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Crooked Mirror: We are what we see

January 29, 2012

Photo illustration by Eefa Khalid

The popular saying surrounding nutrition goes something along the lines of “we are what we eat” – switch that around a bit and does it still make sense if we say “we are what we see”? And if that stands true, then oh boy are we in trouble.

Living in Pakistan, our real life experiences make us eye-witnesses to chaos, poverty, crime and deceit. We watch the divide between the elite and poor get greater each passing day and we watch the destruction lack of education has unleashed upon our population… some of us choose to do something about it, some of us don’t. We see and watch this because we have no choice but to do so – it surrounds us.

But that’s not what this is about. This is about the kind of seeing where we do have a choice – or so they say. The kind of seeing we do through our television sets – and this happens to be no less alarming and depressing than the scenes going on outside in the real world. There is something very wrong with a population that sits and watches political talk shows for the mere purpose of entertainment.

Could it be because we as a nation are starved for entertainment or because our perception of what’s fun, informative and news-worthy is seriously warped? Our day starts with a wide range of morning shows which grace our screens via news and entertainment channels everyday. Not a single one discusses what’s happening in the world or the latest developments in the country’s various sectors. What we see instead is a set for either a mock wedding in process, or a woman witch-hunting unmarried couples in parks, or hosts interviewing astrologers or self-proclaimed pirs – and this ladies and gentlemen is what happens when “Pakistan uthos and jagos subha saware mast morning shows kay saath!”

What a waste of such a powerful part of the day. A large portion of housewives religiously tune into these shows every morning and all our media houses can think of showing are latest fashion, wedding trends and incidents of black-magic? Cooking and nutrition tips are often incorporated in such shows and where these are a welcome addition, they should not be the only focus. I am sure there are plenty of women viewers who might be keen to see interesting snippets of news and developments from around the world. However, because they stay mum and watch whatever is thrown their way, their exposure remains limited to this.

During the course of the day, we are then exposed to various dramas and sit-coms, once again all revolving around the same household relationships, lies and deceits. Barely ever do we see a show based on trivia, adventure, tourism or talents. Once again, we do not protest, hence we sit back comfortably looking forward to Saturday nights with our beloved Hamsafar.

What choice do we have otherwise locally? Switch over to the news channel and it’ll be the same sensationalist war where there continues a fierce debate on “where is Pakistan going?”. Well, if you are going to ask views from the leaders who have taken this country no where thus far, chances are the answers we’ll be getting are no less different either. There is a constant rush to break news, and what terrible news it is most of the time – what accomplishment does that really bring anyway? Oh, I forget, it’s not about accomplishments or public service – it’s all about the ratings and the money those bring in.

The latest trend of news shows launching a raid on dubious shops/people/industries might be a welcoming change to some but it seems to be a rather short-sighted move. Okay so all of a sudden the media has started wearing the police badge… but what happens after say, for example, they have exposed the mismanagement on bus stops? Will we suddenly see a change in pedestrian behaviour? Will transport managers suddenly advocate for safer stands or will the drivers stop pulling the breaks wherever they want? We already know and see what’s wrong with the system – how to fix it, is where we are all at a loss – so how about launching drives and shows with the intention of fixing as opposed to the sensational exposing!

As a nation we are exposed to dread and gloom on our streets, in our drawing rooms and our television sets. The media perhaps has not yet learnt that with great power comes great responsibility… but for the viewers, there is still a chance. They need to understand that they have the power to demand for change and for the positive exposure and growth of the future generations, it is their responsibility to do so.

One blatant and recent example of this power is the Maya Khan case and how the management of Samaa TV actually gave in to the pressure of their viewers and took the show off air. Maya, a morning show host, was yet another example of the ‘moral police’ that has been swarming around the country. Her ‘raid’ on couples sitting in public parks drew immense uproar and with various campaigns launched against the show, the management finally realised that action had to be taken and some policies need to be revised.

A great step taken well in time but is it too early to think other news channels are going to follow suit? If the viewers continue to campaign against inappropriate, sensational, superficial and/or unethical programming, who knows, we just might be able to make some great revisions to our society at large.

The writer is the Deputy Editor at Dawn.com