Copycat TV Shows Hosted By Ambitious Anchors Are Changing The Nature Of Journalism In Pakistan
It is like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, producer of one of the three top-most rated TV talk shows told me explaining the nature of his job.
‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ is a mega Bollywood hit depicting pitched battles for supremacy among different families. They fought like hyenas: success lies in hunting together but then there is no togetherness when it comes to supremacy.
About 20 national TV channels have their studios in Islamabad, mostly in a radius of five kms, where at least 35 talk shows are recorded on a daily basis.
“The channels and talk show hosts are so predictable that you can tell before watching the show that where the argument will be go,” Dr Shabbir Hussain, Associate Professor at Department of Media Studies, Bahria University Islamabad, told me.
ARY has become a PTI brand. Others also eye the same prime space and to get this they are willing to do anything.
Talk shows are the engine of this bandwagon. On the screen, their hosts move like stars, giving an impression that they enjoy professional bonhomie among themselves.
But things are different behind the scenes. In a leaked footage of a staged interview of a property tycoon, tug of war between the female and the male anchor was so brazen and blatant.
In the recent past, two top ranking anchors fought physically reportedly to win over a wealthy client in Islamabad and National Press Club had to intervene to stop the situation from further escalation.
A minister slapped an anchor and accused him of blackmail. The same minister did the same with another anchor, citing the same reasons.
It is a misconception that rating is the main goal of our star anchors. No. Connections and political clout are. And to forge such connections, they make a lot of compromises.
I may quote only two examples here. In Capital Talk, Hamid Mir invited PTI leader Imran Khan before 2018 elections and showed him footage of a retired military officer saying that Pakistan needs to mend ties with the US. “He is a shameless man,” announced Khan and Mir replied, “Well, so he is a shameless man.”
In another example, Moeed Pirzada invited Shahbaz Gill and Imtiaz Alam. During the programme, Gill attacked Alam saying ‘you are a man of no honor to have shared’ a cartoon about PM Imran Khan on social media. Instead of stopping Gill, Pirzada too asked Aalam, “Sir what is it that you have tweeted making Gill so furious.”
These are only two examples in which one can find that these shows are a depiction of hunting together.
“We should not rely on these shows for the sake of information as they are not meant for it. They are meant for views, not news,” said Dr Hussain.
“I also have no objection to instances of misinformation on these shows as one can make up for it. There are many ways for audience to locate correct information. But disinformation is the real crime that these shows commit. They colour information and keep on presenting it to achieve their goals, which should not be allowed,” he said.
The first thing that hits you in the eye when you reach the reception of Washington Post is C.P. Snow’s quote: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
Mr. Snow wrote this dictum in 1921 to mark 100 years of The Guardian and 50 years of his being an editor.
How could this quote be of any help analysing content of TV programmes?, is one among frequent questions media students ask me.
Ideally, news ought to be our key area of concern but it is not the case. Ironically, views have taken up the driving seat. We as audience need to value facts and know that these shows are commentaries, howsoever entertaining or steamy they might be.
Hassan Shahzad teaches media at public and private universities and regularly writes for Islamabad pages of The News. He holds a PhD in media studies.