Horse manure

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Voxpops. From the Latin Vox Populi, which famously means “voice of the people”. That’s what we’re fed, day in and day out by our news channels. It doesn’t really matter what the story is, public reaction to even the most inane of happening is part of any and every news channel’s rundown. Be it outrage against another hike in fuel prices or the views of Model Town residents on the demolition of Kalma Chowk; voxpops are the bread and butter of every reporter, cameraman and satellite engineer in our fair land.

Sometimes, when they can’t find anyone who’ll talk to them on a particular sensitive issue, they’ll convince a member of the support staff – drivers are usually the main target – to parrot a set of pre-prepared lines for the camera. Making matters worse, most of the poor souls on TV expressing “their” opinions are also parroting. Reporters do the thinking and people do the talking.

But we can’t really blame these dishonest jackasses, because they’re only doing their jobs. After all, if news breaks at 3:33 PM that, say, Meera has announced plans to enter a convent; public reaction must be on-air by the next top of the hour. That gives our fearless defenders of truth a mere 27 minutes to react and have the voxpops recorded on camera, transferred to the edit stations, edited and uplinked to their central newsrooms for broadcast. If you have a news Nazi running that particular shift, matters get much worse and reporters are under monumental amounts of pressure to get the voxpops NOW!

Sometimes, that is to say whenever team Pakistan is playing abroad, overzealous assignment editors and shift in-charges will order their hapless minions in the field to get two different versions of voxpops; one set of depressed faces in case we lose and another set of bhangra-pao-fying teens yelling “Boom! Boom!” in case we don’t. You can never be too careful.

But that’s the good thing about voxpops, they represent the views of an average Joe. Not THE average Joe. You know, the one that’s the subject of every Pakistani politician’s speech, ever. That not-so-common man oft referred to by Messrs Super Sharif, Zoordari and PM Gelatini (because he’s so mouldable) is an elusive fellow. If I ever get a hold of him, I would definitely ask him a couple of hundred questions. Like how come he knows more about foreign policy than PhD scholars and seasoned members of our diplomatic corps. Or how he can criticise the inner workings of the ISI without having once been briefed on the actual, very very secret workings of the said sensitive organisation. Or even how he can predict which way a Pakistan-India cricket match is going before it is even played. I’d also like to ask him why every year, come budget season, he drops the ‘common’ from his name and becomes simply, “The Man”.

This phenomenon is not new. News channels do it every year, but neither they nor you notice that it’s happening. Every man becomes ‘The Everyman’ and housewives are transformed into economic Jedi-knights – using an unseen Force locally known as kifayatshari to battle the evil empire of Inflation. All of this happens on our TV channels, only the metaphors used are more Star Plus than Star Wars. And then you complain that our channels aren’t modern enough. In fact, many shows are designed with concepts taken out of the pages of Freakonomics or The Undercover Economist. This is good, if you’re FOX News and your agenda is to ubersimplify and mould the facts to your advantage. Then again, FOX has a stepsister in our own local TV giant, Geriatrically Engineered Oversimplified News. And since they are the beacon all others must follow, inevitably all of them do it.

You see, if the average man on the street is asked a certain question under normal circumstances, their views would be aired as those of a layman, not an expert. But in budget season, these ‘real economists’; whose ranks may or may not include housewives, wholesalers and Chamber of Commerce presidents, stop being laymen and start being the experts. This is presumably because they are the most effected by the budget. Sound reasoning, for a mentally-challenged four-year-old.

Small question of complex economic theory, a lot of math and pie charts; I don’t think its everyman’s cup of tea. Heck, I’m moderately educated and even I don’t understand most of it. So why can’t we leave the talking to the experts? Why must the collective anecdotal wisdoms of Nasreen Bibi and Shiraz the labourer (no, they are not an item) become the focus of all pre and post-budget programming? Because it’s easier than going and talking to the experts. And faster too. Which means your khala is more likely to get a 20-second sound bite on cable TV than the Finance Secretary. Now that definitely stinks!