Umer Farooq writes about the way some guests on prime time talk shows engage in vitriol and abuse to prove their point. He argues that the latest surveys have revealed that the popularity rate of prime time talks shows is declining. So ideologues and political lobbies should formulate a better strategy to put their point across.
Pakistani state and society should take any non-violent and peaceful expression of political and social thought as a blessing. Why? Because we have just come out of one of the most violent phases in our history, where people were bent upon forcing their will and thoughts on others with guns and bombs in hands. So there should be no doubt that Aurat March is a good thing to happen to Pakistan.
It’s non-violent, peaceful and the people, who will participate in it, would be using words and arguments—and not guns and bombs—to make their point. Even if you disagree with the messages on posters or banners or with the very idea of women without Dupattas walking the streets, you should realise that none of them would use force or weapons to force their arguments or point of view on others. There will be words, slogans made of words, statements and speeches—and no weapons no force and no bombs.
Now compare this with the situation prevailing in our society until as recent as five years ago. We almost had chaos—groups using weapons and bombs to make their point or force their point of view on others.
I am making this comparison to bring home the point that peaceful expression of political or social thought is a good thing, especially in a society where until recent crude force was the only currency to win a battle of ideas—in fact it would be a misnomer to call it a battle of ideas, it was a battle of killing and carnage in the name of an ideology, whose adherent didn’t have the courage to face argument of the other side.
I think Pakistani state and society should encourage and facilitate as many peaceful expressions of political and social thought as is possible—there should, in fact, be no legal or moral bar on any one to come forward and express his or her thoughts on social and political issues in a peaceful manner. This will have three positive impacts, a) It would lead to social catharsis: those who dissent with the prevailing norms and moral values will have the opportunity to express their thoughts publicly and they will not harbor the feeling that they are living in a closed system.
b) Our social and political thought will progress and develop: The social and political systems which don’t accept new ideas get stagnated and become decadent, therefore new political and social thinking should always be welcome.
c) Expression of new and novel political and social thinking will facilitate a culture of tolerance in our society. We should accept the anti-thesis to Aurat March argument with open minds as well, provided it is peaceful and expressed in a civilised manner.
The other day, watching a video clip of a talk show, in which a woman supporter of the Aurat March clashed with a male opponent of the march left a bad taste—the female supporter was expressing anger with words, which were rude but were not obnoxious, male opponent was obnoxious out and out. I watched the clip in the morning and by evening the drama staged on the screen of one of the private news channels was all over the media. The male opponent was being condemned and demonized all over the news channels and social media. There were suggestions that this male opponent should not be invited to the prime time talk shows. But there he was on all the major news channels on prime time, even after he refused to apologise and after he made obnoxious comment on television screen.
I don’t want to apportion blame as to who was right and who was wrong as a whole army of commentators were doing just that on television screen since this incident occurred on the screen of one of the private news channels. I want to do a little analysis of the episode and the cultural setting that surrounds such episode in our private TV channels culture.
This was not the first episode on Pakistan television screens in which rude and obnoxious words and comments were exchanged between the participants of prime time talks shows. Prime time talk shows have a culture of their own, with many regular participants, who are obnoxious to say the least, who are rude and who are uncouth.
But they appear on these talks show with regularity. With little exercise of editorial control the presence of these uncivilized participants could be minced from the prime time talk shows. But it appears that this is not the intention of editorial boards of these private channels. They want to continue to invite these uncivilised participants to their talk shows in chase of increased rating. They want this kind of obnoxious and uncivilized episodes to take place on their screens with regularity.
Even in the particular talk show, in which the male opponent and female supporter of Aurat March clashed, it appeared clear that both the recalcitrant were aware of the intended consequences of their clash. As during the episode they were not only making rude and uncivilized comments on each other they were provoking each other into making more mistakes, which can be later exploited in their respective cause. In other words both of them were expert in such kind of rude and uncivilized encounters on television screens—both of them knew not only how to insult the other, but they also knew to provoke the other. So this was not a clash between two angry and novice participants of a talk show, who just happened to get angry during the course of the show.
They knew what they were doing and they knew what consequences will follow with their respective and particular behavior on screen. They had their respective armies of supporters ready to jump into the arena to rally maximum support in the social media wars that will ensue. What followed on the social media was well planned and well executed, but was meaningless prattling.
Prime time talks have culture of their own—invitations to these talk shows are the result of instance lobbying, political jockeying and influence mongering. Political parties, social groups and business interests also compete to get their loudmouths and mouthpieces a seat in the prime time talk shows.
By now, we have professionals who are more rude and more obnoxious, in the heated exchanges, to insult the opponent, or prevail in the battle of words and abuses. But these clashes are not real—they are taking place in an artificial environment, where the participants make calculated moves in order to achieve intended results, with batteries of social media warriors ready to jump into social media wars.
Some of these professional warriors on prime time talk shows are getting paid by the lobbies, which use them as proxies or front for their cause. From what goes on behind the screen it all looks very artificial. Some of these professional warriors are known in the newsrooms of private channels to be good at a particular argument or in supporting a particular cause. So the producers of these talks show invite these warriors as if they are producing a formula movie of 1970s.
And all this is not at all contributing to the cause of free and vibrant debate on social and political issues—free and vibrant debate doesn’t necessarily have to be violent obnoxious or rude. It can take place in a civilised environment. And if anybody thinks that their ideology or their cause will flourish on the back of these obnoxious and rude comments, he or she is terribly mistaken. The people of Pakistan have already started turning away from prime time talk shows and have now started to stick to prime time dramas on entertainment channels like HUM TV. This is indicated by the declining rating of prime time talks shows in latest surveys. So ideologues and political lobbies should formulate a better strategy to put their point across.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.