Never a dull moment, is there? I occupy the blessedly cosy niche of the print journalist—one is represented by one’s words, and there is a security to that. One needn’t be jumping through hoops to get attention, but be more occupied with dodging the editor’s pen. Our broadcast media, particularly television, seems to have no such security, dignity or, at the least, any ethics. This week has seen footage of a Geo news reporter making the rounds on the internet as she grills an orphan toddler about his murdered mother. My own toddler is about that age, and the sight of this little boy weeping huge tears for his mama made every mother-hackle I possess rise in rage and disgust. It has also given us the insanity of another reporter actually lying down in Edhi sahab’s grave. A pause to consider this. A full-grown, very much alive man, lying inside a grave. On national television. And not just any old grave, the final resting place of one of the country’s finest men. It makes me wistful for the good old days of PTV and, if you twisted your antenna right, Doordarshan and NTM and STN after five o’clock. It might have been controlled by the state and utterly one-sided but it was also the days of Ainak Wala Jinn and Fifty-Fifty and all those amazing Hasina Moin drama serials. We never had to see the nice khabarnama lady screaming down a microphone at an equally hysterical on-site reporter, bawling questions back and forth about the situation unfolding at the Place of News.

When President Dictator Musharraf opened up the Free Media, nobody could have imagined what we were going to end up with. Geo and its nauseating little GIFs that accompany most of their news bulletins, not to mention that infuriating Mister Jeem, who should never meet me in a dark alley. The intrusive cameras—I’ll never forget the mêlée outside Wasim Akram’s house in the days following his first wife Huma’s demise, with cameras zooming in on the curtained windows of his house, hoping for a glimpse inside. And a glimpse of what? The pain of two boys who have lost their mother? The tears of bereaved relatives? Morbid and disgusting don’t even begin to describe it. And then the gems of this week—one doesn’t know where to look. Between a team shamelessly perpetuating the emotional abuse of a child and another team making a mockery of another’s family grief, the monumental crassness of what passes for “news” in Pakistan is beyond shocking.

Who sanctioned these stories? Who was the producer, the assistants, the cameramen? Who on earth would consider “let’s put a reporter inside Edhi sahab’s grave” as a story worth spending money, time and airwaves on? Someone did, obviously. Someone was pitched the idea of sending someone—preferably a lady reporter, because you know kiddies like women—to an Edhi orphanage to interview a little boy. Someone off camera in the recording can be heard telling the child to cry more. This wasn’t just one renegade reporter gone mental, it was an entire team behind the camera who was fully aware and complicit with what they were doing: emotionally torturing a child for ratings. To get people to watch, in horror or morbid fascination, as a reporter holds a mobile phone up to a baby’s ear and goads him to ask for his mother, who we well know is never, ever coming back for him. Say it, she urges. Say ‘come back Mama’. And he does, this defenseless tiny boy with tears rolling down his face, because a bunch of grownups have forced him to, as they record it all. They tape his grief and fright and pain. What happened in Kasur with those sex offenders was terrible, but this is no less horrifying either. This is another shade of the same exploitation, in the name of ‘journalism’.

What is most upsetting and disappointing is that this kind of yellow journalism is practiced across the board, and by news channels that all portray themselves as serious ones. The same broadcast houses that cover serious news, like terrorist attacks and the budget in one breath will have photo montages of Indian film stars in the next, complete with fruity soundtrack. There is no distinction between serious issues and idiotic, irrelevant gossip. The primetime news will have price hikes, loadshedding and Qandeel Baloch all lumped together with equal importance. After that is the talk-show parade, a string of programmes that would be better off on National Geographic as documentaries on how loons behave when domesticated. Where is the brain? Where is the heart? Where is the analysis, the wonderful and serious quest for truth that these channels purport to be delivering via their stern-faced, cross-armed talk show hosts?

It all boils down to ratings, and maximising the number of people who will choose to watch your news channel over the fifty other ones that are vying for the attention of a finite audience. Unfortunately, instead of this competition sifting the wheat from the chaff and resulting in some news channels becoming really stellar, BBC and Al-Jazeera level news outlets, it’s only somehow created a gigantic pool of just wheat. I am a staunch believer in setting a high bar, and also in the intelligence of the average joe. News channels basically underestimate their audience when they think all people want to see is either the morbid or the salacious. That is not true. We want news, we want proper insight and analysis delivered by intelligent, calm and well-spoken individuals. Christiane Amanpour has reported from scores of war zones but catch her ever screaming down a video-link. Here we can’t even send a reporter to the post office without them howling like banshees. Has it never occurred to anyone to say no? That this is going too far, and they won’t be a part of a story like that? And why blame just reporters, they are only the end of a long chain of other people who decide the stories and the way they should be communicated. This is all down on the producers and the people in charge who call the shots, and insult our intelligence by thinking this is the kind of rubbish we deserve to be watching. No thank you. I won’t be tuning in, and neither should you because if it’s all about the numbers, then that’s how we protest.