A new me­dia ex­pe­ri­ence

Tele­vi­sion played an im­por­tant role in the cov­er­age of dhar­nas and non­stop prop­a­ga­tion of the po­lit­i­cal mes­sage of Im­ran Khan and Al­lama Tahirul Qadri.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Javed An­sari The writer is Ed­i­tor of this mag­a­zine and a reg­u­lar contributor on po­lit­i­cal sub­jects.

The re­cent po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in Is­lam­abad also proved to be a mega me­dia event. Be­sides PTV and to some ex­tent Geo, the events in the cap­i­tal with ref­er­ence to the dhar­nas or sit-ins in­sti­tuted by the PTI and PAT, brought all TV chan­nels in the coun­try to fo­cus on the hap­pen­ings. In fact, th­ese chan­nels fol­lowed the story all the way from La­hore. The TV cov­er­age of the Model Town car­nage had even helped the JIT (Joint In­ves­ti­ga­tion Team) iden­tify some of the cul­prits.

The chan­nels also cov­ered the so­called Long March of Im­ran Khan and Al­lama Tahirul Qadri from La­hore to Is­lam­abad and kept view­ers in touch with ev­ery step. Pak­istani TV chan­nels had ex­pe­ri­ence of cov­er­ing long marches be­fore, such as that of for­mer chief jus­tice Iftikhar Chaudhry or the one that Nawaz Sharif and the lawyers un­der­took to get Iftikhar Chaudhry re­in­stated in 2009. But the man­ner in which the chan­nels were in­volved

with PTI and PAT cov­er­age in the march and dhar­nas was quite a nnew ex­pe­ri­ence.

Once the sit-ins of both PTI and PAT got go­ing, the chan­nels also dug in and set up their re­port­ing and cam­era teams to cover the on-go­ing two dhar­nas in a more com­pre­hen­sive man­ner. Their cov­er­age was fur­ther sup­ported by their stu­dios in Karachi, La­hore and Is­lam­abad through spe­cial trans­mis­sions that in­volved long stints by stu­dio an­a­lysts and po­lit­i­cal 'ex­perts'. All this amounted to non-stop TV cov­er­age and pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to many so-called pre­sen­ters and an­chors to un­de­servedly oc­cupy the air waves for long pe­ri­ods and feed the peo­ple with what­ever they wanted.

Dur­ing this time, most chan­nels held back on their reg­u­lar pro­gram­ming and also min­i­mized their ad­ver­tis­ing fare, though much to the dis­com­fort of their mar­ket­ing peo­ple.

TV cov­er­age of the po­lit­i­cal events worked to­wards build­ing the per­sona of both Im­ran Khan and Tahirul Qadri into larger-than-life per­son­al­i­ties. By dint of their hold­ing the dhar­nas and their blan­ket cov­er­age by the TV chan­nels, both th­ese per­son­al­i­ties sim­ply dom­i­nated the TV screens for some three weeks. Their mas­sive TV cov­er­age, in fact, added more to the po­lit­i­cal mes­sage-mon­ger­ing of both lead­ers and they were able to get their thoughts across to the masses in a com­pre­hen­sive and all-en­com­pass­ing man­ner and in a way that no amount of pur­chased air time would have brought for them

In many in­stances, th­ese long, non-stop trans­mis­sions were also a first ex­pe­ri­ence for most of the TV peo­ple who were in­volved in the broad­casts and each one of them had to de­vise their own meth­ods to keep them­selves rel­e­vant in the process. The pro­duc­ers de­vised their own meth­ods and while it was clear that a few of the an­chors/hosts stuck to pure re­port­ing and log­i­cal analy­ses, a lot of oth­ers re­sorted to sen­sa­tion­al­ism in var­i­ous de­grees and even to mis-re­port­ing.

An im­por­tant high point about the pres­ence of me­dia, par­tic­u­larly tele­vi­sion chan­nels, came when TV per­son­nel – re­porters, cam­era­men and tech­ni­cians – were phys­i­cally man­han­dled by po­lice­men on the night of Satur­day, Au­gust 30 and Sun­day, Au­gust 31. The po­lice vi­o­lence was again prob­a­bly a ‘first’ for the TV chan­nels and they were quite con­fused about how to re­spond to such at­tacks. Another level was reached when pro­tes­tors stormed into the PTV head­quar­ters on the morn­ing of Septem­ber 1 and this was prob­a­bly the first time in the his­tory of me­dia in Pak­istan that a TV chan­nel had been taken over by pro­tes­tors and its trans­mis­sions stopped for no less than 40 min­utes.

The dhar­nas also pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for the chan­nels to com­pete with each other in tech­ni­cal terms. They made com­pre­hen­sive use of crane-mounted cam­eras for crowd close-ups and showed in graphic de­tail the en­thu­si­asm and spirit of the speak­ers and their sup­port­ers.

One cam­era in­no­va­tion that was used quite ex­ten­sively by all the ma­jor chan­nels was the ‘heli­cam’ or he­li­copter-mounted cam­era. While small in size, the heli­cam pro­vided good over­head views of the crowds that thronged to the dhar­nas of both PTI and PAT. How­ever, once the pro­tes­tors moved to close prox­im­ity of the more sen­si­tive build­ings, such as the Par­lia­ment House and the Prime Min­is­ter’s House, heli­cam cov­er­age was re­stricted since the over­head views pro­vided by th­ese cam­eras en­abled the pub­lic to see a lot else that they should not have been see­ing!

In all the TV cov­er­age though, it was not quite clear why most chan­nels fo­cused on show­ing fe­male crowds only! Where were the male sup­port­ers? Was it that just fe­males at­tended the sit-ins in large num­bers or was it that the chan­nels pre­ferred show­ing girls and women only be­cause they pro­vided good-look­ing pic­tures?

The dharna held by Im­ran Khan’s party was de­scribed by po­lit­i­cal de­trac­tors, es­pe­cially the PML ( N) League, as a ‘mu­si­cal con­cert.’ Mu­sic and pol­i­tics per­haps don’t go to­gether but mu­sic has turned out to be an in­no­va­tive man­ner of gath­er­ing crowds and Im­ran Khan has used mu­sic time and again at his po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings. Mu­sic ap­peals to the youth who com­prise a ma­jor por­tion of support for Im­ran Khan and helps in at­tract­ing a lot of peo­ple to come out of their homes and at­tend dhar­nas and po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings. Maybe mu­sic is the route through which the masses – at least the mid­dle class masses – will be­come po­lit­i­cally con­scious!

TV cov­er­age of po­lit­i­cal events is go­ing through a meta­mor­pho­sis as a re­sult of the PTI and PAT dhar­nas and lead­ing to new mass me­dia av­enues. Let’s hope the in­no­va­tions adopted by lo­cal me­dia will prove to be a source of new learn­ing for their users and they will find more op­por­tu­ni­ties to ap­ply their giz­mos to other oc­ca­sions such as mu­sic con­certs and sports events.

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