Their emergency, our TV

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 04/11/2007
The first few hours after the imposition of Emergency in Pakistan became a speculative free for all, backed by stock footage.
SEVANTI NINAN’S take on the early coverage.

Idiot Box

Sevanti Ninan


Even as the private news channels in Pakistan fell silent the ones in India  went into prolonged breaking news mode, as  analysts went into overdrive. When one

 tuned in Yashwant Sinha was calling it an "antim desperate step" and the question on a TV screen was asking, "Is it the beginning of the end?"  They love asking that. Right after  March 9 this year I remember CNN IBN’s Big Chief saying, The question we are asking is, is it the beginning of the end for Musharraf?"


The turmoil in Pakistan has been a constant windfall for the news business here. The action unfolds there, the analysis unfolds here. And never lets up. There is Maroof Raza on hand for Headlines Today and  Aaj Tak, Surya Gangadharan for CNN-IBN and CNBC 18,  Chidananda Rajghatta  for Times Now, and  G Parthasarathy for all of them. And on the phone from across the border, Hamid Mir as always, Najim Sethi, and of  course Imran Khan, even as events unfolded and he was put under house arrest.  The soundbites came periodically, through all that. Nawaz Sharif, far away from the action,  found time to talk to Aaj Tak, Zee News, CNN-IBN… What would Pakistani politicians do without Indian news channels?


If there was a refreshing new face it was former envoy Akbar Ahmed on CNN  from Washington DC, pithily outlining the grim prospects confronting Pakistan  and evidently telling the anchor things she did not know, because she repeated it after that as if it was news to her, and therefore to us. Aaj Tak, as is its wont, took the cake. One of its veterans in a shocking pink tie did a largely solo harangue, often talking non stop from one ad break to another. It was meant to be masterly overview of Pakistan’s periodic descent into chaos, with rhetorical questions asked every now and then. Why, Saeed Naqvi asked him at one point, was he asking questions the answers to which were self-evident. Because I want to explain to our viewers what Pakistan’s Emergency means, he said. Pink Tie also editorialised freely, stressing  the difference between the two countries: "Kyunki hamare yahan toh yeh hota nahin."  


It is remarkable how flexible events become at a time like this. Shortly after 9.35 pm BBC’s reporter was reeling off developments. A new Chief Justice has been sworn in, she said, and Benazir Bhutto’s plane  had landed in Karachi. A good forty minutes later Aaj Tak was saying she was due to land at 11.30 pm. Then NDTV India said she had reached Karachi. After which one caught the redoubtable Vidya Aiyar holding forth on CNN IBN. "I have my doubts as to whether she is going to arrive in Karachi at all. She may arrive in Islamabad." More than one channel periodically announced that the Internet had been blocked in Pakistan. But BBC’s anchor in London was reading out emails people were sending from Lahore. And the Chief Justice’s swearing in was not confirmed until well after 11 pm on some of  the Indian news channels.


President Musharraf  ended the  prolonged first episode of what will be an  unfolding drama for some time, in the wee hours of the morning with his account of why he was moving to save the nation from the judiciary and from chaos. Said Imran Khan, old hat, I’ve heard it all before. Pakistan unmistakable sense of déjà vu came through, in the sound bites from that troubled land.



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