Don’t blame Ali Azmat, blame marketing

Published: July 6, 2010

Ali Azmat's frequent appearances in broadcast news are less about good content and more about marketing.

If you’ve worked in broadcast media, chances are high that you have been part of the manic decision making process which goes into determining what story or issue should run as headline news or lead in a program. The journalistic credo to cover issues in a timely, responsible manner is the driving force behind this high-tension coordination, but the marketing aim to gather the maximum number of eyeballs and maintain their interest is always at the back of every broadcast journalist’s mind.

Which story will sell? What would the audience buy? The ‘business’ of reporting the news is built into the very words used, and there is always the temptation to find nay, create the next big angle to an issue by resorting to sensationalism, of which there are many forms.

Over time, Pakistanis have become quite astute to the more blatant forms of hard news manipulation but even the best of us are still fooled by the distortion of an issue by juxtaposing unlikely elements of the story with each other to form a unique selling point.

Case in point: musician Ali Azmat was recently invited onto DawnNews’ Bolna Zaroori Hai to lay down his views on a recent report about religiosity in Pakistani society. Azmat, ever ready to take on a challenge proceeded to expound to the best of his abilities, citing media conspiracies, the need for an Islamic caliphate, slamming the West and other such views which does not need to be repeated.

I can envisage the decision making process which must have led to this bizarre but very sellable show.

Producer: Well, we’ve improved our ratings by switching over to Urdu, but we need to step it up a notch. What issue is making the rounds these days?

Studious intern one: Sir! What about the latest report by the Institute of Peace Studies which cites that the people of Pakistan have turned increasingly religious over the years?

Producer: That’s genius lad! Let’s run with it at prime time with Wusatullah Khan. Now, who should be the guests?

Studious intern one: How about an expert who can speak well on the issue? How about a Professor from Quaid-e-Azam University?

Producer: Uh. Okay. But what’s going to make the show sell? We have viewers out there who simply won’t hang around to listen to an unknown professor talking sense. We went down that route for a couple of years and look where that got us.

Silence.

Eager intern two: Zaid Hamid?

Producer: No no, Zaid Hamid lost his shelf life a good six months ago, but I like where you’re going with that. Let’s toy with the idea. What we need is a new Zaid Hamid. Someone catchy with the kids and sure to draw in a crowd.

Eager intern two: Ali Azmat sir!

Producer: Yes! He’s the perfect straw man! Massively popular, chock full of Zaid Hamid’s ideas yet a fresh face!

Studious intern one: But sir! Won’t people notice that we’ve juxtaposed a rock star with a professor? It’s completely absurd!

Producer: Young man you really need to catch up to your friend here. People won’t notice because half our audience will lap up what Ali Azmat dishes out, while the other half will spend so much time bashing him they won’t even notice the whole show is our marketing team’s dream come true!

Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on how you look at it), yet another local talk show has gone down that slippery slope of trading sensible content for eyeballs. This is the ground reality, and it is not just the story of one media group, but that of all media groups and persons in Pakistan. Viewers must become aware of the inner workings of our craft, and realize that we are fallible, often weak, and there is tremendous pressure to deliver the goods in terms of ‘selling’ the news. Citizen’s need to apply critical thinking not only to the issues highlighted by the media, but also to the methods behind the message.

So, if Ali Azmat is called up to talk on religion and an increasingly conservative society, be critical of the man, but know your real enemy: marketing.

Jahanzaib Haque

Jahanzaib Haque

News buff and Web Editor, The Express Tribune. Jahanzaib tweets @Jhaque_ twitter.com/jhaque_

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://aerialmeds.wordpress.com aerialmeds

    Are you implying that Ali Azmat is just a poor, trapped unfortunate soul caught in the marketing monster of the media? Does he also not have an idea of how things work and thus have a moral duty to not to partake in such nonsense (regardless of how valid his own beliefs are)?Recommend

  • Ahsan

    If marketing guys started listening to interns they would be miles ahead of where they are today you should replace studious intern 1 and 2 with “nerdy yes-men 1 and 2″Recommend

  • Shahid

    Aasim Sajjad is not an “unknown professor” as you’ve put it.Recommend

  • http://tribune.com.pk Jahanzaib Haque

    @aerialmeds I’ve kept the role of Ali Azmat out of this article because I cannot know his part in this (at most I can infer).

    However, I do have enough experience in the media to outline the general thought process for selecting him for a show, bearing in mind that I am using this as a hypothetical example. But your point is a valid one for people called onto talk shows; they should be wary of why they are called on beyond the obvious, and the audience too should think critically about why someone would opt to be on a TV show.Recommend

  • sushi

    how do you set up a blog on Express tribune?Recommend

  • Amna Zaman

    I believe all these individuals have conspiracy theories of their own and they are pimping the country for money. Its all about marketing and money at the end of the day. On one hand the country suffers but do people like zaid hamid really care? If peace prevails, people will him like run out of job.Recommend

  • ahad

    haha. hilarious. JK Galbraith said it half a century ago and we still dont get it.

    Agree with the sensationalism bit, abhor marketing but for someone who purports to have enough experience in the media, a certain lack of knowledge regarding the example in case seems missing.

    Consider the evil marketer’s landscape -

    the fact, half the people don’t tune into DawnNews because they still don’t know its all urdu yet. On top of that, I doubt many people watched the programme (despite the delicious theories bandied around) – the videos’ purported popularity charted an upward trajectory the moment, they appeared some well-known blogs. also the popularity/viewing seems to be entrenched amongst the more “English-speaking, relatively well-off” people.

    finally if it were done to be a marketer’s pipe dream, no one really saw the “coming attractions” ads one would normally have.

    whilst agreeing your general point of selling news, this is a poor example to choose.

    Also ironic you used the very stick of Ali Azmat’s name on your blog post to warn us of the evils of ‘marketing’ and ‘sensationalism’. Classic.Recommend

  • Sachal

    Funny stuff. The host and Sajjad spent most of their time discussing “Why are people like Ali Azmat so confused?” it was quite hilarious.

    And yes Sajjad teaches in LUMS as well, and is a political/social activist. Most educated people in Lhr and Isb should know of him.Recommend

  • http://sadaf-fayyaz.blogspot.com/ SadafFayyaz

    @Jahanzaib I wanted to share something about it…..what happened at both the sides….Recommend

  • http://www.flightstolagos.biz humza

    I think its his rightRecommend

  • SalmanZ

    Dear Author! the program ‘Bulna zaroori hai’ was showing the thinking pattern of our youth, who thinks they are moderate but in real sense they are far away from reality! This program was excellent and I really enjoyed watching Zahid hamid die heart fan with arguments which are not applicable in our scenario… We all know Zahid Hamid who puts all things on Israeli-Jews and Indian- Hindus. We have issues which are all related to us like poverty, corrupt leaders and religious intolerance and had nothing to do with jews and hindus.

    on other hand; Putting blame on Marketing technique is not right. There are lot of other ways to get viewership.. I can give you example…GEO. Recommend

  • http://tribune.com.pk Jahanzaib Haque

    @Ahad “Also ironic you used the very stick of Ali Azmat’s name on your blog post to warn us of the evils of ‘marketing’ and ‘sensationalism’. Classic.” – I’m glad someone picked up on that!

    Recommend

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    I cannot believe this will work!Recommend