Devil's Advocate: Who's At Fault For Poor TV Content?

Nov 30th, 2009 | By | Category: Uncategorized

When you turn on the TV and watch TSS or Capital Talk or Merey Mutabiq you will see some pretty outrageous stuff. But who is responsible for this? Is it the TV producers? The talk show hosts themselves? Or could it, dear reader, be someone a little bit closer to our own television sets? Might it even be us, the viewers that are responsible for this madness?

One goal of this website is to provide fair analysis of media content. The few of us who write for the site strive not to take political allegiances or promote a particular point of view. Rather, we hope that by providing a different perspective (including presenting facts!) to that expressed in the mass media, we will encourage more discussion in our communities about the issues that we face as a nation.

Yes, we have taken a strident stand against incorrect and irresponsible journalism. But we also want to promote a broader discussion about the role that media plays in our thinking (or lack of thinking!). To assist us reaching this end, we provide this post as a discussion point for debate in comments. As always, we are interested to hear your opinions.

Back to our original question, though: Recently, talk show host himself Mr. Farrukh Khan Pitafi wrote in The Daily Times that the real culprit in the increase in poor TV content is none other than ourselves, the dear viewers of the TV programmes. His argument is presented below. What do you think? Let us know in comments, please.

What came first, madness or your average everyday shrinks? If Darwin is to be believed shrinks came first, and homo sapiens tried to adapt to this change by volunteering to go mad. But Douglas Adams takes a gloomier view of the matter in his magnificent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If Adams is to be believed, man is a direct descendant of the one-third, and obviously quite mad, population of the planet Golgafrincham. The planet’s sane majority, tired of those indefatigable loonies, invents a myth of impending doom, loads the lot in a spaceship without control, programmes it to crash safely but irreversibly into a newly built planet, and sends it off. Unfortunately for us, the planet turns out to be none other than Earth. While the human species must have evolved considerably for the two million years since its arrival on the planet, you can spot the shadows of the very same madness in our eyes even today.

If you are not yet convinced, an even better testimony of all this comes from our changing television appetite. Once upon a happy time, Pakistani television plays were renowned the world over. No more, sir. Today our average middle class living rooms have been successfully colonised by the Indian saas-bahu soaps and men weary of this travesty of entertainment try to find some drama on the news channels. Only a few months after I started hosting talk shows, a sombre looking distant relation whose occupation after his carpet trade is to watch talk shows, told me what was lacking in my shows was some drama. “Nobody wants to watch a knowledge-based smooth running show. They want aggression, people insulting each other and of course while you are at it a lot of conspiracy theories.” I could not do anything but tell him that if I wanted to do that kind of angry stuff, I would have either chosen to be a stand-up comedian or a mystery or science fiction author. 

And yet a lot of friends have also complained about their irritable bowels syndrome, a gift of the ever-growing trend of breaking news with gory footage. Indignant at their silent suffering, I have to ask why they choose to watch news channels if they have such vulnerable and often nervous stomachs. In response I have to endure misty-eyed stares and clueless silence. 

In some circles of our elite it has become customary to blame the TV anchors for everything that goes bad in the country. Believe me I have absolutely no interest in defending anyone in this profession. A lot of shoddy work goes on in the talk shows here. Not to mention that anchors most belligerent against the current government are often seen popping in and out of buildings occupied by the establishment or the intelligence agencies. Yet is it their fault that they are being taken so seriously? Capitalism and democracy make one hell of a deadly cocktail and it takes all sorts to finish it. But without questioning anyone’s right to sell his soul to the devil, can we not ease our minds a bit by treating all this as one big joke? 

I have tried uncountable times but a talk show host just cannot step out of your television screen and land into your living room. Nor can any host slap your wrist when you try to switch the channel. That means if someone is mad and discussing weird conspiracy theories on the screen, we too are up for watching it.

Honestly, dear readers I ask you, is it a compulsion to watch something that bothers you all the time? It is considered the duty of a news channel to bring you news as it happens. Likewise, when it comes to the talk shows or other current affairs programmes it always helps to have a few devil’s advocates on board. Okay, Pakistani channels have quite a few of them. Then what? If you want an absolutely unbiased anchor, then would it not be prudent to give the job to a robot rather than a being of flesh, bones, stupidity and emotions? 

Nor can a channel force you to believe in something that you never believed in. For instance there is this eschatological philosopher disguised as a doctor, a conspiracy theorist and a former PTV chairman and MD. In the not quite so distant past he presented a series on the end of time. Repeatedly we were told that the end was nigh. Try as I might, I could not convince myself of all this bollocks. Even today that tale from the crypt is a standing joke among my peers. Believe me, while it is quite silly, doomsday cannot come prematurely just because a talk show host says it will.

Everyone has the right to say whatever he wants, of course stopping short of slander. When we complain, we do so because we fail to hear what we already believe in and want to hear. That means that the problem lies not with the anchors but with the quality of public perceptions and the realities. Undoubtedly our society is brimming with hypocrisy. And yet we do not want people like us sitting in government or the media. Nay, we want angels there. 

The quality of a society can be judged by the quality of governance and its media content. If we are being poorly served we need to ask what is lacking in us. I am not as much worried about the slant in our talk shows as I am about the demise of arts and culture in our society. Keep switching channels and you will fail to find any good television plays or even sitcoms. In their place we are expected to watch substandard soap operas with tenuous storylines. Pakistani music, which until quite recently was making Indian artists insecure, is losing its magic touch. Similarly, it is not every day that you come across some good piece of literature. Frankly, if news bulletins and talk shows are our sole entertainment today and gossip is replacing informed talk, our country must be turning into one little sorry place to live in.

Is there any antidote? Yes of course. All we need to do is to fine-tune our media appetite and demand improvement in the television content. Personally I am not much fussed about the national interest. I am concerned about the quality of the national wisdom, which we can work together to improve. And the artists among us need to work harder to revive the lost glory. Meanwhile the pro-government or pro-democracy class can find solace in the fact that no anchor can remove a ruler. It takes much more than that and perhaps a lot of government stupidity to accomplish. And the anti-government lobbies can also take heart, knowing that as long as there are two views available in the media, their voice will not go unrepresented. This madness, after all, is called liberal democracy. 

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