July Issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Books | Published 10 years ago

Tanya Anand’s The Game Changer is a remarkable book. Not just because it is the only one of its kind in Pakistan, but also because it is, in a sense, a reference book. A television and film producer, director, distributor and former CEO of a media firm, Anand spent considerable time and energy in ferreting out information from nooks and crannies on a medium on which there is a paucity of detail. There is evidence of painstaking research substantiated by the clutch of notes that follow each chapter. They demonstrate just how deep and wide the field of inquiry penetrated by the author really is. The book is well written, easy to read, covers a wide spectrum of activity and takes the reader on a remarkable journey from the genesis of what was essentially a novel experiment that graduated to a status symbol, and developed into a full-blown medium, which for many people became a major source of both information and entertainment.

Along the way, the author describes the television boom and its effect on newspapers and journals, some of whose owners made no secret of the fact that TV channels were taking the largest slice of the advertising cake. There are also chapters on the effects of liberalisation on advertisers and content. The author tackles a number of financial issues of interest to the investor, such as the extent to which the current competitive market structure is beneficial to stakeholders and whether the new arrangement in the bazaar is efficient or not.

Television arrived in Pakistan in 1964, when Ayub Khan ruled the roost. Of course, initially the broadcasts took place for limited periods from only two cities. The project was nevertheless heralded as a novel achievement. Though programmes initially appeared in black and white, it was the first time viewers saw — as well as heard — them being broadcast. The medium was here to stay. Television didn’t replace wireless because in the beginning there weren’t all that many sets. Predictably the medium was used as a mouthpiece of the party in power. This was particularly apparent during the reign of the obscurantist dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who lived on the other side of a moral chasm, when female anchors, their heads covered, were not permitted to smile.

In all fairness to the pioneers, attempts were made to widen the scope of presentation and to introduce programmes on a variety of themes which gravitated towards nation-building. Some excellent romantic Pakistani serials popped up during those days. There was also one American serial, however, which nobody wanted to miss, not even the bloke who was being carried out of hospital on a stretcher. In fact, timings of dinners and weddings were adjusted to enable viewers to get their dime’s worth. This was The Fugitive with David Jansen, who spent around 24 episodes chasing a one-armed man accused of killing his wife. Government control was maintained until the year 2000 when a liberalised license policy was introduced and media owners and business houses jumped into the fray.

It is something of an anomaly that while one dictator introduced television in the country, another liberalised it by allowing private channels to operate, and in a sense clipped the wings of the state-owned channel. Indus News led the way, followed by ARY.  In 2006, out of a total of 80 channels that were beamed, 36 were Pakistani. And by 2009, the total figure had risen to 115. Most of the channels are barely watchable, especially some of the talk shows they telecast in the vernacular, where each participant delivers, at the same time, a cluster of partisan rants fortissimo, while the moderator can’t get in a word edgeways.  It is at times like these that I miss my old short-wave Tesla radio with the green dial and the selector that was permanently fixed on the BBC.