Super guide to taking Geo Super off air - Sana Bucha - Sunday, April 10, 2011

“Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...who is the fairest of them all?” When this question was put forth by Snow White’s stepmother in a fairytale, the poor girl had to live with dwarves to survive. Here, today in this not so fairytale world, the same question was posed to Pemra by the government. And the reply, as expected: Geo. Pemra seems to have become the mirror of vain rulers. General Musharraf and President Zardari may have many enemies. Owing to their powerful positions (and nefarious designs), who wouldn’t? However, while ‘punishing’ the fairest was a hit formula in the distant past – when information was sacred and state-run media got to play the role of the big bad guy to some privately owned channels – that privilege now ceases to exist.

Between the democratically elected and the self-selected, our generals have all but one flaw. They take on their opponent straight on. And make no apologies for it. The General who ruled us not long ago, blamed the media along with terrorists and the judiciary for his decision to impose a nationwide state of emergency on November 3, 2007. Notwithstanding the fact that Geo TV was shut down even when it was being broadcast from outside the country lent a new dimension to the General’s media crackdown. The ‘general’ influence travelled to Dubai’s Media City and Dubai leaders were made to realise that they were indeed playing havoc with another country’s stability and the cause of all evil was silenced.

Others in the leading role play a more diplomatic, at other times such a twisted, game that it is hard to decipher whether they are out to get you or whether you have got them! This government makes its move with the calculation and shrewdness of a fox – sly enough to feign ignorance and hard enough to hurt. So, if they decided to shut down Geo News, our stories would still find their target audience in readers of the Jang Group of Publications. Not to mention that they would have a lot of explaining to do on other channels. ‘Why was Geo shut down?’ many would ask, and really even the king’s men have their limitations. And that would make the democratic leader look bad – and no sir, that’s not allowed – do what it takes without hurting yourself. Even if it means, stooping really low. And voila, with a little help from a balding man who has sold his soul to state-owned media – general, no bar – and ideas from a bearded man who recently lost his ministry, with financial information of the group to boot, the idea came. And let’s not forget the president - who never had the time or energy to visit the flood affected areas of a country he rules until after the worst had passed – his contribution to ‘operation: Destroy Geo’ is worth mentioning. A man who gives more time to this group and its “actors” in his speeches ahead of terrorism, electricity, inflation, corruption and would convene meetings almost every day with his loyal advisors until the idea struck. Take Geo Super off air! Just before the World Cup.

But thank God for the independent judiciary in Pakistan. Geo Super had exclusive rights, retained its exclusivity and didn’t fall prey to evil motives.

Strike two: the management of Geo received a letter saying that Geo Super cannot be uplinked from Pakistan. Geo Super poses a security threat to Pakistan, says Pemra; however, almost a decade ago, that was precisely the reason for which the PPP government was taken off Pakistan’s political scene. Security risk. Right! In this country, that’s the only reason for dismissing anything that has no reasonable argument for dismissing.

Let me be honest here. I like this government. For the fact that it’s democratic. However, my point of argument does not just stem from my association with the group but also because I believe that tolerance is a fundamental necessity for any society or nation to grow and prosper. As for Pakistan, intolerance is one of its greatest evils. And intolerance springs from disagreement. Former governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, dared to disagree. Mumtaz Qadri shot Taseer 26 times because he disapproved of his disagreement. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti met his untimely death because he begged to differ. The two boys killed in Sialkot, Mughees and Munib too were beaten to death by an intolerant mob. Target killings in Karachi are a proof of intolerance and Wali Khan Babar had to die an untimely death because he too, dared to disagree. And Geo Super has been choked now because Geo News and Jang Group stand in disagreement to what the government proposes. In this enmity they went to the extent of hurting not only Geo but also cricket. Cricket: that binds this nation together; a sport that probably is the only entertainment and joy left in our lives and most importantly a competition where we can still hope to beat the world. Just a look at the efforts made by government to hurt Geo Super would leave many confused on whether to laugh at it or seriously praise the government’s efforts.

First, an official letter was issued by Pemra on December 22nd 2010 confirming that GEO Super is the only channel that has the right to air the World Cup on Cable and Satellite. Later, Pemra had a change of heart or was it advice? Bad advice! Pemra said it had made a mistake and that GEO Super does not have the rights required to air the World Cup. Henceforth, the official notification issued on December 22nd was cancelled. Pemra then decided to take a different route. Suddenly, it was the Competition Commission that declared Geo Super’s exclusive rights for the World Cup as violation of Anti Monopoly rules. But there was one little detail they overlooked – the fact that PTV also took part in the bidding. The problem began just after Geo Super won the bid. Interestingly, the Competition Commission was missing its head (literally!) until just two days before it took notice of this violation. Additionally, the newly appointed ‘head’ was used by other heads to qualify its first battle with GEO Super. Efficiency at its best!

The comedy of errors doesn’t end there. It was revealed that though all ‘broadcasters’ come under Pemra law, PTV doesn’t. Does that mean that PTV is not a broadcast channel? Pray tell, then what is thou? PTV is not a broadcaster and Geo Super is a security threat. I wonder how we got here. I admit that at times it may feel like criticism of the government’s decisions is becoming more of a habit than reformative concern amongst our media experts. However, media is a reflection of the society we live in; anchors and journalists don’t get dropped directly from heaven. They are also a part of the same corrupt and two-faced society which entails them to criticise the same people they accompany to Jeddah for free Hajj. There are others who openly speak against nepotism but don’t bat an eyelash when acres of land are offered to them. Then there are also those who only indulge in straight cut talk, but cannot explain how they are able to purchase a BMW and maintain a membership at a posh club from an income that their tax returns simply don’t justify.

In the last few weeks this government has suffered greatly due to intolerance. And still maintained its reconciliatory tone: ‘democracy is the best revenge’. However, the deep-seated issues it harbours for this group are a lesson that the intolerant will be fast to learn. And spread. This government needs to take a long hard look at what it has achieved in the process of getting even. “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall...” Too bad it doesn’t work for the conscience.

The writer works for Geo TV.

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