Our television debates - Dr A Q Khan - Monday, February 21, 201

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=32257&Cat=9&dt=2/21/2011

Nowadays we columnists are usually writing about the rotten state of affairs in the country – like the law and order situation, unemployment, the spiralling cost of living, and load shedding – and aiming our salvos at the incompetence and corruption of our rulers and politicians.

There is always something happening which keeps us busy: for example, the targeted killings in Karachi, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s statements, Altaf Hussain’s addresses to his party workers, the thrashing of a retired army lady doctor in Faisalabad, the beating of suspects by the police in Chinniot, the barbaric murder of two young brothers by a mob in broad daylight in Sialkot, important cases in the Supreme Court, the murder of Salmaan Taseer, Nawaz Sharif’s ultimatums and subsequent retreats, the false promises and blatant lies of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, the Haj corruption scandal, the supposed 50,000 megawatts of power for the next five hundred years from Thar Coal, the supposed billions of dollars’ annual income from Reko Diq, and the 8,800 MW nuclear power that will supposedly be produced over the next 20 years.

The latest is the case of Raymond Davis, who murdered two Pakistani young men in cold blood in a busy market area in Lahore on Jan 27. Journalists, analysts and anchorpersons are all offering their guesses and giving their points of view. Only the federal government knows the truth about his real identity and his activities and is probably, at this moment, working on a way out to send him back to the USA as a hero. This nation of ours has lost its self-respect.

Today I am not going to discuss any of the topics I have just mentioned. I am going to touch on an important aspect of our TV debates. I mean the numerous debates that are broadcast daily on our various channels. Before actually discussing this, I would like to tell you about a small incident that left a permanent mark on my memory and which will lead up to the topic under discussion.

Most of you probably know that I went to Berlin in 1961 to study at its famous Technical University. After spending two years there I moved to Holland to continue my studies at the Technological University of Delft, as my fiance’s parents were residing in Holland. I was a good student and in my final year of MS, Prof W G Burgers appointed me as his assistant to help junior students.

After I completed my MS, he appointed me as his research assistant. He was world famous in his field and was an extremely kind and affectionate person. His wife was German and had a PhD in chemistry. They had no children and were very affectionate towards my wife and me. Whenever Prof Burgers went to deliver a lecture, or to attend one, he asked me to accompany him.

On one such occasion we sat down to attend a lecture. The chairs were made of hard synthetics. They very neat, clean and durable, but were very uncomfortable. After a few minutes, Prof Burgers turned to me and said: “Khan, some uilskuiken (meaning owlet, or, as we would say, ullu ka pattha) thinks that if you sit on hard and uncomfortable seats you concentrate and study better.”

An owl is considered to be a wise bird in the West, but like the proverb in our country, the Dutch use the same word for a stupid fellow. I never forgot what he said and whenever there was need for furniture, either at home, or for KRL and any of the other institutions established by me, I made it a point to personally check sofas, chairs and tables from the point of view of comfort.

This story brings me to the point of discussion. In many TV debates we see a huge, round table in the middle with the anchorperson and the participants sitting around it, often most uncomfortably with legs at awkward angles, as the shape of the table’s legs do not allow them to sit normally.

Modern furniture of futuristic shape often goes at the cost of comfort and is a strange phenomenon. Some anchorpersons prefer to be perched up on high stools, which are so high that everyone has to sit either with his legs dangling or resting on metal footrests – hardly a suitable posture for serious debates.

There was once a weekly programme on TV. Often senior intellectual citizens were invited to participate. It made me very uneasy to see elderly, respected participants sitting on hard plastic chairs without armrests. When I could no longer restrain myself, I sent a letter to the anchorperson. After a week I saw that the uncomfortable plastic chairs had been replaced by soft comfortable ones with armrests. It would have been even nicer to have seen a small table in the middle with perhaps a jug of water, glasses and a box of tissues as well.

Another important aspect of these TV debates and discussions is the rather rowdy and uncivilised attitude of the participants. It makes you hang your head in shame when you hear some of our public representatives using nasty and uncivilised language; and all this in front of millions of viewers.

The participants, usually belonging to different political parties, indulge in verbal duals and trying to score points over each other. They shout at each other, don’t allow the other party to give their point of view and keep on interrupting. This becomes even worse when interviews are being conducted via satellite. Everyone keeps on speaking or shouting simultaneously and no one can understand what anyone else is saying. The anchorperson does often try to bring some sanity to the discussion, but is usually unsuccessful in doing so.

I have pointed this out to quite a few anchorpersons and have requested them to lay down certain criteria, such as an arrangement whereby the sound of the first participant’s voice is switched off when a second participant is asked for his views.

This should not be too difficult, as programmes are usually pre-recorded and the producer is there to coordinate everything. He/she can quite easily switch off the voice of the person who has just spoken when the anchorperson changes from one participant to another. That way we would at least be spared the noisy and rowdy scenes, as if from a marketplace, that we sometimes witness now. It is just another illustration of how undisciplined we as a nation are. Viewers are fed up with such scenes and some technique as the ones I have mentioned would allow the anchorperson to control the discussion, give everyone a fair chance to state their views and produce a more interesting discussion for the viewers.

The irritants I pointed out above may seem trivial to many, but they are an influence on our daily lives and the problem therefore needs to be addressed properly. Change should start somewhere and where better than at grassroots level. You can’t keep on harping about such things as building dams when we can’t even maintain our own streets and lanes. They have broken sewerage pipes, are full of dirty water and we use them as places to dump our garbage.

Email: ali4drkhan@gmail.com

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