Television’s Evolution

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I had penned an op-ed column about the Pakistani media way back in 2010. It had discussed how political, religious and entertainment programs dominated the media and the military was maligned.
Looking back, it is heartening to note that the media has changed for the better.
The military engaged in the psyops war by producing dramas, songs and films in collaboration with the ISPR. It held press briefings and conferences with the very journalists who spewed venom against them. All this went a long way in softening the hearts of Pakistanis towards their own military-which sacrifices life and limb to keep them safe.
Today, the average Pakistani respects and loves our heroic Pakistani armed forces.
Religious programs are no longer popular. A certain TV channel and its star anchor, who hosted religiously themed shows, faced scandals and fell from grace. Other channels faded out too.
Political programming is still wildly successful. However, instead of simply covering inane issues related to politicians, like they did earlier, programming now follows the lead of social media. Hot topics on social media and viral posts make their way to national television, taking the relevant stakeholders in the loop. This is a positive development.
The stay-home directive has boosted social media usage and since TV viewers are now glued to their phone screens, our television is catching up with its audience on social media. Many popular TV anchors have launched their Youtube channels in this Covid19 environment.
Noor Mukaddam’s murder, the 70-year-old paedophile seminary teacher and the Minar-e-Pakistan incident all surfaced on social media and went viral. They dominated social media conversations and the noise reached TV then.
Ubiquitous smartphones enable video recordings of anything and everything. In a recent incident, four minor girls were kidnapped by a rickshaw driver. A good Samaritan made a video and shared it on social media, where it immediately went viral. Then it became news on TV and the Punjab police took prompt action and recovered the girls in the nick of time.
Social media is hence now the television’s guru of sorts. Things have come full circle. The same TV screen which broadcasted political machinations of big and small players made the people savvy. Facebook gave them a voice. That voice made its way back to the news.
On a brighter note, television has improved the nation’s command over Urdu, which is a second language for 85% of the total population.
Entertainment remains the only genre, which has failed to add value and evolve. Pakistani dramas made a comeback in the last decade and are now a very popular entertainment for women in parts of Pakistan.
The dramas, however, often showcase emotional abuse and domestic violence viz-a-viz women. They serve to normalize the poor treatment of women.
Female celebrities and clothing brand’s unholy union has given birth to a national obsession with clothing brands. Wants have become social obligations. Consumer society can be seen alive and kicking on social media where women are running home-based businesses of every consumer good under the sun. Not only is this wasteful and frivolous, but it is terrible for the environment.
Cooking channels have perhaps brought about the biggest media-driven change on a national level. North Indian delicacies cooked by the Urdu speaking community-where Biryani tops the list-are now cooked all across Pakistan. I witnessed this firsthand in my travels across Pakistan during the last two years.
That said, cooking shows have promoted gluttony and food addictions. Junk food is now an acceptable part of the Pakistani diet. We have also become obligate carnivores. Chicken has now made its way to pakoras and evening snacks, which were traditionally vegan. Chicken biryani is now a national dish and vegetarian food is hard to find in restaurants or even at budget eateries. It’s hard to believe that we are a poor country, which lives off borrowed money.
Since spices are a relatively new introduction to the taste palette of far-flung areas, masala manufacturing companies have struck gold. This has harmed the erstwhile robust health of people known for longevity, living in mountainous remote regions such as Hunza. Hypertension and other ailments which were unknown in the region till a decade ago are now a common occurrence. Traditional cooking ingredients-untouched by chemicals-have now been replaced by unhealthy cooking oils, processed food and masala mixes.
Through the sponsoring of cooking shows and investment in emotionally engaging advertising campaigns, unhealthy processed brands have also become the flag bearers of our cultural heritage. It is disturbing to watch a TV commercial, with humanistic values and our cultural heritage, being associated with processed food.
All private channels owe a moral and social responsibility to air public service content over and above content for the profit motive alone. Instead, the print and electronic media are currently protesting the creation of the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) announced by the PM, as a move to curtail the freedom of the media.
In recent news, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said that there were 114 satellite television channels operating in Pakistan out of which 31 were news and current affairs channels, 42 were entertainment, 23 were regional language channels, seven were education channels of which only 2 were working. Similarly, only one of the three sports channels was working.
None of them has any notable body of work to their credit.
In 2020, Prime Minister told us to watch Ertugul Ghazi dubbed in Urdu. The Covid-19 lockdown coincided with the airing of the drama. A captive audience turned it into a national obsession. However, with time, that craze subsided and things returned to normal. Plans are now underway for a joint production with Turkey about a drama based on the life of Salahuddin Ayyubi, who took back Jerusalem from the crusaders.
These jihad themed dramas are the last thing Pakistan needs. Since the 1980’s we’ve regressed as a nation thanks to bigotry, extremism and militancy. Creating such content under state patronage cannot build self-esteem and rid us of colonial hangovers, as is erroneously understood by the powers that be.

Children have been home since March 2020 thanks to Covid19. Zoom meetings serve as a classroom and homework is done online. PubG and other video games additionally keep children occupied.

As a praiseworthy initiative in April 2020, Pakistan’s Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT) began broadcasting an education TV initiative called TeleSchool and, at a regional level, the Punjab province’s School Education Department (SED) launched its local initiative called Taleem Ghar.

Both TV programmes’ lessons are also available on-demand, either on their respective websites or hosted on the YouTube channels or mobile applications of the broadcasting TV channels.

Covid19 will keep us home for some time. This is an invaluable opportunity to impart technical skills via the same platforms similar to how Ivy League universities are offering education online in the pandemic.

Covid19 has led to a shifting paradigm that can serve as an equalizer to flatten social inequalities and offer unprecedented opportunities.

Given how television programming has entered every home, the moral responsibility of channels has increased manifold in the current environment. TV should teach life skills, impart knowledge, teach good citizenship, national cohesion and religious tolerance.

The writer is an independent researcher, author and columnist. She can be reached at aliya1924@gmail.com