There was a time when state-run TV channel used to brainwash masses in service of a dictator ‘flying the Islamic flag’. Nowadays private TV channels are filling that space by indoctrinating public minds through their interactive and colorful religious shows
How would you feel if one day you are suddenly declared infidel and sinner for watching TV? But hold on… how would you feel if the same cleric who had kicked you out of the religious circle is just showing up on your TV screen wearing a fancy cloak and declaring you infidel for some other reason and also taking live calls from his diehard fans and viewers? Don’t be surprised!
Not long ago, Lashkar-e-Taiba’s magazine ‘Al-Dawah’ and ‘Gazwa’ used to publish habitually the stories of “how I newly trained and recruited mujahid”, has lately crashed and burnt his TV publically. Nowadays, the editor of same magazine and vice chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s proxy Jamat-ud-Dawah, Ameer Hamza frequently appears on TV and videos. Tablighi Jamat is another escape for middle class and used to condemn TV but you must have seen some of its members and heard Mullah Tariq Jameel in live TV shows recently. Other sects and politico-religious groups have never hesitated to grab viewers’ attention with new tricks and debates.
Welcome to 21st century, we present you a mind converting machine called ‘Market’.
In last 10 years, TV has become an important part of socio-economic culture of country. Privately owned TV channels have not only changed the media scenario of Pakistan but have triggered religious TV trends. New formats of ‘revolutionized’ religious programming and religious talk shows are emerging as totally new form of broadcast industry targeting well researched demographic and market segments. Consequently, religious channels and religious shows are enjoying unprecedented growth both in terms of viewership and advertisement revenue. According to a survey in 2008, QTV; a dedicated religious channel of ARY group has become 4th most watched TV channel in Pakistan. Interestingly, this channel’s and other religious TV channels’ penetration is a lot greater in urban areas as compared to rural areas. For some researchers, reason of this phenomenon is obvious.
According to a survey conducted by Gallup International for BBC in 2005, 59 percent of Pakistanis mostly identified with religion and only 8 percent with nationality. Moreover, 18 percent of people believe that their decisions in life are influenced by clerics or some religious personality . At the moment two and half channels are fully dedicated for religious preaching in Pakistan while many other illegal religious channels like Peace TV (India-based), Al-Huda, Al-Noor, Madani, Haq, Ilim, Labbaik and some other are also available for viewers. Furthermore, both general entertainment channels and news channels also broadcast many devoted religious programs on regular basis. According to journalist Khalid Ahmed, ``electronic media in the private sector is intensely Islamized because of the market demand for it´´ . Same views were asserted in editorial of Daily Times which says that process of religious communication on TV is market-driven and has catered to the aggressive fundamentalists . There are more than four million viewers of religious channels in country served by two and half legal channels while seven million news viewers are served by 22 news channels . A survey conducted by Gallup in 2009 also claims that 34 percent respondents believe that influence of religion is increasing in Pakistan while 35 disagreed with this statement, 29 percent don’t see any change . Therefore, religious programs are far more economical and attractive for advertisers.
Some of the religious programs run by news channels have become trend setters and most popular shows of these channels instead of any political talk shows. Hence, a major source of income. There was a time when state-run TV channel used to brainwash masses in service of a dictator ‘flying the Islamic flag’. Nowadays private TV channels are filling that space by indoctrinating public minds through their interactive and lively religious shows. Entertainment and religion go hand in hand. It doesn’t need much intellect today to surmise that Pakistan’s extremism comes out of the opinion being broadcasted by these religious channels.
Media has emerged as one of most powerful stakeholder in last nine years but professionalism, standardization and audience profiling is lacking tremendously . Quantity is proffered over quality and sellable news is the only commodity which can be sold with extra sensation and drama. According to PTV’s Director B.A. Malik, “every channel has its own agenda, as for them, it is a business and they have to make money out of it”  Saturation in electronic media market has pushed TV channels and radio stations to use all means available in order to stay in market.
Meanwhile there is not even a single dedicated program for poverty eradication or even for education on private sector channels. Almost all these religious channels and programs are presented in Urdu. Urdu media specifically has strong historical relations with clergy since domain of this class does not understand English language and is vulnerable to clergy.
Riaz ul Hassan has been actively involved in Social Media studies since 2006. He has held diverse editorial positions in different literary magazines including Ravi and Patras. Currently studying in Sweden and plans to pursue his PhD in the field of Social Media. Riaz graduated from Government College Lahore and has worked at the same institute for about one year as lecturer. He has keen interest and involvement in arts, theater and Social Media studies.