“Today, in Pakistan 532,400 motorbike riders drove responsibly without violating any traffic laws and reached their destinations safely. About 2,081 couples got married peacefully without a single shot being fired from either family. Nearly 758,000 government employees spent the day working and not protesting on the streets. Malaria, Tuberculosis and Smallpox are some of the many diseases that did not claim a single life today. In the world of sports, today no player used any kind of banned performance enhancing drugs. Let’s take a look at entertainment news. One hundred percent of celebrity couples that the people would like to read about, are still married. There hasn’t even been any hint of a troubled relationship that we could report. That is it for today. Don’t for get to tune it tomorrow, same time, for the daily round up of uninteresting news.”
Would you tune in tomorrow night if this was today’s broadcast? Probably not. But you should.
Our news channels are running a business. You are the customer. Like any business the primary goal is to make profit. The longer you stay tuned in, the higher the profits. So the business model is simple, grab attention. But you know all this, you are not going to fall for their trap again.
The words Breaking News with a bright red background appear. Then those graphics appear that literally stop you from whatever you are doing and force you to read the words “News Alert”. Then comes the tone of the presenter. It’s the same tone that my friend used to use when we were at school and he came running in announcing that there is a fight happening at the other end of the playground. “LARAE! LARAE! LARAE! CHALO! CHALO! CHALO!”. (Side note: God bless Hasan, thanks to him I had the honour of spectating all the fights that happened at school). By now the news channel has my attention.
Seems like they have something important to share.
Something that couldn’t wait for the hourly news update.
Maybe it’s something good. Who am I kidding, I am sure it’s something awful.
Maybe the government has fallen, another Martial Law maybe?
Earthquake maybe, I did feel a little dizzy for a second there.
I bet Imam Mehdi has arrived.
Allah khair karay!!
The breaking-news charade is only the crust of the pie. The clock strikes O’clock and the bulletin starts:
17 die in a collision of Truck and a Bus. Witnesses claim reckless driving.
Somewhere someone threw acid on his wife because he didn’t like her to work as a teacher.
The infamous land mafia guru is released from jail and all his charges have been dropped because of inconclusive evidence.
The parliament saw yet another show of ludicrous behavior from public representatives.
A guy with a fake medical degree was caught practicing medicine.
The celebrity marriage, which we reported last year without the couple’s permission, is over and we will show you secretly taken pictures of the couple as proof of despair.
It took less than five minutes for the news channel to show you a world that is grim. What world is this? Is this the same world that I live in? Can’t be because I had a perfectly normal day. My bus driver drove in his usual law-abiding manner. Just today Iftikhar Sahab, the store keeper, told me how proud he is of his daughter for being a teacher. Our family doctor, doctor-uncle just couldn’t be fake, I mean he has that look of a guy that has spent an incredible amount of time in front of books and let’s not forget that terrible handwriting.
Why do the news channel do this? In their defense, all those things did actually happen and deserve to be reported. But the problem arises when the news create an impression that what they report is all that happened. Obviously they cannot fit in everything in their bulletin. In that bustling room, behind the news caster, sits someone who make the final call of what will be reported and what will be ignored. Logic dictates that that choice will be made on merit alone. What is important enough will make the cut, the rest shouldn’t. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen exclusively. On one hand we have the state television trying to pick the important news while trying to push the government’s agenda. On the other hand the private news sources try to pick the important news and the news which grabs attention. The result is a picture that gives you an idea of what is happening but may not necessarily be the complete picture.
The human psychological attraction towards stories involving disaster, violence, power and indecency is no secret. For one, my friend Hasan would have never called me to the fight again if I had shown no interest the first time. Or ‘that friend’ would not call again with the latest gossip if you had shunned her the first time. Secondly, just observe what our usual topics of discussions are when we sit with friends for tea. The news channels know you like your friend Hasan. They know exactly what you find titillating. Sometimes the issues that is of the most importance is the one that involves disaster, violence, power and indecency but more often it isn’t. The result is a news broadcast that depicts a scene from a violent Hollywood flick.
But what can I do?
The need of the hour is reforms for news media, but till that happens you need to be clever while watching the news. When the news-caster starts pointing blatantly at the glass half empty, it is our job to remind ourselves of the glass half full. When they bring in their brand of ‘interesting news’ we should recap ‘uninteresting news’. It is important to realize that this suggestion is not similar to closing your eyes like a pigeon instead it is asking us to cherish the fact that even though some pigeons fell prey to the vicious cat, there still are many pigeons that escaped the attack and some were not attacked altogether. In short, there is still hope.
The frequency of watching the news has to decrease as well. Thanks to CNN, the trend setter, now every news channel relays news 24 hours a day, but that does not mean that we have to stay tuned in all the time. We know of countless uncle-jees and some aunty-jees that use news channels as their default screen-saver for their TV lounge. Even if they are working they would still be tuned in. Though the channel is muted it is still spewing. This continuous exposure to negativity is bound to suck hope from society. Look at that, I might just have figured out why Ashraf Uncle is in such a bad mood all the time. Ashraf Uncle needs to change the channel.
On the other hand, news media should not resort only to flashy issues. They need to work out a way to tell boring stories in an interesting manner. The responsibility they have in a society is immense. It is only they who can point out pressing issues to the people and in turn initiate reform. It is just not enough to have media that is free, rather we need media that is free and good. News media is a vital component if we are to intercalate the values of justice, liberty, truth and wisdom in our society.