What's on Pakistan TV talk shows? Extremists.
Pakistan TV talk-show hosts like Zaid Hamid and Amir Liaquat Hussain peddle anti-American conspiracy theories and bash minorities.
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Today, every evening, millions of viewers tune-in to watch their preferred nightly hosts. According to industry insiders, Hamid Mir consistently rates No.1 as Pakistan’s most popular talk show host, with advertisers paying about $2,400 a minute for air-time during his slot – a princely sum in impoverished Pakistan.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Hamid has advocated the Pakistani conquest of India as a solution to poor Indian-Pakistani relations. Other bold declarations include an insistence that, if left unmolested by foreign powers, Pakistan would place a man on the moon within five years. Late last year, he claimed on his show to have evidence that Israel was on the verge of bombing Pakistan – an event that never came to pass.
"One of the reasons why he is beloved is because he's someone who helps absolve self-reflection. His insistence is that we were destined by greatness but we were robbed by America, by the Jews and the Hindus," says popular radio-show host and columnist Fasi Zaka.
Hamid has also used controversial (and widely discredited) religious texts to bolster his claims of being the savior of Islam – citing one as saying that the revival of Islam will come from South Asia, and another which says the savior Islam will wear a red hat (much like the hat Hamid is famous for).
Much of Hamid's target demographic – young middle-class professionals – grew up after widespread Islamization measures imposed by military ruler Gen. Zia-ul-Haq during the 1980s. Policies include demonizing India and minorities and promoting Islamic government as the only solution to political problems, says Taimur Rahman, a political science lecturer at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. "It's easy then to relate to what Zaid Hamid says because that's what they've grown up with. It takes more reasoning to challenge that."
Kamran Zia, a trader in the city of Karachi, says that for him, Zaid Hamid's show is about "believing in yourself, your culture, your religion and your identity, and not assuming that because something is Western it's automatically superior."
Mr. Hamid’s show often references the accomplishments of the Muslim empires that ruled India for close to a thousand years before being supplanted by British rule.
Mr. Zia says when he returned to Pakistan from university in Britain in 2007, "there was a lot of despondency" because of political unrest and a failing economy. “He gave us back that self-belief. It's good for us.”
Hashim Malik, an officer with Pakistan's National Bank, adds: "We do have a glorious past and today people look back and only remember the negative things. I like Hamid's shows because though I do believe in live-and-let-live, we still need to keep ourselves morally intact."