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When TV sold its soul

June 06, 2012


- Illustration by Eefa Khalid/
- Illustration by Eefa Khalid/

Media has always been used as a tool to dictate, implement and justify acts of the ruling and the powerful. Now, however, the tables seem to be turning. Media is now referred to as a pillar that supports the system. Bringing out the truth to the masses and, at times, holding the powers-that-be accountable, the media is now being acknowledged and recognised as a social deterrent, owing to a predominant private-sector ownership and a loose political system .

This, however, has brought with it, commotion. “Too quick and too sudden” is how one can describe the present-day affairs of the media.

In Pakistan, electronic media got its first taste of privatisation in the late 1990’s and during the early 21st century when Yousuf Baig Mirza (aka YBM), then the Managing Director of Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) offered different slots to different private investors on PTV, then the only television footprint in the country.  He also segregated and offered for salea daily six-to-eight-hour programming slots on PTV-2. Tahir A Khan’s Weekend World and Ghazanfar Ali’s Teleworld Marketing were the main beneficiaries and players on PTV-2.

PTV’s 8.00pm prime-time slot was the ‘jewel’ that private investors’ consortium had their eyes on. With a certain amount paid to PTV, these investors were then allowed to market, manage and receive payments directly from the advertisers.

Lucrative as it became for everyone allegedly close to YBM, privatisation – with its positivity – also opened doors to corruption. Where on the one hand, privatisation of PTV opened doors for contemporary creativity and what followed in the form of new directors, script writers, producers, technical know-how and productions, greed and lack of transparency hatched a system which not only brought corruption, but also a haphazard playing-field.

Since its privatisation, the mini-screen which was already a household/family member, now offers taste of global news, entertainment and cultures at a price some places as low as Rs 100-150 per month. There are hundreds of local and international channels now offered in a ‘bouquet,’ as it is called. Although this bouquet run by cable operators includes entertainment, music, news, current affairs, sports, religious, informative and children channels and provide healthy and positive viewing, the ‘side-effects’ are not only lethal but also go unmonitored even though Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) is supposed to maintain cable TV standards in Pakistan. But like all other regulatory authorities, its monitoring is poor and Pemra has often been blamed for using it to gag the government’s critics in the media.

Despite protests by All Pakistan Cable Operator’s, it is not a secret that certain cable operators offer “rated,” including pornography channels, but relevant material is also printed and distributed in public places and muhallahs for marketing purposes. Interestingly, in 2006, its viewing was reported to be the highest in an otherwise conservative and Islamist-militant infested Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Apart from these “adult channels,” what remains to be offered to the general Pakistani viewership of all ages is no less devastating.

In reality, Pemra is yet another bureaucratic millstone. Apart from issuing licences, holding useless seminars and taking directives every now and then from their masters in Islamabad, it also occasionally tries to implement what it thinks is a code-of-conduct but which never goes beyond collection.

The media has not only become very powerful in terms of its physical presence but it also has an important influence in conceiving and designing future psyches of the nation. Pemra has failed to honour its role both in letter and spirit.

An amalgamation with a corruption-infested patronage, which had laid the foundations of private-sector television in the country, has now become a dominion catering to a powerful money-making machine rather than preparing a level field for creative individual and independent production houses who could help reason a culture of tolerance and self discovery.

Instead what we have is from extremist religious sermons to cartoons depicting worst form of violence, screening amputation of limbs to loud and impulsive characters to promote as heroes among our children.

Despite Pemra-defined code of regulations duly approved by policy-makers in the country, these ‘commandments’ remain hidden in a bag of tricks that come out as soon as some one powerful is annoyed with the media.

Violence against women, honour killings, tasteless mujras are regularly screened. There is no mechanism to implement issues of fair practice between TV channels, private production houses, producers, artists and other production staff. Copy-right infringement is rampant, protecting an accused or victims or for that matter an individual’s right to privacy, procurement and airing of international content with or without dubbing and disregarding any ethical guidelines an everyday affair.

If we mean to change as a country, the state of affairs in media cannot be left unchecked. All stakeholders including the government, policy makers, the common man and the media fraternity itself need to discuss and undergo a self-assessment. All ambiguities must be clarified and ethical guidelines should be rigorously implemented if this strongest fourth pillar is not to be compromised and turned into Frankenstein’s monster, which would turn into a murder that we wrote, produced, directed and aired, ourselves.

The writer is an actor, director and an independent film and television producer. He can be reached at:

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.