aafia Siddiqui on the plane, goodie bags full of financial aid, a civilian nuclear deal and a big apology for the drone attacks. While some of these wishes are not as irrational as they sound, demanding fulfilment from a government that has been in power barely for months is simply beyond comprehension. It was as if they desperately wanted the visit to fail.

Of course, there is nothing new about this attitude. While our electronic media was very empathetic during Pervez Musharraf’s rule, except perhaps, his twilight years, for civilian administrations it had an altogether different approach. I am sure you have not forgotten the media circus on the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill and the Memogate scandal. Those who didn’t question at the time, Musharraf’s arbitrary decision to offer bases to the US on our soil, went into a spin over a piece of unsigned paper. This, of course, shows where our loyalties actually are and normally I wouldn’t have taken an exception to it for the deep state too, is part of our own country. But the trouble is that this disconnect ensures that whenever our civilian administration and the establishment lobby for different things we end up weakening our case and bring demons like the Pressler Amendment upon us.

A friend recently opined that anchors speak too much just because they really fear that if they are silent for a few minutes their brains will start working. But jokes aside, one strong opinion is that our Urdu media is dominated by right-wing radicals who instinctively abhor the West. But this can only partially be true, for the Western world finds ways to work with them and even empower them.

The second explanation is that a majority of our anchors and other related media men do not have a true understanding of the subtleties of foreign policy issues and hence, bank on crude generalisations and cliches in their presentations. Again, it is very difficult for me to accept this explanation because I have seen many who are endowed with an excellent understanding of such crucial policy matters.

Perhaps, the most cogent explanation is that, owing to dysfunctional rating systems, the television industry in Pakistan has convinced itself that only America bashing, radical views and baser elements can be sold on air. Hence, you were bound to see discussions and reports during the PM’s visit on your cable channels projecting Aafia Siddiqui, drone attacks and the US partnership with India as the only issues between the two countries. This also leads to the irony often witnessed that the anchors and programmes that are most vocal against America are being courted by their embassy here. Hey, the foreign missions here have to rely on most viewed channels and shows to convey their message. So what if the anchor or the channel in question had said something really derogatory against the same country only minutes ago.

But no matter what the real reason is, this mad rush has to stop. Not only do we misguide our viewers in the vain hope of a momentary rating spike but also hurt our national interest by radicalising our audience. Well researched and well argued shows can get you good rating, regardless of your leaning.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2013.

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US CENTCOM | 10 years ago | Reply

President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif held wide-ranging discussions at the White House during the Prime Minister’s visit last week. They spoke about the importance of a U.S.-Pakistan partnership built on a foundation of mutual interest and respect. They acknowledged the substantial progress in the bilateral relationship over the last year and noted its resilient nature. The President and the Prime Minister affirmed U.S.-Pakistan friendship and close cooperation and recalled our positive contributions to international peace and security at crucial junctures during the Cold War and in the post-9/11 period. Reaffirming the strong relationship between the two countries, they stressed that our enduring partnership is based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. They expressed their conviction that an enduring U.S.-Pakistan partnership is vital to regional and international security and recognized their shared interest in Pakistan’s economic growth and development, regional stability, and mutually determined measures to counter terrorism. President Obama conveyed appreciation for Pakistan’s internal and regional security challenges and affirmed that a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan was an essential partner for the United States in the advancement of shared goals of peace, security, and socio-economic development in South Asia.

Let us focus on the positives of the meetings and dialogues the Prime Minister had with the U.S. leadership during his four days trip. Let us not forget that President Obama thanked the Prime Minister for visiting the United States, and both Leaders committed themselves to remaining in close contact and to continuing their efforts to build a strong, broad-based, long-term, and enduring relationship between the United States and Pakistan that should serve as a foundation for the stability and prosperity of the region and around the globe.

Abdul Quddus DET-United States Central Command,

Go Zardari Go!! | 10 years ago | Reply

So the author just wants Pakistan to accept whatever the masters tell us. Thanks buddy we are already doing that.

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