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When TV sold its soul

Published Jun 06, 2012 07:30am


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- 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.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

Vigilant Jun 07, 2012 09:12am
Agreed with Author.....more scrutiny is required for media outlets
roger Jun 06, 2012 09:01am
Pakistani private channels live in a wild wild west where there are no regulations common in other parts of the world. PEMRA is useless and no media Mafia does not listens to them. For instance, instant reporting on gruesome details with pictures of events, no 10 second delay to prevent vulgar materiel being aired, quality of facts and their checking, constantly reporting on bad news from all over the country with excessive "breaking news" headline. Why is it a "Breaking News" for a person in Karachi to know if a person has been murdered in Gujranwalla or a bus has had an accident? With this type of reporting you will not rest ever because in a country of 200 million people, there is always something happening somewhere . If someone shows up at an airport it becomes a "Breaking News". Media is simply out of control. Does CNN report on everything that happens in New York? I think channels should have local affiliates who report on mostly local news and have one hour for national news. This will prevent millions from constant torture and mental tension from all bad news 24/7. Look at the example of USA.
siddiq karim Jun 06, 2012 11:53pm
if you do not wish to watch it then dont watch it. censorship is bad news. period
Mr.T Jun 06, 2012 11:21am
Since the beginning till end, media is source of power to win war or people mind, and always there are 2 sources evil and good which both promote (obviously evil has more resources then good). Today's media are more powerful then ever before and goodness is there too but unfortunately its only noticed by few good people and all evil (fortunately) they knows which media is promoting message of peace and goodness and obviously they not going to promote them. So as this article there one or two maybe who hasn't sold their soul to the devil and still fighting, coz no matter how strong devil is it will never win in the end. (And i think end seems to very near when you seeing results occasionally in pakistan)
YaseenMirza Jun 06, 2012 10:26am
I am fully agreed with the views of the author. Apart from some good things, a lot bad things are also happening with this rain of Cable TV Channels. Much of the Material which is being screened daily on these channels does not suit to our society and culture. No doubt that in today's world nothing can be hide and individuals have right to view the things of their choice but every thing should be within the limits. To bring betterment all the stakeholders must play their role.
aaa Jun 06, 2012 04:43pm
I must say if one avoids completely newspapers and tv for a few days one feels drastic change in ones life. At times one should just go on digital dieting when one is getting so much to eat.
kazim balti Jun 06, 2012 04:03pm
nice .mahatma gandhi words:- we will defeat pakistan by the war of media ,so its happining now are you agreeeeeeee?????????????????????
NAGARI Jun 07, 2012 02:43pm
great effort..... strongly agree with the writer..
NAGARI Jun 07, 2012 02:36pm
great effort..... strongly agree with the writer.. it is said that media is the mirror pf society but where is the mirror
Anthony Jun 07, 2012 01:25pm
Mahatma Gandhi??? Defeating Pakistan??? Which Madrassa taught you this? All rubbish. Please don't bring the name of Mahatma into such lies.
Bilal Jun 08, 2012 10:13am
My friend, no one can challenge economics and people's free will. Not even religion. 90% cable operators in Pakistan don't have the infrastructure to support subscription based channels. So your argument that "somebody is subsidizing and quietly offering it to the poor and the youth for almost free" is pure BS. And secondly cable operators are offering these channels because there is a demand for their content. Don't like the channel, just move on to the next one. Or buy the more expensive subscription based cable service like PTCL Smart TV (which is many times expensive than your average "mohalla" cable operator.
Bilal Jun 08, 2012 10:06am
At least someone is talking sense here. Censorship is bad. Let the people choose their own tastes and path. We don't need Zia-ul-haq fans telling us what and what not to watch. Don't like it, don't watch it. Simple as that.
Razzaq Jun 06, 2012 06:37pm
In my opinion,our media could have changed the fate of the nation if they were sincere.But sadly,commercialism together with political mind,lack of professionalism, ill-training of the anchors and presenters have replaced unrealistic and mind boggling programmes. These channels can not even give the correct news.Less said about the PEMRA is better,even the cable operators have been politicised why not ? Pakistan is a free country and if religious leaders are claiming to be politicians why not others.
Ali Moen Jun 07, 2012 05:40am
Soul Selling stands our social pride. Not one medium/media or institution can be held responsible for that. We need DNA tweaking to Save our Souls....Good work though Rashid Sahab..
saythetruth Jun 07, 2012 04:34am
The basic cable service offered throughout USA has a PG rating, no pornography or adult content on USA basic channels unless you pay for the adult channels. The thing that surprises me the most is that the adult content on cable TV is so cheap in Pakistan. It seem like somebody is subsidizing and quietly offering it to the poor and the youth for almost free Why pornography offered dirt cheap on Cable TV in Pakistan even though we know pornography bring so many ill's to the society. The famous serial killer "Ted Bundy” when interviewed told the root cause of his mental illness was watching pornography at young age. I recall a incidence when the Prime Minister of Israel "Benjamin Netanyahu " in early 1990 in a USA interview told that the only way we can control Middle East and Muslim is to offer free adult contents via satellites TV, I guess he did the job and now look at the youth of the Muslim world. Pakistan should setup rules and regulation for all the cable operators with strict punishment for offering adult content. Not even western world tolerates open pornography on TV, why Pakistan is exception blows my mind?
Waqas Jun 07, 2012 06:16am
Thanks for raising the issue.
gary Jun 30, 2012 03:53pm
It is a news to me that in Pakistan cable TV allows adult contents.
Nadia Nasir Jun 06, 2012 02:08pm
Thanks for raising the issue. Portugal.
saythetruth Jun 08, 2012 12:33pm
You missed my point to being with there should be no Adult content on the TV period. Mullah or no Mullah we are talking about ills of adult content and the effect of it on society in general. Most Asians follow west for entertainment and the garbage that is easily available so inexpensively through the so call cable operators in Pakistan you could never find it on USA TV. Some European countries allow nudity on TV but it eve after hours not a whole day affair like in Pakistan. My two cents take it or leave it your choice .