M Omar Iftikhar
OBAIDULLAH Baig and Quraish Pur once adorned our television screens to host an intellectually simulated program “Kasauti” that was possibly one of the best shows ever aired on Pakistani television. During that same golden era of programming during the 80s and 90s, we saw the Tariq Aziz show hosted by Tariq Aziz in his unique voice and presentation style. The content aired on television channels gradually decreased to an extent that politically charged talk shows took over the prime time while programmes aiming at creating social awareness and providing knowledge were pushed back or taken out of TV channel’s airing schedule. With the passing away of Obaidullah Baig and Quraish Pur, the essence of airing shows having knowledgeable and decent content ended for good.
Today, where sitcoms and dramas aired on our television channels have lost their vigor, the month-long Ramazan transmissions during Ramazan take away whatever sanctity we have for this blessed month. These Ramazan telecasts begin soon after midnight with the Sehri session. However, scores of people aspire to attend the transmission that begins in the afternoon and continues way past Isha prayers. It is during this post-Iftar session that the host or hosts compel, instruct, or order audience members to dance, sing, eat as much of anything or complete any task that might seem weird to do otherwise in this post-Iftar ‘game show’ segment airing on every other channel that has become absurd by each passing year.
Interestingly, the female hosts of these Ramazan transmissions, who are seen otherwise sporting sleeveless dresses and dupatta-less attire during other months and especially on Eid, are having with a pious character. However, since a female face is a prerequisite in selling anything, television channels use them to increase ratings and viewership. It works like a charm. Although there is nothing wrong for telecasting a Ramazan transmission, the way these transmissions are organized places a question mark around them and on television channel’s objective behind this practice. Do you remember during the golden days of television in Pakistan, Ramazan programs included a discussion of a scholar, airing of Naats, Hamds and other religious programmes with entire Ramazan transmissions ending by Maghrib? There were no game shows, no loud mouth hosts, and no audience members screaming and running after gifts.
Ramazan transmissions nowadays, as seen during the 2017 edition of such telecasts, glorify the name of the sponsors and have become a branded promotion. Television channels, therefore, maximize their profits without putting any effort in thinking of a creative way to conduct a show. Every television channel follows more or less a similar format as well. On every channel, one can see how audience members run and often fight over a gift. They demand a gift even if they have already received one. However, audience members have to put their integrity on the line before they could get their hands on the free goodies. Perhaps the desire to win prizes – no matter what value they may have – is the reason for people to throng at these Ramazan transmissions. However, the ‘game show’ part of these telecasts lures people to spend hours on the set in anticipation of winning something big or at least returning home with a mobile phone or a motorcycle. The manner in which people beg and plead to receive a gift even if they have failed to complete a task or without playing any game depicts the collective psyche of our nation. We take pride in receiving anything free even if it tarnishes our self-respect and image. Moreover, most of the families attending these game shows belong to the middle or lower-middle class. They have many expectations from life and wish to achieve them in a limited income and time. Members of such social class become a sitting duck for television channels who give them a chance to attend these game shows and go beyond the length of insanity to win prizes.
The height of greed is seen when audience members demand a motorcycle without correctly answering the host’s question or ask for another motorcycle if they have already won one. This situation narrates the downfall of our society where material possessions overshadow intellectual depth and a broadened mental horizon. For years, television channels have been utilizing Ramazan to capitalize on their gains and generate as much revenue as they can where the sponsors become lifeline of never-ending funds to create a win-win relationship between the television network and sponsors. The audience members, however, are nothing more than bait. One wonders when would PEMRA takes stern action against the airing of these Ramazan transmissions to bring sanity and sanctity to them. Moreover, it is imperative to create a standard operating procedure to be followed by all television channels especially when planning their post-Iftar transmissions in Ramazan. However, with the television networks acting as the all-powerful decision maker, PEMRA’s rules always take a back seat.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Karachi.