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March 6, 2015

Radio Pakistan: then and now

Opinion

March 6, 2015

Village life used to be very simple and sweet. Farmers would share their views with one another in a hujra or some other common place after toiling all day in the fields.
The only window open to them to learn what was going on in the world outside happened to be the noble and honest Radio Pakistan which would either present the government’s version of every issue or play patriotic songs on special occasions or during a national crisis.
Now, though, the situation has changed altogether. People even in remote areas have access to information and events occurring anywhere in the world thanks to the ubiquity of cable TV, satellite communication, and social media on the internet. All this has had profound implications for the way they think, eat, and dress. In other words, there is a complete cultural transformation underway in the rural areas.
But despite such a radical change, Radio Pakistan continues to play its traditional role of disseminating selective information and perspectives. Both the format and content of a programme are so well-defined that one can precisely predict what would follow each segment.
For example, the news regularly begins with a moving eulogy of the president's leadership followed by a resounding glorification of the prime minister for his selfless efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism, solve the energy crisis, and create economic opportunities for a better future. Next in line to be praised would certainly be the minister for information and broadcasting whose performance in projecting the image of Pakistan has to be shared with everyone.
The chief ministers, too, get their share if the interior minister has not issued a fresh warning to terrorists and other criminals of stern action against their anti-state activities. The most recurring news item is a morbid and lethargic reference to Kashmir where Indian atrocities are matched with the uncompromising struggle of the Kashmiris for self-determination.
A

typical feature of Radio Pakistan is its emphasis on patriotism expressed through national songs and speeches. People are explicitly and implicitly advised to work for the prosperity and solidarity of the country and obey the law of the land.
Missing from a typical discussion on governance would, however, be any reference to the way rulers can be held accountable for what they do or fail to do. No one in the village would ever know their rights as citizens. Any developmental work done by the government is recognised and promoted as a special favour done to the people.
Local politicians would remind them of those projects whenever they ask for a return under the norm of reciprocity. More importantly, people have very little expectations from the state and are content with life as it is. Politicians can cleverly manipulate them by invoking religion, biradari (clan system), and historical alliances. Economic and social development, in real terms, is rarely seriously discussed in any public forum including Radio Pakistan.
No one can dispute the importance of the media in shaping perceptions. What, however, is contestable is the fact that too much exaggeration and skewed emphasis often prove counter-productive. People become even more sceptical and cynical when they find striking discrepancy between narratives given on radio and TV and the objective conditions on the ground.
The policy of ‘make-people-believe’ through fabricated stories and window-dressing is bound to backfire. One should walk the talk or the talk will push people to walk out of their loyalty to the state. We already witness this phenomenon in various forms and manifestations.
In the midst of the information revolution, Radio Pakistan can survive as a useful platform for discussion, analysis, and promotion of state interests if it transcends its parochial approach of appeasing the sitting government at the cost of concealing the truth to fool the masses.
The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]

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