Its been almost two decades since the government has allowed private networks to launch their television channels in Pakistan, with their own news and current affairs programming. Structured along the lines of CNN and other major cable news networks across the world, the channels in Pakistani began their operations back in 2000. TV viewers in Pakistan weren’t used to open forum discussions; broadcasting had always been limited to government-owned television channels and radio networks. Watching and listening to panel discussions on private TV networks was nothing less than a shock for audiences who till then had only been exposed to government-run and government approved newscasting. It was then quite understandable that this new wave of criticism of with the government coupled with discussions on controversial and at times taboo topics, were an incredible development.
News networks with their nightly talk shows became the new source of entertainment for the public at large. The anchors of these shows were instant celebrities, admired, trusted and revered. Anything they said was instantly believed and a point of necessary discussion by almost every individual across the country who had access to television. Talk shows became an obsession.
The format of the typical current affairs programs was changed. It was no longer sufficient to have one journalist speaking to an audience. Every other program had to be a talk show with an anchor who would initiate a debate between politicians and pundits having opposing beliefs belonging to opposing parties. The central idea was (and still is) to ignite a debate that would lead to confrontation and a heated exchange of words and near the end of the show the anchor would diffuse the tension, regain control of the conversation and bid the audience a good night.
Initially, this seemed to be a good method of entertaining and engaging a nation stifled for decades under authoritarian control of at times military and others civilian dictatorships. But then, within a short passage of time, the owners of these new networks and the anchors of these shows came to the realization of the unprecedented power they had come to wield, The Control of Public Perception.
Now every channel with available airtime began the battle for its share of molding the public’s very consciousness and opinions. By hiring anchors who were popular and could raise viewership to conduct shows the aim wasn’t to be the most credible network but the most watched. High ratings are a valuable asset that can be brought into play every time there’s a need to lead viewers towards the desired outcome by creating a desired perspective.
Many new anchors and self-proclaimed scholars were manufactured to appear on television with their specific brand of opinions and understanding of issues. Many still make the rounds on the cable circuit. A very clear pattern will be evident to the eagle-eyed viewer. Talk shows all have a marked tilt towards a certain point of view, the choice of guests to reinforce this desired point and to influence the minds of people watching the show. News anchors were being paid unbelievable sums of money since they were not only getting high ratings for their networks but also adding value to the channels, opening additional sources of revenues. These anchors along with their networks started to gain immense power and influence demonstrated by their ability to virtually control the outcome of certain critical issues and political races. From lawyer’s movements to crucial legislation and even influencing outcomes of elections, news channels along with their programming began to evolve strategies to realize their own agendas and desired outcomes. The age of non-partisan objective reporting and journalistic integrity had come to an end.
After almost two decades loud shouting and uncontrolled rants are a staple of late night television. However, something extraordinary happened in the last general elections. Despite the agenda driven narratives dominating television, the last election became driven more by people and their desire of change and perhaps, for the first time after the inceptions of private television networks, they became irrelevant.
There was a significant drop in advertising revenue during the 2018 elections and the anchors weren’t as effective at molding hearts and minds as they had been in the past. This discovery sent shock waves across the industry along with a drastic drop in ratings. In recent times many such talk shows have lost their luster as their mundane and repetitive nuances have started to vane away. Many of the past heavyweights of the talk show genre have fallen from grace. Some mainstream anchors once considered pivotal persons of value have lost their jobs and the ones remaining are becoming significantly irrelevant. These aimless talk shows are now quickly losing their relevance and all the conspiracy theories they used to peddle are more or less dismissed by the average viewer. In a twist of fate, during the last half-decade or so, entertainment channels have overtaken the ratings of news channels and it seems that pretty soon some of these news channels along with their anchors will be closing down. Finally, we appear to be coming to an end to the age of the all-powerful news anchor and their conspiracy theories.