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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Despite his substantial following, Hamid’s show was recently cancelled owing to a torrent of opposition of right-wing student groups who felt Hamid has strayed too far in his self-aggrandizement, while allegations resurfaced that Hamid had been a close follower of Yusuf Kazzab, a man who claimed to be Islam’s final Prophet in the late 1990s. He is also being investigated in a murder case, and at present Hamid’s appearances on television are sporadic.Skip to next paragraph
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Calls to violence
While Hamid generally reserves his venom for what he perceives as Pakistan's external enemies, others, like televangelist Amir Liaquat Hussain openly call for violence against Pakistan's minorities. In a show recorded in 2008, the Karachi based religious-scholar, who held the post of minister of state for religious affairs in the Musharraf regime, said it was incumbent on all true-believers to kill Ahmadis.
Within two days, a prominent Ahmadi doctor and an Ahmadi rice trader were shot dead in Sindh province.
Though Hussain's membership in the secular MQM political party was terminated, no further action was taken against him or his channel, Geo, owned by Pakistan's largest media group.
Pakistani media outlets generally refrain from engaging in criticism of each other. But some liberal papers did criticize veteran reporter Hamid Mir – who has interviewed Osama bin Laden three times – when an alleged tape recording linked him to the execution of a Taliban hostage in May.
"We all know that journalists have sometimes to ingratiate themselves with dubious people who can provide them information. But you may want to ask yourself, how much information is Mir's 'source' actually sharing and how much of the conversation is the 'reporter' informing his 'source,' " wrote a blogger on Café Pyala, an anonymous media watch blog that helped break the story.
In the tape, Mir brands Khalid Khawaja, a former intelligence agent being held by the Taliban at the time, a "CIA collaborator" as well as an Ahmadi sympathizer. He also advises the Taliban spokesman not to let Khawaja go but instead interrogate him further. Khawaja was executed days later.
Mir hotly denied the allegations and called the tape faked. "They took my voice, sampled it, and manufactured this conspiracy against me," Mir told the UK's Guardian newspaper. Khawaja's son, meanwhile, announced he would take Mir to court.
After an initial storm of publicity, Mir has retained his show and to date no formal investigation has been launched.
Contrary voices silenced
In such an atmosphere, few hold out hope for positive change. There are no liberal personalities of comparable standing to counteract the right-wing voices, says Mr. Zaka, and the liberal press is largely restricted to English-language newspaper, channels, and blogs – all of which reach only highly-educated Pakistanis.
According to Abbas Nasir, editor of Dawn, Pakistan's leading English daily, Urdu newspapers outsell their English counterparts in Pakistan by approximately a 10:1 ratio.
“The dangerous thing … is that the middle and upper class are [falling] hook, line, and sinker for these conspiracy theories. The fringe argument has become the mainstream,” says Mr Zaka.
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