It is some irony that prime time television was probably at its best during the time of the worst dictatorship this country suffered.
To think that the fare etched itself in the minds of my generation in spite of the suffocating code of morality — and on that inert worm called PTV — is to speak from the local chapter of Ripley’s Believe it or not!
Ironical still, it took another brother general of the mustachioed Dracula to free up the waves. General Musharraf is credited with the glastnost that, apart from delivering the necessary freedom of thought, backfired on him tremendously when he tried to asphyxiate the messenger.
To begin with, it wasn’t as if Musharraf had suddenly fallen in love with the idea of independent media. It was necessitated by his Kargil misadventure that brought home the lessons of why and how a credible media is as crucial if not more as winning the combat on ground.
To be sure, Pakistan was plonked on both counts thanks to Musharraf’s irrational and ill-advised plan. India, on the other hand, was able to build a strong case globally with its diplomacy aided by a kinetic media boasting a plethora of private TV channels.
Meanwhile back home, there was this apology of a mouthpiece a.k.a. PTV, playing the usual suspect in ‘protecting’ the citizenry from the bad news! So neither did we really have our wits around what was happening on the ground nor could the state-run medium have been effective — thanks to its lack of credibility — in keeping the nation steady leave alone motivate them.
Fast forward to Musharraf’s blunder in trying to force out the incumbent chief justice on mere suspicion fueled by Shortcut Aziz about designs on his reelection bid in 2007. Once the CJ refused to resign on cue and was captured on camera being pulled by his hair the next day, all hell broke loose.
Musharraf self-destructed by blacking out the private media following a sweeping Emergency measure that unwittingly culminated in uniting the rejuvenated judiciary with a media that was dying to telecast the revolution. Since then, there has been no looking back.
Why have I narrated a script all too familiar to most of us in Pakistan with that TV remote in hand? It is to drive home the point on how prime time ever since that mad Musharraf winter streak turned it into a circus called the talk show.
Admittedly, it was fun watching the daredevilry for some time. There was no dearth of in-your-face mien with people like Ali Ahmed Kurd prime timing cameos about ripping the khaal off the General who was refusing to take his fatigues off, calling it his “second skin”.
But after a while, the talk shows began to resemble secondhand clothing with no imagination or substance. The average Pakistani viewer has had little respite since then with TV anchors far from playing moderators assuming a larger-than-life profile and forcing agenda-driven shows down the throats of the viewers.
It was a cinch that at some stage, the lack of credibility would give them away, and it did resoundingly, last year when two of the breed was caught on camera making it up with/for a real estate tycoon on extended prime time. The show was everything except real.
Wonder if this is democracy’s best revenge?
– Kamran Rehmat