Perception Is Reality

Media in Pakistan and What Went Wrong

Posted on: November 6, 2007

To understand what happened in Pakistan roughly Sixty One hours ago, one needs to take a look at and understand the sociology and workings of the media. This article is not meant to be a critical analysis of the situation. The author is not directly involved. This article is also not meant to be one of scholarly stature.

The independent media, as we now know it, came to Pakistan roughly 10 years ago. Along with broadcasters and news channels, came a wave of employment, talent and economic progress. The independent media was allowed in by the government, but was funded by private institutions. Whereas the exact location of the funding is not known, there is no doubt that a lot of the funding may come from political institutions or “parties” as we know them in Pakistan. Just as in the west, CNN and Fox News have completely differing opinions and views, so does the same thing happen in Pakistan. The reason for different views are the investors. If a party or institution invests in the media, they want to see their own views reflected. This is what happens in the west: one news channel is for the Republicans, whereas the other is for the Conservatives (for sake of argument). This is one reason why the Pakistani media has been so leftist. The views reflected are not necessarily of the public, nor of the employees, rather, the views of those who pay wages to these employees, in turn shaping not only their view, but also the public.

A lot of the times, the media resorts to sensationalism. What is sensationalism? Dog bites Man. This is old news. We already know the outcome. Man bites Dog. Hold on: rewind. What was that? Man bites Dog. This is sensationalism: it immediately stirs the listener’s mind and is the cause for great hype. I hear this news, call up a friend and tell him what the media is showing in turn setting off a chain reaction of television sets being turned on. This leads to profit: The sole motive of any privately run institution. In context of what is happening currently in Pakistan, then, the dramatic background music, images of clashes between security officials and civilians, and riots all form a part of sensationalism, enticing the viewer to turn on the television set. Whatever the truth, does not matter, television is selling, making money and that is the true motive. This adds to the leftist tilt.

Many on occasions, the media will side with the viewer to give them what they want to see and hear. In the context of Pakistan, a lot of people side with one of the political parties such as PPP, MQM, and PML-N. The presidents of these parties hold either spiritual or tribal hierarchical significance. The followers – or “underlings” for lack of words – of these leaders then side with the party that they represent. So, if I was to consider Mr. Altaf Hussain as my “pir,” to incur his goodwill, I would also side with his party, the MQM. As a result, a large majority of the populace sides with one particular view, usually that of the party leader. To have the party leaders (who may or may not finance the television broadcasters) views reflected, along with the crowd, the media rakes in more ratings and approval. Never mind if the views these stations reflect are very leftist, it brings in more money and higher ratings. This partly answers the question: “so are all the T.V. channels lying?” They are just being businessmen.

With reference to Geo, a highly popular news channel, I would like to draw attention to what it did wrong. Over my examination of the archival footage from Geo, I noticed that when anchormen are in phone conversations with prominent figures and correspondents, note how when there is a hint of something being said which is contrary to the view held by the station, the anchormen cuts the individual off and asks another question. An example was when a spokesperson for the Pakistan Human Civil Rights Association was discussing the conditions of the seventy odd members who were arrested. The question asked was about the size of the jail being too small to fit so many individuals. As the spokesperson went on to say that she did not think the size was too small, the anchormen interrupted, asking her another question.

Over years, especially in Canada, there have been independent institutions which govern and judge the media’s actions, both private and state-owned. For a brief period, there were new broadcasting acts and amendments to these acts every year. For the record, Canada is a country which is has existed since about the mid 1500’s. Pakistan’s media, having not even reached adolescence, has a lot left to be desired. In his conference, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said that there are rules that need to be followed, the media needs to be sensitive to people and that all of this is fair. Anyone of rational thought would agree that an organization breaks down if there are no set laws or policies governing the institution. The Prime Minister mentioned that criticism, especially constructive criticism is always welcome. I would like to add, however, that bashing, culminating hatred, and maligning government institutions is equal to treason. The PEMRA ordinances are just like the broadcasting acts in Canada in context of social and political sphere. The media needs to come to the table to sort out an understanding.

Dr. Shahid Masood, a very well respected man of high integrity stated on national television that their job as the media was to show a balanced account of what was happening, to show that in society and politics, there are two edges. However, no one from the Musharraf Regime was coming forth to the media to discuss and explain even if over the phone, as to why certain actions were taken. I believe this is a genuine problem, and I laud Dr. Shahid Masood for stating this. Discourse and debate needs to take place for the citizens of Pakistan to gain a better understanding. Note however, Dr. Shahid Masood said the above on Geo TV with whom he does not have any direct ties, and consequently, may not reflect Geo’s or its financial backers’ opinion. Constantly, there were calls from individuals of all stature condemning what is happening in our country except those from the current government giving food for thought for the general masses, trying to take them into confidence. Were the calls being filtered out, not being made by the Geo staff for comment is something that may well be under speculation. Note also, that breaking the laws imposed by the government, Geo still broadcasts to Pakistan albeit on the web.

We have to understand that our history is not a pleasant one. We have gained independence while being burnt at the stake, brutally murdered, beaten and made victims of many other gory acts. As such, we as Pakistanis think with our hearts not with our brains. We do not try to analyze the situation, rather attack on what the media feeds to us. Given, what happened should not have, but we have to ask ourselves, if that is purely the current administration’s fault. Did we as individuals, and as society as a whole have any role in the events that unfolded? Did our rage and impatience help at all? What happened was not a good thing, but was necessary. We as bastard children of the media do not understand the importance of functional government, especially since we have rarely ever been part of a democracy, if at all. However, we need to take action, not by coming to the streets and chanting spells of hatred, rather use wit and intellect to overcome the situation: we need to look forward to what can be done, as opposed to fight about what happened and why.

In the end I would like to express my own personal opinion: I support the President Pervez Musharraf and his administration fully, Dr. Shahid Masood an individual I hold in high esteem and regards and the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. All the while I hope and pray for the country’s salvation, and for the Lord to grant us understanding, patience, love and humility.


7 Responses to "Media in Pakistan and What Went Wrong"

Nothing “went wrong” with the media. The media is Pakistan’s most respected institution along with the honorable superior judiciary. This isn’t the time for cliches and pseudo-intellectual ramblings.

The problem was and is the Pakistani army which thinks it is a state within the state. No matter what the media did or whatever the judiciary did (I don’t believe either one of them did anything wrong), there is no justification for a second martial law in eight years. This is treason no matter which way you slice it.

Shahid Masood, Geo, leftists, financial backers have nothing to do with it. You cite the example of Fox, CNN etc. Do you see Fox offices being attacked when the Democrats are in power or the CNN offices under attack when the Republicans are in power? Aaj TV was attacked by the government TWICE – once when the honorable CJ was suspended and now again, their offices have been raided. Before this government preaches responsibility to the media, it must learn some itself.

So, Bhimani sahib, If you’re going to write a “critical analysis”, kindly try to make some sense – it doesn’t have to be a lot but surely a little bit of sense is not too much to ask for.

Dear Mr. Mutazalzaluzzaman Tarar,

Thank you very much for your comment. Mr Tarar. You are right this is not the time for cliches and pseudo-intellectual ramblings. But that is exactly what we see our brothers doing. Please try to put yourself in a position where you are, say, not a Pakistani, rather a citizen of a foreign state. I agree a martial law (whether it be in 8 years or 50) is not something we can look towards and be proud of, however, that is the truth of the situation. You state that you do not believe that the judiciary or the media did anything wrong. You believe, Mr. Tarar, you do not present any evidence. You state that everything I claimed may have been a problem, have nothing to do with the situation. Again, you just state your belief. I agree, the offices of these institutions such as Fox and CNN are not being raided, or attacked, but take into account how aged and shaped by time these institutions are. Note also, that earlier on, the Business Plus offices had been attacked by the general public and not by the government officials. Also, note how you attack me as an author who has tried to present the other side of the coin. Imagine how many Pakistanis (in any given institution) are doing this. Just food for thought, Mr. Tarar.


I will jump right into the discussion. First things first, I am not sure why you used “critical analysis” for this article as critical analysis of any topic needs detailed research and cited references and sources. I have written many papers so let’s just keep this to what it is ……….. a blog and a nice one for that matter, I will give you that.

Then you have used the term “leftist” lot. Letist is generally used for something representing the working class or common people (working class used to sit to left of French King) and sometimes people confuse it with liberalism. Please clarify what you intended to imply with leftist agenda. All TV networks aim at issues that common people can relate to. Maybe you wanted to use the term “anti govt”.

So you explain to people how corporate media works, good job. I agree with you that in the end all corporates want to make money. You then opine that views expressed on some Pakistani channels are maybe their owner’s views. However you failed to provide any evidence about the views of jang group, Business Recorder grou or ARY group. More so, these organizations have been involved with mass media for 40-50 years and Jang/BR group have earned credibility through their work. So before you accuse Geo/Aaj/ARY same as FOX, please support your accusations and so called “critical analysis” with:
1) The views of owners of these business conglomorates
2) History of these media outlets being influenced by the views of their owners.

The second point you made was sensationalism but you exaggerate the levels of it. Every type of media sensationalizes its content (news/entertainment/documentaries) to some extent from Discovery to BBC to CNN to National geographic because they all need to sell their content. But they all try and maintain a balanced view to maintain their credibility. You fail to mention that govt has a blatantly one sided state run PTV but still even pro govt supporters don’t watch that channel. The reason is because PTV has lost its credibility. You accuse Pakistani private media of sensationalizing events yet fail to provide concrete evidence how media sensationalism led to all the wrong things you want to blame at media’s feet. May 12, March 9, Lal mosque,Nov 03? Compare the reporting of Pakistani media to reports in international media and the criticism of Musharraf. Again provide concrete evidence and not your opinion.

Finally you accuse media of supporting popular view of majority parties. Media ripped PPP/Geo apart over NRO, though you could see how popular BB is in Pakistan. Media also ripped apart MMA for its NWFP fiasco and the way they ran the NWFP govt. Then you accuse GEO of filtering out calls of govt officials after Emergency day when Dr Masood was looking for govt officials. Where is your evidence and why would GEO do that? It doesn’t make financial sense as any interview with govt officials at that time would be GOLD for these channels. The last two paragraphs of your article are your beliefs/opinions masqueraded as fake pseudo intellectual arguments, which don’t deserve my time.

The core of your article seems to be that in today’s corporate/capitalist world, Pakistani media has painted the incorrect picture of politcial/social/economical matters of Pakistan as it suits thier own corpoate interests. You miss the point that this is true for any corporate industry in any country. You accuse them of serving their owner’s interests, their own financial interests, that they only want to show popular view, etc. You never questioned the use of tax money of Pakistani people for pro govt ads in print media and an entire state run TV, running 24 hour campaign. I addressed almost all points above. Let’s see if you can address mine.

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your opinions. I realized a little too late that I had called my “opinions” and understanding critical anaylsis. It is not such and have therefore changed the wordings to the blogs.

With regards to your thoughts, I appreciate and welcome them. I also agree to all your claims about my shortcomings in portraying the situation, not using facts and statistics to support my argument.

I understand where you are coming from and this is precisely why this is a blog entry and not an entry in some communications journal.

Just to note, I did not accuse Geo of filtering out calls, I only meant that this may have been a possibility albeit a very low one.

I agree I have used several terms incorrectly, such as leftist. Just to clarify, and I may be wrong, I meant to use it as “anti-government.” However, for the sake of people understanding your comment, I will leave this term unchanged so they can understand where you have criticized me.

Thank you very much, once again for the comments, I appreciate the criticism. My intention, as you may understand, was to try to portray the other side and nothing more.

Thank you.

Speaking of media in Pakistan, you might find this call for photos and stories on the NYTimes interesting:

hi i want to appreciate ur contribution to present status of media in Pakistan. n apart from all criticism i ‘d like to state ur observations about news anchors n its very very true that when ever sm 1 wanted to crack a point they shift to an another question n this is very annoying as i listen all phone call of SHAHEED GHAZI SAHIB at geo they stoped him to say wt,ever he wanted to n ask as many question as they can
so its a realy positive point
thanks byeeeee

It’s going to be finish of mine day, however before ending I am reading this enormous article to improve my experience.

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About the Author…

Born in Karachi, Pakistan in an Adventist hospital, I grew up in a city where on one side I experienced poverty and oppression, while on the other I had the good fortune of Tabish Bhimani being a member of an upper middle-class business family...more...

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