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DAWN - Features; October 13, 2001

October 13, 2001


Needed: a domestic channel: TV REVIEW

QATAR-based Al Jazeera is sure to come out a winner as the war against Afghanistan progresses, just like CNN made a name for itself because of its coverage during the 1991 Gulf War. Just imagine the leverage Pakistan could have enjoyed had we a credible news channel in place. For the past few years this government, and governments before it, had been talking of launching a 24 hours news channel, a channel that could provide some sort of competition to the Indian and Western networks.

In the process, PTV put out advertisements asking young people, even those with no prior experience in journalism, to apply. Several people were hired and were introduced in the course of subsequent programming as ‘investigative’ reporters. Others were introduced later in the role of moderators and anchors of various so-called current affairs shows and panel discussions. However, as audiences were quick to find out, PTV’s ‘investigative’ reporting team hardly did any investigations at all. Never did we find anything on corruption in public sector corporations or public utilities.

The closest that Khabarnama showed anything ‘investigative’ was to do with complacency and bureaucratic red tape in government departments, say, at identity card or passport offices. Even in such reports, viewers were never told anything they didn’t already know or had experience of. Yes, everyone knows that part of the problem is the hundreds of agents who carry on their business outside these offices and are more of a hindrance as far as the public is concerned. If fingers were ever pointed during the course of such ‘investigative’ reports, invariably the low-level staff was targeted. We have yet to see any of PTV’s brilliant ‘investigative’ reporters taking a minister or a federal secretary to task. Some would perhaps argue that if PTV started doing that then may be it wouldn’t be PTV. Well, that is precisely the point. If PTV needs to get anywhere in today’s media world then it needs to re-invent itself. The only way to do that is to either privatize it — or at least its editorial policy or let private channels broadcast news programmes.

Take the case of ARY Digital, a new London-based channel that at least has taken the initiative to be a bit different and enterprising. Interviews of Qazi Husain Ahmad, Imran Khan, Benazir Bhutto, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Altaf Husain have either been broadcast or will be shown early next week. In addition to that, the channel every night airs a discussion programme from its London studios. The guests invited might not be all that high profile as on CNN or BBC but at least they seem independent and represent various shades of opinion and are miles apart from the dull and inane so-called current affairs ‘discussions’ PTV airs. In any case, ARY Digital seems to be doing an infinitely better job than either PTV or Indus Vision. The latter, ostensibly an entertainment channel, should at least examine the possibility of adding some news programming, not least because of the fact that a lot of its shows are constantly being re-aired. In any case, given the state of the nation, and the propensity of Pakistanis to get engrossed in politics there would be no better time than now for private TV channels to come up. It’s time the government realized the importance of having at least one credible Pakistani channel. —OMAR R. QURAISHI