All of us tv watchers can see how the drama of Pakistani politics is much magnified by the miscellany of local television channels shouting and screaming about this. This loud ‘commentary’ is presented as a ‘political talk show’ but its typical tone and style is more that of a mob at an ancient Roman arena rather than an intelligent and balanced discussion.
The multiple channels promoting different points of view reflect, to some extent, the utter polarisation of opinion in the country. Of course the never-ending drama of the country’s politics needs to be covered but why has journalistic restraint and editorial balance been so completely forgotten, so totally abandoned?
This is a question that keeps popping up in my mind night after night as I see people I considered competent journalists or editors sitting on various panels saying quite vicious things and levelling some pretty serious allegations. And in true (crass) ‘Reality TV’ style the ruder and louder and more vicious the ‘discussion’ is, the better its ratings (apparently). Rather than steering the discussion and moderating the speakers, TV anchors seem to be unashamedly partisan, prompting and encouraging rudeness, repeatedly interrupting and talking over any polite or rational guests (they will always, always interrupt or cut off any woman participant) and allowing offensive and aggressive guests to be as abusive as they want.
What happened, one wonders, to the idea of editorial control and journalistic balance?
What is actually very worrying about this style of tv programming is the unbridled rudeness of its discourse. No basic level of courtesy or respect is observed: politicians and elected officials are spoken of in derisive and disparaging terms, people scream and shout at each other, and no attempts are made to balance or curtail slanderous remarks. Courtesy, good manners and rationalism is completely absent from this discourse.
So why is this worrying? Basically because it is so extremely offensive and sets such a dreadful example. It should not be at all surprising if a whole generation of Pakistani youth now grows up thinking it is perfectly okay to speak about people and to people in this extraordinarily offensive manner. This includes addressing the country’s high officials as ‘Oye’, speaking of them as ‘mulzim’, speaking over women and treating them disrespectfully, using inappropriate language and obnoxious innuendo, and generally saying anything they want without bothering with corroboration or evidence.
I don’t think this bodes well for this country’s future even though I understand the point of view that such lack of enforced reverence is actually liberating and empowering for an electorate, and that it helps people to demand answers of their leaders.
It’s fine to break down this subservience in society but it’s not a great idea to encourage people to be so utterly offensive, irrational and disrespectful.
Part of the blame for this level of rudeness and general disrespect must go to political leaders like Imran Khan, Shahbaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain — among others who have consistently spoken of their rivals in offensive and unparliamentary terms. But a great deal of blame must also go to our tv channels and the unrelenting venom and hysteria they broadcast.
They have set the tone merely because bad manners make for ‘good’ tv.
And it is this attitude of short sighted and self serving channel owners, pliant journalists and obedient right-wing defence protégés echoing their master’s voice that is going to shape behaviours and mould views. As the country draws close to elections, this is going to be a singularly unpleasant campaign covered gleefully by an irresponsible electronic media, pandering to certain establishment quarters and creating as much controversy as possible. Many things will be important in this election campaign but good manners will probably not be one of them.