Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Misery needs industry

Updated Aug 04, 2013 03:41pm


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

An acquaintance of mine recently called to ask how one manages to hold a truly objective interview with the figurative man on the street.

She was going around with a video camera and a microphone trying to talk to people on the streets to gather their views on corruption, terrorism and the energy crisis for a research paper she was working on.

I asked her what problem she was facing and this is what the hapless researcher said: ‘They all sound like the people we see on TV channels!’

She added that every time a man or a woman that she tried to interview saw the microphone and the camera, they would go off like angry robots using almost exactly the kind of monotonous rhetoric about corruption, crime and inflation that one hears on TV talk shows.

Her bout of frustration in this regard peaked while interviewing some rather healthy looking middle-aged aunties at a shopping mall. Some burqa-clad, some not, but all carrying huge shopping bags containing outfits, perfumes, shoes, etc., that they had bought at the mall, began bitterly complaining about inflation and how it was becoming almost impossible for poor folks (like them!) to eke out a living.

‘Almost everyone I interviewed on the streets, shops and malls, working class people, middle-class aunties … they all seemed to have a top-of-the-head revolutionary spiel ready,’ she complained.

‘The moment they saw the camera, off they went like radical Maoists of yore!’ She laughed.

I told her that I knew someone else who too had faced the same problem until he finally decided to do the interviews without a camera or a microphone.

‘That’s exactly what I ended up doing,’ she replied. ‘And though it became tougher for me to attract the interest of people to talk to me without my camera, I finally did manage to get a few interviews that sounded a lot more genuine than the speeches my camera was drawing.’

I remember how an old journalist colleague (a Marxist) used to cringe whenever he saw toothpaste or a cooking oil ad using the word revolution or revolutionary: ‘This damn word (revolution) has completely lost its meaning,’ he used to complain.

I’m sure by now the poor chap has lost all his hair considering how these days everyone, from a well-paid TV anchor to a middle-class aunty to a televangelist, the moment they come in front of a TV camera, explode into angry spiels about the ‘ghareeb awam’ (poor masses) and the evils of feudalism, capitalism and western imperialism, all the while being direct recipients of the juicy benefits of all that they were cursing.

I’m sure the ghareeb awam is not amused.

Last year this newspaper ran a series of photographs that showed a reporter and cameraman of a local TV channel getting hold of a perfectly normal looking working-class woman and child. They handed them Rs100 each and asked them to pose as hapless, miserable and broken mother and child who had been roaming the streets without any work or roof over their heads.

I’m sure the aim of the resultant news story had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the channel’s projected concern about the poverty-stricken and the homeless.

It was a sheer cynical move to cash-in on the fact that things like misery and faith draw enthusiastic viewership and thus ratings.

From women constantly shedding tears in soap operas and news reports (with sad violins wailing in the background), to men lashing out like annoyed nihilists, and TV anchors raising and waving their fists at Amreeki Samraj (American imperialism) and sarmayadar (evil capitalists) — all the while being on the payroll of shrewd seths — makes an engrossing and ratings-friendly viewing.

It is a cynical, choreographed gesture that is as real as a well-paid televangelist or a cellular service or a cooking oil TV ad offering spiritual salvation in which faith becomes a product and the faithful become mere consumers.

A very good friend of mine and a journalist, amused and at times repulsed by all the angry red hot noise that continues to emit from TV channels, noticed how even those discussing a cricket game on TV also end up sounding like misery-struck, fist-waving angry Trotskyites!

'Why is everyone always shouting on TV?' He laughed.

He then went on to give the example of a TV ad campaign of a telecom company in which it asks young Pakistanis to boycott silence (Khamoshi ka boycott).

‘That’s all we need,’ said my friend, sarcastically. ‘Angrier, incoherent chatter, when the need of the hour is for Pakistanis to keep quiet for a while and reflect.’

‘Everyone just seems to be talking. No one’s thinking,’ he lamented. ‘But then thinking doesn’t sell. Babbling does.’

Comments (22) Closed

Yasser Aug 04, 2013 12:14pm

"Faith has become a product and the faithful have become consumers" Well put NFP.

noobguy Aug 04, 2013 12:33pm

im impressed, good speech!

Krish Chennai Aug 04, 2013 12:43pm

It is only in South Asia, and no longer in Mao's China, that both fringe-elements, as well as the shopping-mall patron, will still say " Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" ( Chairman Mao )

Krish Chennai Aug 04, 2013 12:42pm

It is only in South Asia, and no longer in Mao's China, that both fringe-elements, as well as the shopping-mall patron, will still say " Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" ( Chairman Mao )

Naushad Shafkat Aug 04, 2013 12:55pm

So so true. I know from personal experience that reporters will first ask you if you will speak negative about the present state of affairs; only then will they roll the cameras. Just yesterday Geo was talking about 'moosla dhar baarish' about the rains in Karachi and in the same bulletin their reporter was saying "zara si baarish se shehri nizam darham barham ho gaya hai."

Capt C M Khan Aug 04, 2013 01:13pm

HYPOCRISY...just one word to define the attitude of middle class people of this nation. Everyone says that the poor is suffering but no one takes the camera and goes to villages of remote area or slums of big cities. People there still eat Onion with Roti because they cannot afford to cook a decent dish. This has been going on since the past 50 years. If you see hundreds of TV channels these days they all talk about stopping BEHAIYEE, appreciating Democracy, not even one of them is talking about lack of basic water, unpolluted atmosphere, undiluted milk/spices, lack of jobs, lack of hospitality to visitors, lack of competitive sports, dysfunctional medical care to poor etc...HYPOCRITES that is all I can say.

AbbasToronto Aug 04, 2013 01:37pm

Reminds me a short story (Maupassant?).

This lady goes to the theater. The play is about the poor and the destitute in Paris (remember it is 19th century).

The story is heart-rending, the woman is moved to tears, and sobs loudly throughout the play.

As she leaves the theatre, she is met by a real beggar at the door, with hand outstretched.

Ali S Aug 04, 2013 01:38pm

Private TV channels are directly one of the biggest culprits in this newfound identity crisis that this country is going through for the past decade or so. They commercialize exhibitionist displays of faith, exaggerate reality and instill fear, ratchet up toxic hate-filled rhetoric and play a significant role in softening the middle-class' perceptions of extremism - all in a shameless quest for ratings. If PEMRA had any credibility, it would be clamping down on these merchants of greed instead of a corny condom ad.

Nasiroski Aug 04, 2013 01:55pm

Very good observation, however being hollow and loud is not the problem but the outcome of what we have become as individuals.

Dearborn Iffy Aug 04, 2013 02:35pm

@AbbasToronto: How about you Uncle? You live in a western country but you too are a hypocrite like the old lady knocking the West left, right and center at every opportunity. Look who is talking? Personally, I hate "namak harams".

Ahmad Aug 04, 2013 03:20pm

TV was a good entertainment but now there is nothing to watch on TV unless you are a news junkie. Now channels show TV shows where politicians and anchors are shouting or religious programs where anchors are handing over babies.

Capt C M Khan Aug 04, 2013 03:35pm

@AbbasToronto: Immorality of Middle class it is ok to ban the discos etc in Pakistan but HYPOCRISY is acceptable in Pakistan????? Please talk some sense please

Imran sheikh Aug 04, 2013 06:40pm

Curious how mental constipation and verbal diarrhoea occur together.

AbbasToronto Aug 04, 2013 08:48pm

@Capt C M Khan, @ Dearborn Iffy

Napier Mole Aug 04, 2013 09:37pm

@Ali S: You hit it on the head. I have advised my wife to put up a one inch black sticker on the bottom of the TV screen and it should take away most of her anxiety.

Napier Mole Aug 04, 2013 09:38pm

@Ali S: You hit it on the head. I have advised my wife to put up a one inch black sticker on the bottom of the TV screen and it should take away most of her anxiety.

Capt C M Khan Aug 04, 2013 11:36pm

@AbbasToronto: " No freebies here anymore

Ali Wahab Aug 04, 2013 11:54pm

Not just staying quiet and thinking, we need to go into isolation to sort out our problems rather than becoming isolated in an increasingly aware world which has had enough of our blabbering!

Imran Aug 05, 2013 12:22am

We were so happy about "judicial activism", look what we got? We were so proud of freedom of media, look where are we going?

There is always something to complain. Charity begins at home. Start with small things. Major issues will be solved. The lady in Paris is a beautiful depiction of our behaviors. Unless we blame ourselves, we have no right to blame anyone.

AbbasToronto Aug 05, 2013 10:19am

@Capt C M Khan

It is better to stick to the topic and keep your imaginary claims to yourself. Let me set the record straight to save you from wasting your ink in future and to contribute positively to the discussion. I infer that most of your info is hearsay, not firsthand. The dole in the UK is becoming tight, and not going to last long it is going bankrupt. Thatcher ended good times famously saying that socialism is using other people's money. The rich have become richer and the poor poorer, and the former are not giving it away as they used to.

In any case, the golden rule is that when you pay nothing, you get nothing. Since 25 years I have moved to preventative healthcare and stopped going to doctors as the medicare in Canada had become 3rd rate, as all the top 1/3 of the medical, engineering, business, science crop heads for the US to print money leaving the riff-raff behind. Yes, Canada gets a lot of doctors from Pak, India, but they are driving taxis. The joke in Greater Toronto Area is that for a cheap, fast, and competent medical advice, call a cab. And here in the US medical service is good, but beyond the grasp of much of the population. When people get sick here, they grin and bear it.

I do not live in UK, nor in Canada for that matter as quest for living in the last 15-20 years takes you to Allah's whole wide world, to Africa, the middle east, Far east, USA, as good jobs for the highly educated are gone in Canada, and are disappearing in the US as well as fast.

As I say, grass is greener on the other side. How about trading places with me? Having served in Pak Air Force 3 years and with an Army father I am an insider, so a captain from incompetent and corrupt Army would be without skills, and could not last here a month even if the education here too has become 2nd rate. And one more thing - I never applied on my own neither for PR nor for citizenship - I was asked by locals to do it for their own reasons and I did not object. I give a hoot for any nationality, since as a Muslim does not believe in borders. There are 10,000,000 of us and growing. Do you mind?

Capt C M Khan Aug 05, 2013 03:17pm

@AbbasToronto: I don't have time for ignorant and false comments like yours bye.

Naseer Aug 07, 2013 07:03am

@AbbasToronto: For your information, there are Captains other than the army. Capt C M Khan is a very senior and highly respected captain from merchant navy. I hope you know what merchant navy is. I wonder why you mention corrupt army, weren't you happy with your army father?