So you hate TV? Do something!

Published: June 5, 2011
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How do citizens push back against the tide of propaganda being fed on the airwaves?

The Pakistani Television media has a problem. It is too often racist, sexist and intolerant of religious beliefs of minorities.

How do citizens push back against the tide of propaganda being fed on the airwaves?

I don’t think anyone should be advocating for the government to regulate channels. When the government is given power to regulate media it is very easy for regulation to become censorship.

What should be done?

It is simple. Citizens should push for economic boycotts.

It is important to understand how media works and how they generate money. Unlike print media which also earns money through the circulation of newspapers, TV media works on a revenue model that is generated by advertising. Many media critics have noted that often TV shows do not cater to the needs of audiences primarily, but instead are more interested in what advertisers want. Advertisers want shows that are watched by the largest number of people, while what viewers want is an informed show giving them a nuanced perspective on an issue of public importance.

Boycott products

The obvious way to protest an anchor’s biases is to switch the channel or turn the TV off as many are tempted to do. But, this in itself will not solve anything. A few blips on a TV show rating are not bound to stop a show from changing its habits.

A smarter and more effective way is to boycott the advertisers that run their ads on the times of the show. Most advertisers choose which shows will have their promotional clips playing – the more popular the program the higher that TV spot goes for.

Pakistani citizens can fight back the use of foul language against certain religious groups by employing economic boycotts. Look at the commercial breaks for each program and see which companies are running ad campaigns during those times. If xyz shampoo brand is employing a particular product for that show, if you were using it, switch brands and decide not to use it.

This is still not enough though.

Go to the company’s website and draft a letter explaining to them that you are boycotting their product because of the company’s support to various TV show hosts because of their discriminatory attitudes. A few such emails will surely cause the advertisers to wake up to the fact that they must be more careful of which shows they choose to sponsor. This effort will bear fruit when certain TV anchors start getting notices that their shows will no longer be put on air, because of sponsors dropping out.

It works

A number of advocacy groups in the United States (US) have adopted this strategy. A famous recent example is when Fox News TV anchor Glenn Beck was forced to resign from his position. Besides being immersed in a number of conspiracy theories like his Pakistani counterparts, (like refusing to recognise that Obama was a US citizen) Beck also had a tendency to use racist remarks as well as discriminatory language against Muslims and Jews. His show was shut down not because his show was no longer profitable – because millions of people watched his shows.  His show was removed after pressure from several activist groups who criticised advertisers for supporting Beck’s behaviour. In April of this year Glenn Beck was relieved of his job.

Finally a word of caution – this tactic should not be employed for personal grudges or when you simply disagree with an anchor. Diverse opinions are healthy and necessary in a democracy. This option should only be used when programs use discriminatory language against religious minorities and women.

asad.badruddin

Asad Badruddin

A student of economics and international relations at Tufts University in Boston who hails from Karachi. He blogs at octagonaltangents.blogspot.com

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