There was a time, and it seems very long ago, when it was worth getting up early just to watch Pakistan breakfast TV
There was a time, and it seems very long ago, when it was worth getting up early just to watch Pakistan breakfast TV. For a couple of hours there were at least three start-the-day programmes that were crisp and on the mark and unafraid to tackle some contentious issues — child sexual abuse and cousin marriage were both subjects aired by George and Kiran Fulton on their breakfast show, and Naveen Naqvi was a sharp political interviewer when she graced the screen. There were others, men and women that gave an edgy start to the day that actually looked and sounded like televisual journalism. But it was in English, and there’s the rub.
English does not make money. Or at least not enough to support something as expensive as a TV channel that is anyway going to attract low viewing figures because English is a minority language, the more so because the version of English we got with the paratha and cornflakes was ‘high’ English not the dialect that is spoken English in many cases in Pakistan.
The English channels were competing for a limited advertising market, and in TV Land advertising is everything, and there was not enough to go around. They all haemorrhaged wads of cash faster than you can say ‘More chai?’ and they were gone before they had a chance to mature beyond infancy. (I realise this simplifies a complicated tale, but bear with me.)
Today there is a single channel that airs a breakfast programme in English that has no advertising and a set of presenters that appear to have been hewn from solid teak. ‘Wooden’ does not even begin to describe them. I have no idea what its viewing figures may be but ‘minuscule’ probably comes close to being a fair description. It is deeply tedious TV and unworthy of you stirring yourselves from your beds.
It was a piece in another (English) newspaper that sparked my interest in early-day viewing, so in the interests of not especially scientific endeavour I went channel surfing. Now my Urdu may not be fluent as spoken but I have pretty good comprehension, I can follow what is going on, and what is going on is the production in industrial quantities of canned air.
The BTV formats are uniform and uniformly vacuous. Glossy polished pap that oozes out of the screen via presenters who appear to have just exited a wedding facial parlour (both genders) and have all the intellectual heft of tree sloths on downers. This is TV for dummies in every sense of the word — except that the audience I am guessing it is aimed at — women at home, homemakers, Mums — are far from dumb. What they are seeing is TV as a mirror, their very own lives and more particularly their role and place in society, being reinforced, buttressed, by a daily dose of ‘this is how you should be’. Social engineering on a hard soft-sell.
It is probably no coincidence that as far as I can tell after an hour with my very bestest friend Mr Google, those at the top of the pile in TV Land, the movers and shakers — are all men. I struggled to find a single woman at CEO level in any of the TV companies that I looked at. Guessing again, this is quite possibly why BTV in the national language is so anodyne yet so insidious — and to quote a respondent to my Facebook page in this matter, “TV’s now settled into its default position of comfortable conservatism.” Perhaps many are only half awake at that early hour, and the reinforcement of gender and negative stereotypes not exactly what they wish to have discussion about at the breakfast table.
Whilst I would not favour force-feeding social awareness, for a brief period, and in the wrong language, Pakistan had BTV that was both a wake-up call and a cheery start to the day — it was not all doom and gloom. Intelligent presenters presented intelligent viewing and somewhere in the background there must have been intelligent producers — even intelligent channel owners and operators. What happened to all of them I wonder? (Reaches out and turns off the TV… g’day everybody.)
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2015.
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