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Religion for ratings

July 27, 2012


IT’S been apparent for a while now that the country’s electronic media will go to extreme lengths to spice things up. But religion is now fair game too. In yet another example of how the industry’s commercial goals trump ethics, open-mindedness and common sense, on Tuesday a television show broadcast an imam leading a Hindu boy through a live conversion to Islam carried out in the studio as part of the show, complete with the audience joining in to suggest Muslim names for the new convert. There is no reason to think the boy was not converting of his own free will, but the whole event had the distinct air of being carried out to give viewers something new and different to watch, even if that meant dragging an intensely personal and spiritual experience into public view.

More disturbingly, what the channel obviously didn’t stop to consider is the message this broadcast would send to the country’s minorities. The joy with which the conversion was greeted, and the congratulations that followed, sent a clear signal that other religions don’t enjoy the same status in Pakistan as Islam does. In a country where minorities are already treated as second-class citizens in many ways, this served to marginalise them even further. After the uproar over her pursuit in a park of innocent couples — who she later claimed were actors, making that episode even more questionable — one would think the host and her management would have been more careful with her programming. But then that is the problem with Pakistani media: it is missing a responsibility chip, hurtling ahead with what seems like exciting content without stopping to consider the ethical implications or appropriateness of its programming, or the message it will send to all Pakistanis, not just those it considers the mainstream.