The truth is, if men (and some women) gladly sacrifice the concept of responsible (and sane) journalism just so they can pull off a sensational show that would win them fame and a bagful of corporate sponsors, if they are the ones claiming a ‘jihad against corruption’ and ‘patriotism,’ then God help us all.
A friend of my brother’s, who is also the son of a pesh-imam, once told me an interesting incident. A bright young man doing an MBA, the imam’s son had decided to serve his father’s wish (nay holy insistence) on sporting a long beard. So, back in 2007, during Musharraf’s operation against the Lal Masjid fanatics, his university was visited by a team from a popular TV channel.
The team wanted to talk to some students about the Lal Masjid operation. After conducting a few on-the-spot interviews, the team then went looking for male and female students with beards and hijabs. One of them was the pesh-imam’s son. He was also asked by the team to become a guest on a political talk show. He agreed.
When he reached the studios he found himself among a group of about six more bearded young men and some women in burqas and hijab. They were all selected for the show by the channel from various universities and colleges.
After about half an hour, the assistant producer of the show addressed the students telling them about the format and topic of the show. The producer then told them that the channel expects them to ‘make the show interesting by exhibiting anger and disgust against the government (for its action against the Lal Masjid clerics).’
As a reference some of them were reminded (by the producer) of the way a burqa-clad guest (on the show) had hurled abuses and curses at the government ‘for killing innocent people holed-up (with guns, mind you) in the Lal Masjid.’
When the students were paraded on to the sets of the show, they were at once addressed by the host of the programme: ‘Ghusa karna hai, accha!” (You have to be angry, okay!), he reminded them.
Though the students tried their best to sound angry and offended by the Lal Masjid operation, the host did not seem happy with their performance. So, during the commercial break, he angrily asked the students to be more convincing: “Yeh log aap kay bhai aur bhenoon ko maar rahey hain,’ (These people are killing your brothers and sisters), he announced. “Kya aap ko in pe ghusa nahin araha?” (Aren’t you all feeling angry at them?).
The guest students were bemused because (according to the narrator of this incident), though they were all very ‘Islamic looking’ and conservative, none of them could relate to the militant ways of the Lal Masjid clerics. Just before the show came back on air, the host insisted that the students make a better attempt at exhibiting outrage against the operation.
So they tried again. But to no avail. The host was still not happy. He was, of course, comparing this performance with the one he got from the burqa-clad woman a few days before in which she had wailed and wept, swearing revenge against the government. This incident took place in 2007. Today, almost two years later, can we say that the ways of the Pakistani electronic media have got any better? Hardly. Things have actually gone from bad to worse. Every single day on one news channel or the other viewers can catch hours of terribly biased journalism in which, for example, one can see talk-show hosts running loathsome media trials of certain ‘corrupt’ politicians (as if the hosts and their employers were themselves in-the-clear to cast the first stones at dishonesty).
Worse still is the way some channels give an open floor to what are quite clearly mad men who unabashedly spout hatred and violence in the name of religion and nationalism. So one wonders, what is a bigger crime? A (media-confirmed, not court-proven) corrupt politician or a mad man in the disguise of a talk-show host; a preacher or an ‘expert’ glamorising hatred and violence?
It is quite a sight watching the so-called TV journalists — who would even struggle to win an election of a press club — demonstrating silly smug expressions and tones, behaving as if they were the true saviours of Pakistan. They actually believe this.
However, the truth is, if men (and some women) gladly sacrifice the concept of responsible (and sane) journalism just so they can pull off a sensational show that would win them fame and a bagful of corporate sponsors, if they are the ones claiming a ‘jihad against corruption’ and ‘patriotism,’ then God help us all.