Monday, August 22, 2011

Telling A Vision on Pakistani Television

A few weeks back, I got to meet two of my most beloved friends after around five years. I was surprised and happy to see that the time gap and geographical distances had not created any difference in us or our friendship. A thousand different topics sprung up as we talked about good old days and all the people from college. Who was doing what, who had the best job, who got married and who was in a relationship, and there was no end to the gossip. “Remember Alia?,” Farah said, “you wouldn’t believe it is her if you see her now.”  And I was suddenly curious, why? What happened? “I have no idea. She used to be such a sophisticated girl and she got married in a family that knows no manners and after just two years, Alia has lost all her elegance and grace, you should see her unkempt hair and the way she talks now…..OMG!!”  I felt a little sad for poor girl, “She should have been herself at least.” And I got the reply “but slowly, she has just become what she sees around her, she can’t help it”. I thought how true it is for every one of us actually.

Pakistan is currently facing a multitude of problems. Social disruption, political upheaval, common dissatisfaction, mistrust in our armed forces and a continuous uncertainty about the future. We have a free media today and currently it is the boom of mass communication in this country.  But despite the unprecedented access to the news and information, I bet not even one reader of this scribe could name ten positive things about Pakistan.  With all the truth be told to us 24x7, none of us have an idea what is actually going on.  And somewhat, it is not our fault too.

The current situation is actually a slow cooking broth that has just started to give off its aroma all around. An aroma, that is just as enticing as the broth is lethal. To understand how we arrived at this stage, we need to look much deeper into what has been cooking up all along. There is one common tool of the not-so-invisible-hand that reaches to every nook and corner of our country, and that is the television. The idiot box has been cunningly used to make an idiot of this nation, just like many others in the world. Let’s divide the whole discussion into two parts:

1. How media affects the cognitive abilities of people and modify mass psychology.

2. How Pakistani media has been a sinister tool to mechanize our thinking into exactly what it is today.

1. How print and electronic media affects the cognitive abilities of people and modify mass psychology.

The simplest example to explain how our audio and visual stimuli affect us is our religious identities. Most of us belong to the religious group that we were raised in. I am a Muslim because my parents told me so. I did not ever think beyond this division of right and wrong. Not that I need to, but the point is, I took in the thoughts that were fed to me just like the food that was served to me.

Same goes with the rest of our thoughts and judgments. We take what we are given.  But the ability to question the serving is considerably reduced when the information comes from a fixed source auditory and visual stimulus, that’s our TV!  

A single source audio-visual signal affects our mind in the following ways:

Reduced Overall Mental Capacities

Physically, watching television shuts down our extra functions carried out by the brain. Watch tv when you have a slight headache or a hurting foot and you will forget the pain to an extent for sure. This is because our brain stops processing the pain signals. This is why tv is also called the wonder drug or opium of the masses!

Scientists say, even the educational documentaries run on tv don’t use the mental capacities in any way, nor let them recharge. It actually consumes the brain and leaves it for no good till we get away and give it time to come back to senses, literally. Google for ways to increase your intelligence and you will find, 95% of the scientific journals, health magazine and expert opinions tell you as the first thing to do: Turn off your tv!

Pseudo Hypnosis

Watching television actually hypnotizes you to whatever they have to tell you. Contrary to the common belief, hypnosis is not just a kind of sleep induced by an oscillating pocket watch, it is in fact: 

“…the real origin and essence of the hypnotic condition, is the induction of a habit of abstraction or mental concentration, in which, as in reverie or spontaneous abstraction, the powers of the mind are so much engrossed with a single idea or train of thought, as, for the nonce, to render the individual unconscious of, or indifferently conscious to, all other ideas, impressions, or trains of thought.”
—Braid, Hypnotic Therapeutics, 1853
In other words, your brain focuses on one thought only and shuts down to all other ideas or train thoughts. All those ladies out there, did you ever forget milk boiling off while watching television? Bingo!

Reduced Cognition

Indiana University School of Medicine carried out a study concerning the level of activity in the human brain’s frontal lobe, the area responsible for thinking, learning and reasoning and deals with logic and modifies raw emotions. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)’s advanced version fMRI provided second-by-second snapshots of activity in the frontal lobe while the person was exposed to visual stimulus. It was found that the activity reduced to a great extent in presence of more visual stimulus.

Our thinking capacity is reduced to a great extent in front of the TV and this is brain washing in its literal sense. Brain is cleared out from its cognitive or in simple words, reasoning power.

Brainwashing / Controlling 

Now when our brain is not working on its own, it is nothing but a target for information reception that it keeps seeping in like a sponge sometimes consciously – sometimes unconsciously and sometimes subconsciously I must add. This information is then effectively processed in further reasoning. All the hoopla that we take in, eventually strikes us, whether we know it or not. What it means is that we turn from prudent thoughtful individuals to a bunch of programmable robots right in our own TV lounges. We eventually become what we see. This is brain washing in the terms as we all know it, also called Controlling. It is much more effective when we are into a hypnotic state due to reduced brain functioning.


There is another aspect of it, which is called Conditioning. Conditioning is not to be confused with Controlling. While Controlling or in more brutal terms, brainwashing means “persuasion by propaganda and salesmanship” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary), Conditioning is “a simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Let’s explain this with a common example. Your aunt flies back from Germany after 10 years and she constantly complains that it is too warm in Karachi in November. You do not feel so because you are conditioned or used to the environment here. She has been conditioned to the cold.

Similarly, when you see or experience one thing too often, you no longer respond to it with same force. Let’s see how conditioned we are:

1.   Violence used to be a detestable thing to watch but over time, we have been so exposed to it in the movies and the games that seeing people being subjected to most obscene kind of violence has become entertainment. Take example of movies like Saw and Rambo.

2.   How many of you feel embarrassed to watch a hugging scene between a girl and a guy or seeing a girl in skirt on TV ten years ago? How many of you feel embarrassed now?

3.   A one off shooting spree in Norway grabs your attention while you watch the news of daily bomb blasts in Pakistan or Iraq as if they are weather forecasts?

We are all so used to it now. We are conditioned, becoming passive towards profanities, violence, indecency and even bloodshed!

Crowd Control

To add to it, we have another factor called Crowd Psychology. It’s a form of collective brainwashing where the crowd on a whole thinks as one. Based on the principle of jumping the brand wagon, this technique is the oldest used manipulation techniques and is probably the easiest too. It spreads like a “fashion”. People normally conform to whatever other people think or do and unconsciously, without any target, they follow each other and hence crowd psychology is formed. We will later see in this article how it is effectively used in Pakistan.

There are many other aspects like developing false stereotypes and creating or destroying public perception about any given thing that are important as a manipulation tool but are in effect off shoots of what we discussed now. So now when we know how visual reception affects and actually programs us, let’s move on to the next segment.

2. How Pakistani media has been a sinister tool to mechanize our thinking into exactly what it is today.

Television industry is the most and well, in these times of crises, the only booming industry in Pakistan. According to PEMRA’s official website, there are 86 licenses issued for satellite television, of which 79 channels stand operational along with the terrestrial channels and the number is growing. You could say it is virtually the era of enlightenment in Pakistan, which sadly is not. There is sheer amount of information but no knowledge and there is sheer amount of guidance and infotainment but it is just as misleading and as depressing as it could get. 

Whoever said that journalism is the fourth pillar of a nation was very true. We have excellent examples from across border and world over where media plays as the country’s best defense. In times of depression, the media is the regulator of the morale, in times of uncertainty, only media can instill confidence and in times of adversary, the media can act as a binding or breaking force, speaking up to and for the nation.

World over…   

Let’s check out on some good examples first so that we can draw a nice comparison of how to act back in the pavilion.

  • India’s 40% is under the shadow government of Maoist Movement or Naxalite as they are called but we will never get to hear this on any tv channel, especially never on Indian news channels. Take a look at how strong the Maoist cover in India is.

  • When Thailand had its worst insurgency and a million people marching on the roads and blocking the national highways and its biggest airport, Thai media went on to promote its tourism with the best they had to offer. 
  • Whether it be 9/11 or 11/26, both the countries media show enormous restraint in bringing a question against the government or the armed forces’ credibility and efficiency. Not for once did we get any media bashing of the head of the states or the head of forces or even the head of the intelligence services. The media stood on the grounds that it is indeed some terrorists’ fault which should be resolved or avenged. 
  • And as recent as the London riots, BBC did not consider them worthy of any more news space than any other incident happening across the globe. I switched on BBC to find what’s up with the situation but I had to sit through sports, business and ironically, Pakistan’s situation before I could get a 4 min coverage on London and then it was back to the usual routine again.

Back at home

Talking about London riots, funny thing is, after disappointed with the BBC coverage, I switched to one of our overrated news channels and I found a “Breaking News” flashing in red all over the screen space about London. Talk about being high on the thyroid!

But to begin seeing how sinister is the psy-op or Psychological Operation carried out in Pakistan via the single most effective tool, that is TV, we should know that the Government of Pakistan has good laws in place, at least. Whether they are followed or not is another debate. The PERMA Ordinance 2002 lays down a few conditions for all the license holders (television channels) in its clause 20.

20. Terms and conditions of licence.- A person who is issued a licence under this Ordinance shall-
(a) ensure preservation of the sovereignty, security and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan;
(b) ensure preservation of the national, cultural, social and religious values and the principles of public policy as enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan;
(c) ensure that all programmes and advertisements do not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency;
(d) comply with rules made under this Ordinance;

Our channels in return are nothing but rebellious teenagers who would do exactly the opposite of what they are told. When it comes to the matter of national security, our media would be the first to blame Pakistan. When it comes to holding your head high as one in front of others, our anchor persons will switch side to whoever is winning the debate. When it comes to nurturing the country’s image, our news will ignore the best and dig out the dirtiest secrets it could reach. And if there is no dirty secret to be found, no problem, necessity is the mother of invention!

Much to the discredit of clause 20 (a): “ensure preservation of the sovereignty, security and integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan”, we categorically accept whatever Dear Uncle Sam tells us and we critically question any statement that comes from the higher ends of our own side, hitting right against the sovereignty and security clause above.

When President(s) of Pakistan said that there has been no valid proof of Talibans operating from within the boundaries, a popular channel aired an interview from a man in a local tribesman dress claiming him to be Taliban leader in Pakistan.  The people whom apparently ISI, CIA and billions of dollars alone could not locate, our good old newscaster easily approaches them and persuades them to appear on an interview telling about their hideout! I have a lot to say on it but lame is the first word that comes to me.

The most popular so-called analyst of the allegedly most popular news channel of Pakistan has time and again claimed to have arrived at the conclusion that Pakistan is sadly the hub of terrorism and world over, wherever a Pakistani is accused of any terrorist activity; he is indeed good enough to be convicted! Any approach towards the deadly figures that leads back to USA, Israel or India is a sweet deception in his words and it is we, and we alone that are responsible for the terrorism in all the countries of the world.

And if I am not wrong, this is the same channel that within minutes of the Mumbai attacks 26/11 claimed them to be carried out from Pakistan, before the Indian media could accuse us itself. Efficient work indeed!

And before any official statement could be issued, our news channels owned the sole face of the 26/11 attacks as Pakistani, not to mention, without any solid grounds.

We all saw a detailed and painful analysis of each and every square foot of the Mehran Base after the attacks on it. And we all saw a much painful scrutiny of the ISI and Armed Forces.

Please note that the question here is not the accountability of the forces. The point is what we have achieved with this free media of Pakistan. Increasingly aggressive perception of Pakistan as a terrorist state, a distrust in our own armed forces and a doubt about Pakistan’s own intentions for the security of its people and those beyond. Daily repetition of these lines have done nothing better than creating a lowest ever point in national morale and a highest ever negative publicity of Pakistan within and worldwide.

Furthermore, as per clause 20 (b), the channels are required to: “ensure preservation of the national, cultural, social and religious values and the principles of public policy as enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. To abide by it, we telecast dance competitions, singing competitions, reality shows and drama serials that more often than not openly flaunt disgraceful dressing, indecent storylines and discuss illicit associations and sexual relations, all this in the name of cultural promotion and advancement of social entertainment. I see a clear contradiction and a deep rooted single objective of changing the social boundaries of the nation.

To follow on with the next condition of license under clause 20(c:) ensure that all programmes and advertisements do not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy, hatred, pornography, obscenity, vulgarity or other material offensive to commonly accepted standards of decency; we have programs that present our cultural and religious customs of chadar and chaar deewari as a sign of complete backwardness and oppression to the fairer sex. Right at a time when there are insurgencies in our tribal areas and rebellious forces being created in Balochistan, we have carefully crafted serials which point by point mocks every good aspect of the centuries old Baloch traditions as total oppression and cruelty.

Just for the record, when was the last time you heard some good news about Pakistan (other than sports)? Or maybe you are thinking just what a popular show advocated “is mulk main khabrein hi aisi hongi tou koi kia karain?” means “If that’s the only kind of news this country has got so what can we do?” Did you too got brain washed? 

If we zoom out to look at the bigger picture, it is just a part of a profound psy-op that is being carried out in Pakistan. Our paradigms for religious, social and national goodness have changed and we have been effectively brainwashed to rely on whatever we get to see. If I have to sum up the stereotypical images we have been made to create in our minds,consider these:

  • Any person with a beard, wearing loose qameez shalwar with a turban and carrying a gun would be a terrorist. We have forgotten that the beard is a religious issue, the dress is a national pride and the gun is the cultural symbol of valor in our rough mountainous areas.

    • Talk about a well-educated, high earning girl living in uptown metropolis of Karachi. How do you perceive her in your mind? My best guess, not in a veil or abaya at least! Because we have learnt over time that Pardah is a sign of subjugation. 
      • Given a war scenario, 95% of people say Pakistan can’t win over India or US. This is how low our self-confidence is. We have forgotten that our forces have fought the wars in and out of this country and (apart from a few political actions) have won it, not to mention with far less resources.
      In Conclusion

      Almost all of us follow the local channels to stay updated on news, fashion and entertainment and almost all of us have similar perceptions about fundamentalism, terrorism, national security, entertainment and progression and almost all of these perceptions are negative. It’s not hard to see how and where did things go wrong.

      This scribe believes that may be there is no sinister motive of the channels themselves. It is a lethal and effective psy-op carried out, as always, by the not-so-hidden hand. Our media is alleged to receive heavy payments from Uncle Sam so maybe it’s the money that keeps them running in this maddening race of news and entertainment that more often than not falls on the negative side of the balance of favours to Pakistan. Knowingly or unknowingly, this free media is by large the greatest tool of unrest, uncertainty, cultural shift and displaced identity associations in Pakistan. 

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