The Sensational Pak Media

March 9, 2013

By Somi Das via News Laundry

So you thought most of our Indian media is thriving on sheer sensationalism and has breached any and every code of accepted conduct to remain ahead in the TRP race.  Well, you’d be relieved to know that their brethren in Pakistan are giving them tough competition in this category.

Pakistan news channels have it all nowadays. From a journalist barging into your house to conduct “raids” to a news presenter advocating the banning of co-ed colleges to curb crimes against women and using airtime as “akhaadas” for political parties. Not to forget or miss the free flowing abuses on primetime news shows.

Maya Khan who used to anchor “Subah Savere Maya Ke Saath” on Saama TV and Kamran Shahid of Dunya TV are both household names in Pakistan. They are known for playing moral police on national television. While Khan, who seems to be an expert in barging into people’s houses, ‘exposing’ couples in public places, conducting live conversions was sacked following various online campaigns, Shahid is still in business. After drawing flak for letting his guests use abusive language on his show ‘On the front with Kamran Shahid’, he earned the wrath of the online community for advocating a ban on co-education as a means to curb crimes against women in Pakistan.

However, the one who has taken Pakistani media by storm and catapulted into an overnight star is Maria Zulfiqar. The rather obscure dentist-turned-anchor of Express News is the latest to join the moral police brigade. In an episode of her show “Baat Say Baat” which was aired on February 1, she along with police personnel raided a massage parlour to prove that the owner of the place was actually running a “sex centre”. In the episode, she is seen questioning the Chinese owner of the parlour. She asks to be shown the parlour licence and talks to the female employees to gather details about the kind of activities that take place in the parlour. While she keeps repeating the same sentence after every two minutes – “Don’t lie to me, you are running a sex centre in the name of a parlour”, the worst moment is when she calls up the father of one of the female employees and reprimands him for sending his daughter for “dhanda”.  While she does all this, the police quietly follow her orders. Now, the parlour could well have been a front for a prostitution racket, but in the name of investigative journalism, Maria seemed to have thrown all journalistic ethics and caution to the wind. The faces of many of the female employees who according to her were “brought in for flesh trade” were shown repeatedly. In fact she also blurted the name of one of the minors working there. And most importantly, she had no proof to back her claims. She made allegation after allegation – be it about the intentions of the owners or the role of the drug investigator who made his way into the show midway. But neither was she able to prove her point, or back her suspicions with any facts. But while we can raise an eyebrow at the mysterious ways of Maria, what her ridiculous antics have resulted in is that she’s become a sensation in the media and the ratings of her show have seen a mercurial rise.

Closer home the role of media in sensationalising news has been also been criticised a number of times. However, compared to a section of the Pakistani media, Indian anchors can well be called saints. Lately, Indian media has applied some restraints on itself and we’ve seen that is has been served a number of advisories from the government on what to report and how much to report. And this is exactly where the problem lies. Whether the media is TRP driven, ideology driven or government driven- all situations have its own perils.

And it takes one bad Maya/Maria/ Shahid to spoil the bushel. The Pakistan media has always been appreciated and recognised for doing hard-hitting stories under extremely hostile conditions. Last year, 12 Pakistani journalists lost their lives, this year Pakistani journalist Mehmood Jan Afridi was gunned down in Baluchistan. And it is not only the Taliban they are up against. Many journalists on the other side of the border such as Hamid Mir of Geo TV enjoy no affiliations of political parties or ideological organisations. These journalists are fighting threats from the state, the army and the intelligence. So, when on one hand journalists and editors are holding the government accountable on various counts and ensuring the fourth estate holds up a mirror to the political establishment, on the other, a group of journalists with questionable media ethics are ruining the credibility of the very same fourth estate.

In her blogpost in the New York Times, Pakistani journalist and columnist Huma Yusuf brings home the point that Maria’s raids on the Chinese parlour seems inspired from the Lal Masjid movement in 2007, when rebels hijacked a Chinese parlour in Islamabad and held many workers hostage. It was an uprising against Pakistani Army and the government. The uncanny similarity has also not escaped the eyes of online followers of the programme. The fact that a TV programme brings back the memories of a violent movement just to garner TRPs makes Yusuf question if “the Pakistani media is concerned about entertaining or censuring the Pakistani public”. Well, as long as the TRPs keep shooting up for such shows, we know what certain sections of the Pakistani media will be concerned with.

Photo: Avlxyz