Skewed narratives

Bol Television’s second coming is going much better than the first one. Previous attempts to launch the channel on the back of an extensive publicity campaign stopped in its tracks with the Axact scandal. All the money thrown at some of the most popular anchors and media personalities nearly went to waste as a mass exodus followed the fake-degree scandal. But many stayed behind, and with additions to the star-studded roster, Bol Television began its coverage amid much fanfare.

The Axact case is neither here nor there at this point; the CEO of both Axact and Bol, Mr Shoaib Ahmed Sheikh was granted bail in August 2016, after fifteen months in custody. Bol resumed its operations a month later, and claims that the company was politically victimised – the motive for this though, remains unclear. Bol still proudly lists Axact as its parent company, and claims that the entire scandal was nothing but a hoax. However, US courts at least, would beg to differ.

Experts and analysts alike were shocked that the supposed mountain of evidence against Axact and its top-tier leadership was not enough to even garner a single conviction in Pakistan – instead what we saw were acquittals. Four prosecutors distanced themselves from the case for unknown reasons, one after the other. Barrister Zahid Jamil – an FIA investigator – had his house attacked by a hand grenade at the hands of unknown assailants.

The arrest of Umair Hamid in the US in December 2016, brought the case back to the public’s attention both locally and internationally. In December last year, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said that another committee was being formed to probe the case, but months have passed without news of any progress.

The latest news surrounding the television channel is not news related to the scandal of its parent company, however. In the past month, Bol has announced two prolific personalities as political analysts on its roster – former presidents Pervaiz Musharraf and more recently, Asif Ali Zardari. They are to join Bol’s roster of anchors, newsmen and other journalists as “political analysts” with their own TV shows on Sunday.

Political analysts that are in fact politicians, and have clearly defined party perspectives can only analyse politics along a specific (and biased) narrative. This is not to say that someone who is not a politician cannot be biased, but the chances of acting upon one’s biases increases exponentially when there is also a political agenda at play. Both Mr Musharraf and Zardari are leaders of their own parties, and if news channels were offering up skewed opinions before, this move takes it to a whole new level entirely.

Simply put, Mr Zardari and Musharraf have day jobs that practically have being biased or presenting a specific perspective included in their job descriptions. As politicians, it is in their mandate to represent the people that adhere to their party’s policy (which the leaders determine), and to look after the well-being of those that vote for them. There is also the added responsibility of making their party win more votes than the previous election. Will more TV time give these leaders the opportunity to try and gain a bigger following? Possibly. Estranged PPP supporters can be won over if their leader says the right things at the right time, and the public’s constant flirtation with military rule is no secret. For many, Musharraf brings the best of both worlds together – a commando that has stepped into the dirty world of politics looking to change it for the better.

This is not to say that there is any guarantee that either will be able to successfully use their show as a personal popularity drive, to garner more votes and increase support for themselves personally. But one can say with absolute certainty that both will try their absolute hardest to do so, at every available opportunity. As far as Bol is concerned, this might be great for the ratings, but does having fair impartial commentary on the channel mean nothing to those who determine its editorial policy? From the look of things, they are not too concerned.

The writer is the Op-Ed Editor, The Nation. Follow him on Twitter.

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