If that looks a bit unsettling, so is the channel now
Do you know what the top headline for the channel's news was for hours this evening - at least all the way from the 9 o' clock news until the last time I checked? Not the floods, not the latest drone attack, not the ongoing government-supreme court tussle, not the alleged terrorist plot in Europe supposedly traced to Pakistan, not the dire status of the economy, not the New York Times reports of military displeasure with the government, not the seeming ideological about-turn of the MQM and its implications for the coalition government. No, it was a story about a debate within the Sindh Assembly about alcohol.
Okay, so one can legitimately question whether the Sindh Assembly should be discussing the merits of the alcohol ban in Pakistan at this point in time when myriad far greater problems confront the country and the province. And apparently the assembly members did spend a bit of time discussing the merits of foreign versus local booze in a light-hearted manner. But the TOP story???
And what a story it was! Replete with snarky audio clips of film music about addictive "sharaab" [alcohol] and double entendre narration (example: "Iss se pehlay ke arakeen behek jaatay aur shaam dhalak jaati..." [Before the members could be led astray and the evening spilled over...]), the report steadfastly ignored the fact that the debate actually began over a parliamentarian pointing out the damage that illegal (and dangerous) moonshine often inflicts on citizens. Perfectly legitimately, the member questioned the hypocrisy of a system in which the elite can get foreign booze in restaurants, clubs and 5-star hotels and are never prosecuted for their open consumption but the poor are hauled off to jails for possession of even small amounts of liquor and suffer far more than that in terms of health. This is an extremely valid argument and goes right to the heart of the class hypocrisy that makes up the rotten state of affairs in Pakistan. And before any of you get self-righteously religious on me, keep in mind that the debate was not specifically about Muslims and that there is a sizable population of non-Muslims in Sindh as well who are affected by the same double-standards. Not that I think the state should be interfering in individual Muslims' personal choices either.
But of course Samaa and its reporter were having none of that. All they were interested in was in sensationalizing the fact that a debate about alcohol was even happening in the Sindh Assembly at all. (And, aside from the issue of the timing of it, why should it not?) And by implication, scandalizing those who were taking part as imbibers and drunkards. It was all akin to fifth-graders snickering over the mention of the word 'sex'. (I can't find the report yet on Youtube but will upload it once / if it does come online.)
To further inflame the passions of its viewers, the channel took on the phone former minister Dr Sher Afgan Niazi to express his "sorrow" over the debate and to berate it as not only "haraam" (forbidden) but "against the constitution." So, now even debating an issue of social relevance and health can be unconstitutional and un-Islamic. (Incidentally, what the hell happened to Sher Afgan? Recall that the man, before becoming General Musharraf's parliamentary spokesperson, was once considered a liberal PPP stalwart as well.)
Of course this is the same Samaa, whose anchor Meher Bokhari conducted an incendiary (and severely ill-informed) programme at the height of the Florida-based Quran-burning provocation, with nary a thought to the kind of uncontrollable passions it could give rise to. (To give you an idea of what that programme was like, it had on air, among others, whacko conspiracy theorist Shireen Mazari and the head of the Sipahe Sahaba Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi as 'expert' commentators and even broadcast pictures of some nutcase burning a Quran in New York.) Obviously the channel has decided to unceremoniously dump its much-touted erstwhile slogan decrying sensationalism ("Sansani Nahin, Siraf Khabar" [No Sensationalism, Only News]).
Now, we have always maintained that a person's lifestyle choices are their own and should not be a topic of public gossip. (Recall that we defended Bokhari and others when a right-wing website made salacious claims about their private conduct.) But I also think it is legitimate to discuss them when that person himself or herself make them an issue for others, particularly hypocritically. And it's about time that someone put an end to these kinds of blatant double standards. So, I suppose it would be perfectly reasonable to point out that Samaa TV's owner, Zafar Siddiqui, rather likes his Scotch (and this is no mere hearsay). The duplicity of a channel with a whiskey-swilling owner holding others to the fire for even discussing alcohol is just a bit too much to bear.
Samaa's owner and Mr Walker are good friends
So, how do you like them apples, Mr Siddiqui?