From an exotic object of technology showcased by the American Consulate in an exhibition at Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum in Karachi on September 1955, television today has become a household item, earning its place in the heart of every family in Pakistan.
The advent of television in the 60s in Pakistan rejuvenated the entertainment industry, bolstering the creative fields of theatre, drama, film, dance, music and design, but carried minuscule space for news and public affairs.
In the heydays of PTV, then mockingly called an idiot box for airing official statements, newspapers remained the mainstay of news and public affairs information for the majority of the people.
The monopoly of PTV on electronic media journalism began to erode in the late 90s with the rapid growth of communication technologies leading to the large scale use of satellite dish and cable TV networks in Pakistan.
Private owners of leading newspapers took the lead in establishing independent television networks, and started developing independent news and information programs to reach a mass audience. In the good old days of PTV, personal appearance on television was restricted to a privileged class of citizens, including actors, performers, elite and state dignitaries.
Private TV channels began to cater to diverse audiences to gain popular appeal and public legitimacy for their programs. News content began to highlight public grievances about the government, which were hitherto suppressed by the state led PTV.
Backed by thriving multi-national capitalist enterprises in the country, the electronic media began to emerge as a profit making industry.
For the first time, common citizens of Pakistan saw their issues being articulated on the television screens, a media space which was reserved for the privileged few. The investors capitalised on this business opportunity to make profit by turning people’s personal miseries in to national news.
Sensational reporting and talk shows on public affairs extended the viewership of their programs, as more and more people wanted to be seen and heard on TV. An increase in viewership of a program meant an increase in the advertisement revenues of a TV channel.
As an unscripted form of conservation, talk shows replicate face to face conservation, the oldest form of human communication. At a lower production cost, the style of spontaneous conservation in talk shows gives optimal results, as it is accessible to the masses,regardless of literacy.
Out of a range of talk shows including, tabloid shows, late night shows, morning shows, political talk shows have earned the media spot light in Pakistan. A political talk show is anchored by a host, who conducts a live talk to a panel of experts, over a chosen topic. Their roles as talk show hosts are extensions of their roles as reporters and news commentators.
Held in the style of a group conversation, talk shows tend to elevate personal opinions and subjective experiences to the levels of authentic narrations of facts. As publically made testimonies, television talk carries more weight than written statements of facts.
A successful talk show carries the impression of being a spontaneous, free flowing conservation and hides the fact that it is a highly structured program tailored by editors, writers, producers, stage managers and technical crew to ensure the desired outcome.
In the older days of print media, the careers of journalists, poets and intellectuals overlapped. Writing, as a fundamental skill of print journalism, allied journalism to a literary career.
Given the audio-visual nature of the medium of electronic media, stage performance is the essential skill required for a successful appearance on the television screen, which brings TV journalism a step closer to the entertainment world.
The career of actors and journalists in electronic media has begun to overlap and the line between political talk shows and celebrity entertainment talk shows is blurring. For higher returns on their investments, TV actors are literally hired as anchors in political affairs programs, leading to hybrid forms of talk shows that mix news, public affairs, and entertainment, though their hosts received their training in journalism as well as acting.
From a public service performed by the state on the public expense, the awareness and entertainment of citizens has become a privately owned business, done solely for the increase in personal profits.
From a state monopoly over electronic media, we have arrived in the age of proliferation of images through diverse media as likely vehicles of conflict, which puts the television industry at the pivot of the national struggle to create peace, increase tolerance and foster development in the country.
The writer is an anthropologist, former Director of National College of Arts, Rawalpindi campus, currently working for the Center for Culture and Development (C2D), Islamabad & Vice President of the Council of Social Sciences.