Boys who cry wolf By Farrukh Khan Pitaf
Recently, I was presented with a copy of the posthumously published autobiography of Professor Laiq Ahmed. For those of you who are not acquainted with his work, the television legend symbolised what was once great in our public television industry — decency, style and intellect. I haven’t been able to finish the thin volume yet. When I do, I will comment on it in more detail. But when last year he quietly left this world, there was barely a mention of him in news bulletins and none whatsoever in current affairs shows. This is proof of how much talk show culture has changed in Pakistan that it even refused to recognise its own old and civilised face.
At an age when children find current affairs shows boring, I found his programmes highly engaging. No shouting matches, no insults, no bitterness, and always tackling serious national issues with wisdom and grace. That is how he worked. When I try to compare him with the current lot gracing our television screens, the processors in the mind begin to heat up with the effort to find a link. Dr Laiq was a public intellectual. So supposedly are the long list of crybabies who now appear on your screens and tell you how the world is going to the dogs if it hasn’t been chewed, digested and defecated on by them already.
Scepticism is not bad for any society. It is cynicism that gets my goat. Ambition, hatred and poor anger management force our TV personalities today to be recipes for unmitigated disasters. If you were to trust the narrative of our anchors, this is how bad things are in the country: The country’s real democratic choice, Imran Khan, has been cheated out of his destiny by a gang of wily usurpers, who surprisingly are simultaneously secret agents of India, Israel, Saudi Arabia and even the US. So corrupt are these usurpers that you need to bribe somebody to see them. The economy has been destroyed. There is no electricity in the country. Pakistan has been isolated in the global arena and there is no hope left for us. No institution that fails to come up to the expectations of our anchors and their favourite party can be trusted. So judges, media persons with different worldviews, politicians, the election commission, bureaucracy, civil society activists, even many former generals, are all compromised. Only these anchors know what is best for the country. If you disagree, you must have been the recipient of a flat, brown envelope, hence sold and bought.
But here is the problem with the crybabies. When you cry wolf all the time, even when the threat is real, nobody believes you. Hence, instead of strengthening the culture of vigilance, oversight, accountability, and why, even opposition, you end up demolishing it. A few fringe elements will always listen to you. But the moderate majority loses interest, and eventually faith, in your work. This is what I discovered when I started working for the country’s only terrestrial network. In trying to stoke adrenaline rush, you almost always fail to effect change the way you intended. And set yourself up for a larger failure which will haunt you when you grow old and irrelevant. An important example is Imran Khan’s azadi march and dharna. People like me were fiercely opposing it because we thought he would most certainly fail. He did. Repeatedly. The country needs a strong opposition, but he seems like a spent force today — another Qazi Hussain Ahmad — kept alive only by the stubbornness of the anchors and his own refusal to see how profoundly he has managed to distort his own image.
But these anchors were once fans of Pervez Musharraf too. And fat lot of good it did him in the end. If Khan ever disappears from the public scene, these anchors will find another simpleton to support. But the problem lies, not with the endless breed of political simpletons, but with the ambition of anchors. In an inertia-ridden society, the media is being used to market a new brand of political elite. And this exercise is destroying our social fabric.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2015.