May 2, 2012
KARACHI: When TV news anchors and talk show hosts are mentioned, Dr Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir, Talat Hussain, Kamran Khan etc. are the faces that come to mind. I said faces, not persons.
“A bunch of egoistical bitches,” said a producer at the Karachi Press Club recently when I asked him about his experience in working with two of the top male anchors in Pakistan. “They throw more tantrums and nakhras than a girlfriend. Nothing is ever right.”
“Even worse,” added his friend lunch partner from a rival TV channel, “They do no work. It is their support team that does all the work. We prepare their prompts, their scripts, get their footage, packages and research all in one place. We arrange their guests, telephone interviews etc. and yet we are always trying not to anger them; one step wrong and it’s out on your backside.”
But perhaps what they were really worked up about was the fact that these ‘prima donnas’ earn up 40 times more than they do and above. “I work my butt off for Rs70,000 per month and am told that I should be satisfied. Yet, HE marches into the studio picks up the documents we prepared, reads, instigates, cracks a few poor jokes, demeans a few people, waxes eloquent on issues he knows nothing about as if he was some scholar or expert etc and at the end of the month picks up a cheque of Rs3500,000.00 for a few hours work and then laughs all the way to the bank. It’s criminal.”
I decided to play devil’s advocate. “They are better educated than you perhaps, have a bigger personality…”
Both producers were stunned. Then one of them said: “You are joking… right?”
I shook my head, trying not to laugh at their red faces. I could almost see steam coming out of their ears.
“They are neither better educated, better informed or have better personalities. Brazen most certainly, thick-skinned yes, maniacal flatterers and manipulators certainly, but definitely not what the viewers imagine them to be. Try talking to them in English for more than a minute and see what you get. Talk to them on any given issue beyond what is skin deep and be prepared to be surprised.”
Totally agitated, the other producer placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder in an effort to calm him down, while trying to voice his own opinion. “I worked for five months for this guy who is pretty well known. He is an old man; a senior. Yet he behaved in a way most unbecoming. He was always trying to get people sacked in the channel, always complaining, always manipulating while doing no work. He had a team of five to support him; two producers, an assistant, a secretary/appointments guy and a researcher, yet he wanted more people. He sat and ordered everybody around. All you had to do is say, “Sir today you were great,” and then see the fun. So full of himself all the time; it was disgusting.”
And so the complaints continued. However, it was the disparity in the salaries that was the real sore point.
“If even one of these guys was the real deal, it would be okay. But none of them are. Perhaps, Talat is the most educated and better prepared, the rest of them are all actors… nothing but actors. They don’t deserve the money they get.”
Both these producers, I learned had been in the profession for more than 10 years. They had worked at almost most of the major channels and still did so. “It used to be better six, seven years ago. Now nothing is certain. Cutbacks, salary cuts… downsizing. I wonder sometimes if I got into the wrong profession.”
They seemed like genuine guys and I’ve been around long enough to know that they knew their marbles. It’s all about how one discusses their profession. We discussed technical aspects of work; problems related to production, innovations and of course the dangers of working in Karachi. They knew their stuff. They were comfortable in their knowledge and did not mind sharing it; real journalists.
There was one question I just had to ask before leaving and thanking them for the rather palatable lunch they insisted I have with them. “Do these celebrated anchors have personal agendas?”
Both of them looked at me as if I had gone mad. They made a quick reassessment of who and what I was. I could see in their eyes that they had doubts. “I just want confirmation from someone who really knows,” I said lamely.
They shared another look before one of them spoke up rather hesitatingly: “It’s not safe to answer that question but yes… they have agendas, all of them. Some are political, some financial, some to do with influence and power wielding and some motivated or rather misdirected by religious or sectarian beliefs. But we thought you already know that.”
Of course I did. I just wanted to see if these guys had guts to say so and they did.
Just wish though that those that run media houses in Pakistan would demonstrate more clarity in what they want from their channels and appreciate those that know their work… the real cogs and wheels of television and not the peacocks known as anchors, talk show hosts and mediators.
(The Communicator is a senior Karachi-based journalist and a guest writer for JournalismPakistan.com)
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