Reviewed by Maleeha Hamid Siddiqui
AS a faithful Pakistan Television (PTV) viewer, it brought me immense satisfaction to finally acquire the book This is PTV: Another Day, Another World by Agha Nasir. While watching PTV is no longer fashionable, the fact remains that it has the widest coverage across the length and breadth of the country, and hence, the largest viewership.
A broadcaster with cachet, Nasir produces a crucial history of PTV, a channel which, according to him, has “survived under many regimes, political upheavals and technological revolutions.” Associated with the channel since the start, Nasir is just the person to give us a behind-the-scenes account of the medium that was as groundbreaking when it was introduced as the internet has been in the new millennium. Writing about its origins, Nasir says that Muhammad Ali Bogra, Pakistan’s third prime minister, got fascinated by a magical contraption of audio-visuals called television when he first set his eyes upon it in the United States. He was serving there as ambassador before he was suddenly called back to Pakistan to replace Khwaja Nizamuddin whose government was sacked in 1953. Before Bogra could take the idea any further he too was forced out of office and it was only a decade later that the concept took concrete shape.
In 1963, the National Publicity Conference was held to look into the proposal of setting up of a television network, but soon the proposal was mired in difficulties. One issue was whether it should be locally or foreign funded. Then there were a group of anti-TV ministers who viewed television as an unaffordable luxury. Ayub Khan too began to have second thoughts till someone showed him a news item from Newsweek about rulers utilising television for personal projection. Predictably, this convinced him and he gave the go-ahead. However, he could not benefit from television since it was still in its infancy stages. Even Yahya Khan had a tepid relationship with the medium. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the first to extract maximum benefit from it and, according to Nasir, the first ruler in Pakistan to personally handle the information policy. And it is this chapter, “Who Calls the Shots”, that I found the most compelling. In it, Nasir highlights the manner in which the country’s rulers have used PTV for their political ends.
Another memorable chapter is “The Big Day”. Here Nasir describes the public’s reaction to television’s first transmission on November 26, 1964: “Thousands of people crowded around television sets installed at various sites of public interest in Lahore. Fascinated by the magic box, people tried to get closer as they were used to doing at stage performances. The result was chaos, disorder and traffic jams. When the situation became too hot to handle, the TV sets had to be switched off.” After its successful launch, there was no looking back for PTV. In the next decade it set up centres in Dhaka, Chaklala, Karachi and Quetta. Initially, actors, writers, producers, musicians were either poached from Radio Pakistan or hired from academic institutions.
The book made me realise what a colossal institution PTV is and how it can provide upstart channels with valuable lessons, should they be interested in learning. Be it the establishment of regional entertainment channel, exploration of daring and controversial subjects in drama serials, promotion of folk music, innovative pop music shows, live sports telecasts, research-based religious programming, programming for children or election coverage, PTV has spread its antennae far and wide. This is PTV is a must-read, particularly for the television industry, provided PTV makes it readily available as getting hold of a copy is a task in itself.
By Agha Nasir
Pakistan Television Corporation
255pp. Price not listed