Friday, August 13, 2010

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Geo?

As the Geo versus government row rages on, one depressing truth is emerging from the stand-off: the virtual black-out of the issue from a majority of the country’s newspapers and television screens.

Of course, in the papers belonging to the Jang Group, notably Jang and The News, the showdown occupies prime space, threatening to push even the most devastating floods in our history off the front page. For those who do not read these papers or watch Geo (by choice or by default), the issue might as well not exist. Save the odd Dawn editorial and a blog on the Express Tribune website, there is only an ominous silence all around.

This is perhaps the most alarming aspect of the whole situation. It is as if rival TV channels are relieved at having rid themselves of the dominating presence of Geo, and newspapers competing in a tight market for readership and advertising revenue are secretly happy to see Jang and The News hit hard times. Have the big media groups reached a point where they see their rivals as a bigger threat to them than their common enemy, an increasingly authoritarian government bent on shielding itself from criticism?

This is not to say that the groups currently under attack are themselves any less ‘sectarian,’ so to speak. Even during the crisis, Geo and the Jang Group tried to hijack the entire issue and were in denial about ARY, which was also under attack. ARY, meanwhile, were just as mean-spirited and continued to pretend that only they were the victims. Meanwhile the miniscule Royal TV, also targeted, was ignored altogether.

The protests organized by journalists against the ban were also uneasy affairs, and cameramen from the rival channels were at pains to capture footage where the other’s presence or logo was obliterated. Thankfully, as the blockage of channels continued, one could see a softening of this hard line, with The News eventually mentioning the ARY three-letter word in its front-page reports and editorials. ARY could not do the same against its bitter (three-letter) Geo rivals because the poor guys don’t have a paper of their own.

All this pettiness on the part of the brave new media is truly breathtaking. Surely, when two channels are blocked in parts of the country and newspapers are set alight and offices besieged by intimidating hooligans waving ruling party flags, isn’t it time to shun these differences and put up a united front? No such luck.

In private, many journalists and media persons are far more ambivalent about the current crackdown than they were about the blackout of channels under General Musharraf in 2007. There is whispered grumbling about hidden agendas and the Jang Group getting out of hand and going over the top against Asif Zardari at the behest of the establishment. There is resentment over Geo and the Jang Group papers constantly setting a particular type of news agenda. Many question not only the journalistic ethics behind the anti-Zardari obsession of the group but also see it as a threat to democracy. In short, there is a strong element of “they asked for it” in the overall reaction to the present crisis. But even if we accept that they asked for it, where do we go from here?

The simple remedy for any aggrieved party upset over television’s excesses is to sue the buggers. Why does the government not go down that road? Well, the judges are all establishment plants and hate the PPP and will never come to its aid, the party’s current siege mentality tells them. So why not enlist more savvy people to defend your policies on TV than Fauzia Wahab? Why not forcefully expose the hidden agendas allegedly at work on certain channels in an articulate and reasoned way?

If you are unable to do that, at least avoid major faux pas, like taking helicopter rides to your French chateau as the country literally drowns, among dozens of others. Most importantly, build enough trust and rapport with your voters, the hapless people of Pakistan, to inoculate yourself against ideologically inspired attacks from the media. Instead of doing all this, the familiar banner of ‘democracy in danger,’ is being raised again. In place of an effective strategy, you now have goons to defend your policies by taking direct action against the media. Most democratic, I must say.

Privately, a major section of the PPP is currently avoiding eye contact with media persons and mumbling, off the record, that, ‘we shouldn’t really be going down this MQM road.’ Perhaps this bumbling lot should learn a lesson or two in the art of blocking TV channels, attacking newspaper offices, burning newspapers, intimidating hawkers and cable operators and then innocently claiming they are the victims rather than the aggressors, from their junior partner in the Sindh coalition-of-mutual-loathing. The Karachi-based party is in the enviable position of successfully muzzling the press without ever fearing they will be named or blamed. The amateurish PPP, on the other hand, is likely to be the ultimate loser in this showdown.

Meanwhile, the last time I looked, ARY was back, at least on my cable network, but the Geo void persists at least on my screen. That void by the way is important to fill, regardless of what you think of Geo’s excesses, ethics or line. And this is not about some abstract belief in absolute freedom of the press. Geo’s absence is disturbing, for me at least, because I think we need a critical voice in our midst in these bleak times. Most other channels, despite their occasional anti-govt whining, seem more susceptible to pressure and often seem willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt at key moments. I never thought I would admit this, but I for one sorely miss Geo, even if for all the wrong reasons.

By allowing the government to get away with this ban without so much as a whimper, rival media groups are being short-sighted in the extreme. If there is no joint front on an issue as fundamental as this, and if the government emerges the victor in this battle, be prepared to go down that slippery slope of ‘constructive’ criticism and all that it entails. This is that sterile world where you would think ten times before doing anything defined as ‘non-constructive’ and ‘irresponsible’ by the government (or military junta) of the day. Do remember that even before this crackdown, the other rival groups, including those espousing a liberal ethos, refrained from telecasting or printing the defining image of the month: that helicopter hovering menacingly over that French chateau as thousands fled their more modest abodes in the face of the country’s deadliest flood...


HH said...

Whatever. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

I'm only half serious here, but we have enough private tv channels, and I don't think it would make much of a difference if GEO stayed off the air permanently.

Anonymous said...

I think it would make a big difference. I don't care if you are joking or not, I am alarmed at how easily people are willing to go along with bans in this country.

So while we are at it, let's get rid of Vibe TV. And QTV. And Zaiqa. Or for that matter, irrelevant clutter like Dawn News. Just because I feel like it right now.

mcphisto said...

HH, you are probably missing the entire point of this article. Geo needs to be back on air not because of its vitriolic, holier-than-thou attitude which is loathed by many of us, but because for all of its flaws, it is one DARING channel to take 'panga' with the government.

TLW said...

The Karachi-based party is in the enviable position of successfully muzzling the press without ever fearing they will be named or blamed.

THANK GOD Cafe Pyala finally mentioned this! Seriously guys, I feel a little relief when I heard this from you guys.

And as for Geo's blockage, what's new about Dawn avoiding mentioning the existence of Jang group for the last 20 years?

And Geo will be back on the air and it should be.

There was an article about them moving the courts on this matter. I believe Geo will be back on. And as for the parties, please, they'll roll over for Geo coming back on air.

And yeah the temporising/relief-over-geo's-disappearance is real, but so what? Jang group is full of Pakistani adults, and the PPP can be assumed to have a full blown case of Alzheimers, especially if it doesn't control Zardari.

TLW said...

In other Jang group related news, what's up with

It tries to load like some flash cartoon and doesn't load when it hits 100%.

Anonymous said...

why aren't pyala's aricles more shared on facebook,email??? i only came across this blog while it has been in existence for a long time.

Afia said...

Great peice! I also miss GEO for its transparency and credibility! I am an adherent viewer of geo and it holds an important place in my life . I stronlgly disapprove of this ban . The dirty politicians resort to banning of channels to hide their evil deeds whether it be zardari or mushrraf and who else is going to be their first target than geo , an internationally accliamed channel .
As for rivals not raising a voice , why would they ? they are happy and capturing on teh opportunity of making money in absence of geo. Express tribune has even published articles badmouthing geo. God they got no ethics at all!!!
Long live geo!

Lesse said...

'I miss Geo??'
Dude, get that head of yours checked. I miss wine; but do I have the freedom of speech to say 'to hell with shariah, we want our bars back?'

You guys are going down the wrong road. These TV channels require frequent kicks to stay in line of sanity, and this attack on Geo is one such kick, so spare me blleding heart crap.

Omar R Quraishi said...

btw khabardrama, sami shah wrote on this issue, quite eloquently in fact, in the express tribune on Aug 12

Omar R Quraishi

Afia said...

Just beacause geo is daring enough to fight with the government and bring their low acts infront of the public doesnt mean its not in line with sanity. We sure do miss geo. It has earned more respect in my heart after i came across the news of the governement intimidating cable operators on airing geo and burning the copies of their newspapers through goons!! Geo has always paid for transparency!:)

Ali said...

I also miss GEO. Its the best news channel of pakistan, first to break any news and going to every detail of it . Also because its so daredevil.

Qausain said...

Mubarak ho!! Geo khul gaya.
CJ Khappay !!

Burn.. Baby.. Burn :D

temporal said...


I never thought I would admit this, but I for one sorely miss Geo, even if for all the wrong reasons.

there, you said it all


Annie said...

One word. FASCISM.

XYZ said...

@temporal: Heh, but I didn't say it. The post is by khabardrama.

and Omar R Quraishi is right khabardrama. You did miss Sami Shah's oped.

Anonymous said...

Dawn started reporting on the Geo issue, now that I checked their website.

Grate said...

I did not miss Geo at all. Does that make me someone who against the concept of free speech?

Strange, constipated post Khabardrama. What's your point?

khabardrama said...

To all you Geo lovers and haters alike: this post was neither meant to glorify the channel nor attack its line. I was only trying to make the simple point that there was a virtual media blackout (thanks btw to Omar Quraishi who pointed out an exception) by other large media groups of the blocking of two channels and attacks on the offices of a major rival. This, I still feel, was short-sighted and could set a very bad precedent. That's it.

Whether I like Geo or not is irrelevant to my main point.

I mean, just because I am not, say, the biggest fan of Face Book or Youtube doesn't mean I was dancing in the streets when they were banned.

The really disturbing aspect of some of the responses here was the joy some people felt over the ban, simply because of their dislike of the channel. The authoritarian impulse lives on in Pakistan, sadly even among the seemingly savvy and educated.

Will we ever grow up and distinguish between disapproving of things and wanting them banned?

Anonymous said...

No, I'm afraid we won't really grow up...

As a nation we like dramatic "filmy" reactions to everything -_-. Case in point:
"Pres. gets hit by a shoe" was making headlines because it was dramatic. And so ARY and GEO got dealt with an equally dramatic ban =/. I'm pretty positive if Pres. Z started shedding crocodile tears over the flood and made a declaration to change, our fellow country men would forgive him in an instant...

Anonymous said...

can cafe pyala do a detailed post on the current laws regulating print media. For example, are there any laws against foreign ownership of print media. Can a publication print matter espousing jihad or free sex or liberal content? does the press have to conform to some vague guidelines on morality and state - and if so, is there a grey line when it comes to matter challenging subjects such as these? Are there any particular laws and can a publication for example, be shut down for being blasphemous or immoral or against the state? please do provide some light on this topic.

w0lfie said...

Hello ... Need your help with coordination of the flood relief efforts. Sahana Foundation has developed a disaster management system, which was deployed successfully in Haiti earlier this year. It's used to track disaster-affected areas and people and to follow relief efforts. They've customised the software for Pakistan and you can find it at:

There will be a training session on how to use the software on Monday (tomorrow, Aug 16) at 4 p.m. at the IBA City Campus, Karachi. Please spread the word and ask people to contribute whatever data they have, as well as to attend the training session. There will be another session on Tuesday at NED Karachi, which will be telecasted live to Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar & Faisalabad.


Anonymous said...

Geo is back. Do you think they have made a deal? What does it mean for coverage? Can you inform us further on this Cafe Pyala?

Marachi said...

Afriad of Geo?
I'm not afriad of Geo; I'm just REPULSED by it.

Faisal Khan said...

What is really disturbing, as soon as this 'rift' between the Govt and Geo/Jang broke out, and all out DDoS attack started on their websites? (i.e. the website of Geo/Jang).

Something to ponder about.