Electronic Media gets a taste of its own medicine

May 4, 2017 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan

Reuters photo



Imad Zafar

Media has always been an effective tool for manipulating minds. In the early 19th century newspapers were used to manufacture public opinion. With the rise of electronic media, both television, internet and social media, it became easier to propagate agendas and ideologies and to conquer minds. The one who uses the media smartly in his favour wins the war.

In Pakistan private TV channels were allowed to operate in the early years of this century. Soon after their launch they became popular among the masses as contrary to the State run TV channel PTV, these private channels showed the other angles of the view on social and political fabrics. News and current affairs programs criticising the government and questioning the establishment’s policies went viral and became a big hit. People deprived of a voice considered them their own voice and within a few years, numerous new and current affairs TV channels entered the market and grabbed the market share.

The same was the case with private FM radio channels as they produced good infotainment by playing Indian and English songs while producing good social, political talk shows according to the changing global and domestic environment. The rise and popularity of electronic media attracted lot of industrialists and big guns to invest in electronic media. It actually became a license to be an untouchable or beyond the law. On the other hand electronic media became a tool for the political and non political actors to promote their ideologies.

These TV channels were instrumental in a successful Lawyer’s Movement in 2007 for the restoration of judges resulting ultimately in Pervez Musharraf‘s ouster. This regime change and the space electronic media created for the progressive segments of society compelled all the power players to realise that in the modern age narratives win you the battle. So a new battle was started through the TV screens. Political players started manoeuvring electronic media in their favour and the defence establishment attempted to tilt public opinion in their favour. Unfortunately most of the TV channels, instead of staying neutral, chose intentionally to become a party in the tussle of power.

The hidden agendas of power and control gave birth to a new breed of parachute TV anchors who did not have any background in journalism and resulted in the demise of objective journalism hence the promotion of sensationalism and unethical journalism practices. The news bulletins are the example in this regard where lack of original content and creativity leads a cup of tea from a politician or general as breaking news. The analysis provided is based on constant lies and baseless illogical evidence and the talk shows, where guests are invited to fight each other instead of a healthy debate or dialogue, are a clear indication of the decline of quality and standards.

Another dilemma is the grip of conservative mindsets of most Urdu journalists and the retired bureaucrats who are sponsored by both the political and non political players to promote their agendas. This resulted in the radicalisation of electronic media as the religious sentiments and patriotism shields were used to gain these objectives. The interest of the masses and their trust in private TV channels compelled all players in the power corridor to invest heavily in mainstream TV channels for the sake of their interests. The more sane and progressive intellectuals and journalists were either denied the airtime, threatened or attacked.

Soon the religious based shows and talk shows questioned each others’ loyalty towards country and religion, in addition to the useless character assassinations of opponents. With the passage of time creativity, objectivity and journalistic values went missing and like all other forums of media TV channels became another place for guarding the national and religious interests created by former President Zia-ul-Haq. But even against all the odds there are still objective journalists and analysts like Talat Hussain, Raza Rumi, Nusrat Javed and Wusatullah Khan who, in spite of all the challenges and dangers, produce some serious objective journalism, raising pertinent and valid questions from all players of the power chessboard, questioning the authority of Holy Cows.

This concept of being questioned was very new to the mighty civil and military establishment of Pakistan as they were not used to being countered or questioned within the journalist and intellectual community. Despite having control over the major TV channels’ airtime these few journalists asking questions was considered a threat and, with the rise of media that gave birth to hundreds of online news websites, was harder for the establishment to silence the voices questioning defence or religious narratives. In the meantime the political parties also jumped in and by spending money hired paid journalists and soon the television news channels were positioned against each other. The ongoing war between two of the leading TV channels says it all.

Meanwhile a new news channel with the name of ‘BOL‘ was launched, owned by Mr Shoaib Shaikh whose IT Company Axact was very famous and a leading IT company of the country. The Axact group in outsourcing business was an established name and the amount of salary and lifestyle they used to give to their employees was unmatchable and unprecedented. Like its IT company, The BOL network offered the highest amounts of perks and privileges to the top journalists in the country and soon every single prominent journalist was riding their boat. As BOL was about to launch, journalist Declan Walsh broke the story about Axact’s illegally selling of fake degrees and their hosting and running pornographic websites for their clients. The law enforcement agencies in Pakistan took action on the story and arrested BOL’s owner Shoaib Shaikh.

For almost a year Shoaib Shaikh was interrogated and remained under custody of the Federal Investigation Agency, but in the end was granted bail by the higher courts. After his release in May 2015 he launched the BOL TV and as expected the TV channel from the first day of its launch aired the programs that in the name of freedom of speech were actually spreading hatred, an intolerance to violence and a specifically targeted campaign against democracy. The Fatwas of blasphemy, and then certificates of patriotism were all distributed through different talk shows.

On May 3, 2017 Pakistan’s electronic media regulatory authority PEMRA revoked BOL TV’s license on the basis of its directors not getting a security clearance from the interior ministry, the BOL news transmission currently suspended. It appears to be a simple story like Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ but is actually not that simple. The reputation of the Axact group running pornographic sites was not a secret and was well known in social circles. Yes their scam of selling fake online degrees was big news and came as a shock for everyone, but raises the question of whether or not the investigative and spy agencies were aware of what the Axact group was doing. It is simply not believable, as from the famous gold smuggling case to the tax invasion of the owners of the big electronic media groups they have all the files with them.

Another question is the level of investment Shoaib Shaikh brought with him for the TV network. This hefty investment was not possible for a man like him even with the revenue generated from Axact. So the question remains; who were the investors behind the scenes? Why during his time in custody was Shosib Shaikh given VIP protocol and who was behind the scenes helping him to get off the legal hook? Who forced the lawyer Zahid Jamil, a prosecutor on behalf of the federal intelligence agency, to leave the case when it was almost near to its conclusion? His departure from the case at a critical time made the Prosecution’s case weaker. One needs to connect these dots and a larger picture can then be easily be seen.

The BOL TV case is a classic example of state powers using electronic media to their advantage, and electronic media using and manipulating the minds of the public for their interests. In the end it is the ordinary journalist working there who has to face the music as in this case only the common reporters, editors and other lower staff will be jobless, the anchors and big name journalists working on agendas will be given another slot on another TV channel.

It is now the time for the electronic media to identify the black sheep within, and instead of taking sides, should work as neutrals. TV channels are primarily meant to report events and news and to discuss issues objectively instead of becoming an affiliate of political or defence establishment. Intellectual dishonesty is a crime, as bad as terrorism as it deprives the masses of truth. The opinion makers have a high responsibility for remaining moral and being neutral, as opinions create ideologies and mindsets, and to create a mindset based on hatred, extremism and intolerance is an offence that is unforgiveable.

It is time for the media outlets to get rid of the TV channels and journalists working on agendas. If BOL TV can be taken down, so can any others. BOL TV is getting a taste of their own medicine, as they were the ones declaring every dissenting voice a security threat for the religion and country.










Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist based in Lahore. He is a regular Columnist/Commentator in newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policies and media related think tanks.


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