Geo rescues Pakistanis from PTV

BY B Muralidhar Reddy| IN Media Practice | 12/10/2003
Geo rescues Pakistanis from PTV

One year on, Pakistan`s first independent infotainment channel, uplinked from Dubai, is proving to be a liberal, feisty, breath of fresh air.

B Muralidhar Reddy in Islamabad

 Pakistan`s first independent infotainment channel, Geo, has just completed one year and it is cause for celebration not just for the 140 million people of Pakistan but also for at least two of its neighbours, India and Afghanistan where the hybrid Urdu/Hindi used by the channel is understood.

 In a country where Pakistan Television (PTV) ruled the roost in TV news for 56 years, (particularly among the viewers who could not comprehend languages other than Urdu/Punjabi/Sindi/Hindi/Baloch/Pastho), Geo is like a breathe of fresh air. Its viewers not only have the choice of seeing new faces but also of listening to news that was never a priority on state controlled television. They now also get views on news that never saw the light of the day.

 Geo`s biggest plus point is the company it keeps or the other way round. The same people, who manage the Jang group of publications, the largest media set up in Pakistan, are behind Geo. So news management or journalism comes naturally to the channel. In fact most of the journalists associated with Geo are from Jang, the largest Urdu daily. Of course they have been given vigorous training before their induction in to the television medium.

 Logically speaking what is the best asset of Geo, association with the Jang group, could have become its major liability. The channel could have become a mirror reflection of all the passions and prejudices, particularly considering the belief that Urdu press in Pakistan is full of passion and patriotism unmindful of facts and ground realities. It must be said to the credit of Geo’s bosses that this did not happen.

 The channel is unbelievably liberal. Of course it certainly does not describe Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) as India would like to and it echoes the establishment views on the contentious Kashmir issue. But by this yardstick which India-centric channel would have the freedom to describe Jammu and Kashmir as Indian Held Kashmir or for that matter differ greatly with the Indian government assessment on the ground situation in Kashmir?  Getting into this subject beyond a point is like stirring a hornet`s nest.

 Geo is liberal to the extent that it is perhaps the first sub-continental channel to experiment with programmes with Indian hosts like Anu Kapoor. This is no small achievement in a society like Pakistan where any thing Indian is anathema at least officially. (There is a thriving underground market for Indian films and songs). The channel has also not missed a single opportunity to invite any visiting Indian delegation or personality to its studios for a teta-a-te on controversial issues dogging Indo-Pak relations.

 As a matter of policy the channel has adopted a hybrid language consisting of a mixture of Urdu-Hindi words. As one of its advertisements proudly proclaimed,

 The language  employed by the channel is one of its greatest appeals as nearly 70 per cent of the people of Pakistan do not have full comprehension of Urdu. It requires some gall for any one in Pakistan go public on the linguistic barriers in the country and the standing of Urdu. The roots of the agitation in East Pakistan for a separate country could be traced to the overzealousness on the part of Pakistani leaders to impose Urdu.

  With a number of experienced journalists on its rolls and the whole Jang network spread in every nook and corner of the country, Geo has excelled in television news reporting in just over a year. The motto of its news team is `fastest firsts`! In the process sometimes mistakes are made but it must be said to be credit of the nascent channel that it has not made any blunders. One mistake that one can recall relates to appearance of the banned Jaish outfit leader, Maulana Masood Azar in Kotli district of PoK a day after he was banned from entering the valley under Pakistan`s control.

 Geo viewers do not have the benefit of instant video clips to go with fresh news. As of now Geo is beaming its programmes from Dubai thanks to the policy of Pakistan not to allow media groups to operate television channels. The cross media curbs have recently been lifted but sources in Geo point out that they are not enthusiastic over the invitation to operate from the soil of Pakistan. Given the history of military/civil power struggles and the record of every successive government to muzzle the media, the apprehension is only natural.

 So Geo has to make good most of the time with voice despatches accompanied by file pictures unless they have obtained prior permission from the government for up-linking. For other major events like press conferences by either President or Prime Minister or a visiting dignitary, Geo depends on PTV if the event is live. Otherwise it uses the handy technique of phone-ins by the correspondent followed by a question-answer session from the Dubai-based anchors.

 Passionate debates and discussions on topical subjects is another area where Geo has done a very good job. Capital Talk, hosted by well-known Urdu journalist Hamid Mir and telecast thrice a week, and Foreign Affairs are two regular programmes. Between the two they manage to cover most of the important events of the week with guests who are the real actors in the field. The debates are balanced and the test is when they cover Indo-Pak related issues. Most of the time they make it a point to have at least one Indian guest if not more.

 Political satire is the real specialisation of the channel. Hum Sab Umeed se hi (we are all expecting) and Piti Hui News are two weekly programmes that are ruthless on politicians, bureaucrats and police. Generals too figure but only once in a while. The military establishment is still a sacred cow in Pakistan and so politicians become easy victims. Together the two programmes have not spared any important politician, bureaucrat and even the sports personalities, mostly cricketers.

 They actually have look-alikes of these personalities and then tear them apart. Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf featured at least once in a mock address to the nation. He begins the address with the greeting "Asalutalekum" instead of "Asalamalekum" and goes on to talk about the great strides made by the country under the military rule!

 Former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who live in exile are favourite stars on these shows. In one show Benazir is asked to give her views on general situation in the country. And her reply goes "don`t talk to me about the General. It is because of these generals that the country has suffered so much. Unless the General is removed there could be no progress in the country".

 Geo created a sensation of sorts a couple of months ago by airing a series of programmes on the circumstances leading to the DIVision of country and creation of Bangladesh. It`s team first travelled to Dhaka and spoke to all the relevant actors who are still alive. That was followed by a charged discussion in the studios spread over several episodes involving retired military officers, who had involvement with the episode one way or the other, politicians and others. It is believed that the establishment did not like the package, as the overwhelming view was that Generals were responsible for the situation.

 The problem with Geo is that it tries to pack in too much in a week`s time, obviously as an endeavour to appeal to various sections of the society. There is a daily programme named Aalim online, religious content, in which people from different walks of life telephone to seek interpretations from the Holy Quran on various facets of life from the two Maulanas in the studios.

 Shaadi Online is another popular weekly programme. Three prospective bridge/bridegrooms are featured on it with two hosts and questions from viewers on phone. It appears that half-a-dozen people have actually got married on the basis of the programme. Similarly there is another weekly programme called `celebrity online` DIVided in to five or six segments where viewers have the liberty to question him or her on the rumours and speculations they have heard.

 That is not all. Geo has began telecasting Tele+films and serials made in-house. Umrao Jan Ada is a very popular serial with heavy sets and costumes. The idea is not to leave anything out but in the process the channel could lose its identity. However insiders say that soon Geo would be split into separate channels devoted exclusively to news and current affairs, entertainment and sports.

 If Geo intends to retain its edge as the first independent news channel it needs to improve its reach in the neighbourhood. It has no representation in any of the neighbouring countries. One could understand the difficulties in having a representative in New Delhi, given the nature of ties between India and Pakistan, but what is the logic in completely ignoring Iran, Afghanistan and China. The stakes  Pakistan has in Afghanistan hardly need to be stated. Pakistan claims China to be its best friend and so much is happening in the Islamic world of Iran. Of course this point holds good for the plethora of news channels in India too.




A poem put out by Geo in Pakistani dailies on its first anniversary 


        THE WORLD, ACCORDING TO GEO                        

 Before it was born…


Ignorance was bliss

And rumour was the king

News was what they thought was news

Truth had a false ring.



Every night at 9 PM

Was spent with One PM

All we saw on TV then

Was they, & those and them


People saw every night

What they wanted us to see

We heard of happenings in our land

On reliable BBC


Talk shows were showcases

For all to nod assent

Everyone agreed at once

There was just no dissent


Whispers made the rounds

And truth did never out

Even when they spoke the truth

It left a little doubt


News was for VIPs you see

The masses did not matter

All we heard every day

Was the classes making chatter


TV was now an opiate

To put us all to sleep

They told us how to laugh

And when it was fine to weep



There was no crime in our state

No issues were at stake

For those clamouring for roti

They ordered up a cake


And if there was a strike call

And streets were all deserted

The TV Wallah’s got it right

False footage was inserted


News traveled to the studios

No one needed to find it

And if it was hard to swallow

Instructions came ‘Grind it’. 


An empty canvas stared at us

They craved for some paint

Where was the brush dipped in pain?

That could fashion our compliment


Where could the dying voices go?

Who would restore our pride?

When will we hear the truth again?

How long are we to hide?


The silence had to break one day

And so unfolds a dream

The journey started a year ago

Beginning with a ‘Jeen’






















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