Headlines and deadlines


If they didnt make such tall claims about abstract and useless ideals such as objectivity and accuracy, our news channels would really be able to make a difference in society. I mean no disrespect to all the hardworking blood-sweat-and-tears journalists who toil away in anonymity, working to get you information that could affect your life. But its these armchair-types the ones that host the night-time chat shows and write pointless opinion pieces such as this one who make things worse. All they do is raise questions, something ordinary people already have enough of. But something that each one of these couch potato sahafis claim to be looking for, i.e. the truth, or something like it, usually gets cut to make space for commercials.

The fault, many have thought, must lie with the corporate nature of all these enterprises. After all, news is big business in our country. Being a media tycoon, the seth does what every good businessman would: develop a product that sells. By that they mean something that people would like to watch. The quest for a definition of that something, however, is what ensures employment for hundreds of people such as myself. I mean, if the seth knew what the people wanted to see, he would only hire people for that particular purpose and fire everyone else. Keeping the seth in the dark, then, becomes the prime responsibility of all his employees. And the seth, on his part, devotes all his energies and monies to finding out exactly that. What a waste!

There is another school of thought, one that blames lafafa journalism for the ills of todays society. That airtime or column space in the fourth estate can be bought and sold by corrupt individuals who misuse the power that they have is a frightening thought in itself. But multiply that one lafafa journalist by every city, every district, every little chak in the country, and you end up with a frighteningly large figure. While there can be no doubt such cretins bring a bad name to an otherwise honourable profession, they are too few and far between to be any serious threat on a national scale.

Then there are those who become party. These people are usually very outspoken and have strong views on issues such as loadshedding and horse-trading in parliament. But ask them to highlight sensitive issues, such as the size of the defence budget or the taboos surrounding child abuse or sex education in schools and they falter. They have a particular interest, affiliation or leaning and may well harbour sympathies for a certain political party or ethnic group. Toeing the line, be it a fishing line or Guccis new summer line, is their favourite pastime. It is here that journalism degenerates into something else, and becomes a platform for canvassing. The people of the United States (or The Great Shaitan) long ago realised that the broadcast and print mediums were powerful vehicles for influencing public opinion and needed to be regulated. Otherwise, they figured, sly politicians and their evil sidekicks could exploit, misuse and even take advantage of the free airtime that they get on chat shows or the complimentary column space they get in The New York Times. But back in good old Plighty, QZ Kaira and Co seem clueless about the powers of the print, electronic and Nu Media.

It is no coincidence then that after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the media circus that followed inevitably ended up asking the same idiotic questions. Did he bring this on himself? was one of the most contemptuous, followed by the more Ansar Abbasi-esque query, Why did he have to go and defend that Christian woman? The diabolical duo of Hamid Mir and Haroon Rasheed joined in on the Molvi-fest that night too, and the most watched show on cable TV that night ended up revolving around one small, insignificant and unholy detail, Should Qadri be canonised or demonised? The fact that these men had to ask that question in the first place seems to me to be indicative of everything that is wrong with us today.

Many saner and wiser people have tried reasoning with these morons. Repeatedly, learned people from all walks of life have attempted to talk some sense into these circus acrobats. But apart from a few notable exceptions, the topic of choice on TV and in the syndicated columns has been the divine nature of the blasphemy laws and the murderers purported motive. Sparingly little has been said and written about the root cause of all of this, ignorance. A friend recently remarked that this episode has exposed the masses of Pakistan for what they truly are. Columnists and talk show hosts have spent the last decade standing up for these cretins, blaming everyone from institutions to individuals (and even the kitchen sink) for the problems of the people. The truth is far more embarrassing and frightening.

The writer is a broadcast journalist.