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Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Carsh of Sanity

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: April 26, 2012

My self-imposed ban of TV could turn out to be such a blessing, I just never thought. For most Pakistanis, Friday, April 20, 2012, turned out to be a tragic and dark evening. Being in this part of the world, it was a bright morning for me: life at its usual pace, early morning, a hot cup of tea and miles of commute. My Twitter timeline lit up with a preliminary message of a flight losing contact with its control tower in Islamabad. The tea, despite being the usual addition of half-and-half cream and honey became unusually unbearable. The tweets that followed were heart wrenching. A quick prayer came out of my mouth and the usual sea of cars on the Southbound welcomed me.

The car radio at 8:00 am announced the news of a Pakistani airline’s plane crash in what the newscaster was able to pronounce as ‘Izlamabaad’. Loss of 127 lives. Another prayer left my lips and the images of despair and chaos appeared on the windshield of my car. The Airblue disaster was still fresh in my mind, where we had lost a close relative. He was a remarkable individual, who will always remain in our prayers; one of the most hospitable and witty people I met in my life, who gave me great tips on one of my passions — backyard barbecue grilling. He introduced our family to the most beautiful sites this part of the world has to offer. Above all, knowing my weakness, he gave me a taste of Lahore in the heart of ‘Frisco at a cabby’s hangout, by far the tastiest desi (subcontinental) food the Golden State could ever offer.

The car finally came to a rest in the parking lot of my office after 45 minutes of various over- and underpasses. I desperately pulled out the handheld to see if by some miracle, fate had reversed its verdict. The timeline was running perhaps 40 tweets per minute. All full of the same information, links to some sheer insanity. The rescue operation hindered, the charred bodies beyond recognition, and the reporters as usual breathlessly uttering gibberish. In sum, another show. The hyperventilated trying to suck the air out of the viewers. Trying to break the relatives of the victims into many pieces, with their so-called ‘breaking news’.
I often wonder what is more important. People’s ‘right to know’ or the media’s ‘right to show’. The burnt remains, the images of mayhem, people looting the dead like some hungry vultures. What great ratings can any channel achieve by such gory images? Even if theirs is the first one to blast it on the idiot box, what great thing did they achieve?

The engine oil for our so-called ‘independent media’ is frenzy and sensation. Of course, many people have opined on the lack of proper media and journalistic ethics as the primary reason behind such madness. However, this does not need any of the aforementioned explanations. This is humanity 101. Be respectful of the departed and their loved ones by not displaying the dead in such an unimaginable state. Do to others what you expect for yourself. No sensitivity or ethics training required. No one teaches this in any school — this is the unwritten rule that we follow as human beings, no matter what part of the world we belong to. Period.

Remember we are a reactive nation. Do a lot of talking. This is what makes us feel important. No wonder why we are suckers for such situations. Without having the foggiest idea of how the aircraft functions, we have to lay the blame on someone. It is the government, the late pilot or some unseen force. Someone has to be blamed right now, right this minute, so we can satisfy our urge to blame. So we can move on to the next issue and continue this rather ‘constructive cycle’.

‘Cabin crew prepare for landing.’ These are the words my ears want to hear anytime I am on a flight, no matter where I am headed. I am sure the passengers on that ill-fated flight must have heard that announcement too. What went wrong after that, of course only a thorough investigation will reveal. But our make-believe analysts and specialists have rendered all kinds of verdicts. The actual reason for the crash will emerge soon. There will be calls for reforms, the compensation promises for the bereaved and perhaps a suo motu by the apex court, the ultimate stop for every buck that has to stop somewhere. The families of the 127 victims shattered forever and there are barbs flying about, e.g. who issued the licence to the beleaguered airline. If seeing is believing, then yes, one can see where this is headed, all based on previous disasters of this nature. Perhaps, a couple of years later, the matter will be buried exactly where the victims are buried...all to give the poor souls some much-needed company.

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