Pakistan’s Islamic fundamentalists and religious conservatives will likely turn purple over the emergence of a new reality television music and dance talent show, “Pakistan Idol,” which is based on wildly popular similar programs in India, Europe, the U.K. and the U.S.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Pakistani youths have already lined up to audition for the show near the Beach Luxury Hotel in the coastal metropolis of Karachi. A young lady hopeful, 25-year-old Asma Naz, traveled four hours from the city of Mirpur Khas in central Sindh province to wow the judges. Thousands more have auditioned for the show in other parts of the country. “I have always wanted to be a singer,” she said. “I saw ‘Indian Idol’ and got the inspiration to take part. When I heard there was going to be a ‘Pakistan Idol’ I was very excited.” Naz, who hopes to impress the judges by singing a ballad made famous by a Bollywood film, added: “My friends tease me because I always sing, but they know it is my dream.”
However, things like “Pakistan Idol” are deeply resented by an increasingly vocal segment of the public who equate such programs as cultural pollution, and -- even worse – as forms of Western, Indian and Jewish “propaganda.” Much of their rancor is focused on Pakistan’s Geo TV, the private television network that broadcasts many programs conservatives find troubling and even destructive. Geo, one of the largest and most popular channels in Pakistan, was founded in 2002, after former President Pervez Musharraf opened up state-controlled media to private firms.
Geo is well aware of security threats directed at it -- and in a country with a plethora of violent militant groups and near-constant political and sectarian violence (including suicide bombings), such dangers are not to be taken lightly. “We are now more prepared to handle the situation,” Saad Bin Mujeeb, director of content and productions at Geo-TV, told the Journal.
But part of the national mood may be turning against such ‘foreign’ imports and other ideas deemed ‘corrupt.’ Indeed, in August, the nation’s telecommunications regulator banned cell phone companies from providing late-night bundled discounts to customers over fears that young people were secretly communicating with each other for the purposes of having “illicit relations.” Some, usually young women and girls, have even been beaten or killed for such doing things and singing and dancing, which Islamic fundamentalists condemn as “haram” (forbidden and sinful).
But Geo TV’s Mujeeb is hopeful that the “Idol” show will highlight Pakistan’s rich musical culture and heritage. “We’ve seen everything from a street sweeper in Multan to the son of a landowner and politician in Faisalabad [audition for ‘Idol’],” he said. “There are still people now who doubt that the show will happen. There is disbelief that this kind of show can happen in Pakistan. I say, why not?”
Some Pakistanis are also enraged by other programs on Geo-TV that they consider “soft porn,” particularly shows featuring scantily clad Bollywood starlets and news programs that they believe are “pro-Indian.” In fact, in 2010, Geo TV formed a joint peace initiative with Indian media behemoth Times of India called “Aman Ki Asha” (Hope for Peace) to bring people from the two hostile neighbors closer together. This arrangement raised many red flags in Pakistan.
Despite the high ratings that Geo-TV generally generates, some Pakistanis have taken to social media to blast the network, calling for its removal from the airwaves. “Madeeha,” a 19-year-old girl in Islamabad, told BBC that Geo displays too much "nudeness" and also "promotes Indian culture.”
Geo-TV has also been accused of having formal links to the Indian government. Other Pakistani bloggers claim Geo-TV is part of an international conspiracy to destroy Islamic values.
A Facebook account called “Geo TV Exposed” makes a number of startling allegations, including a charge that the network is likely under the control of the U.S., Jews and Israel and dedicated to spreading propaganda against Pakistan and Islam. “[The Pakistani] government should get a heart and just close down this propaganda machine of Geo,” the blog stated. “Nobody in the masses will shed a tear for them.” The blogger maintains, among other things, that Geo-TV purposely reports bad news about Pakistan in order to dissuade foreign investments in the country and that it is devoted to the “Indianization” of Pakistan. He also questions the loyalty of Geo-TV presenters and claims the network does not report on “bad” news about India, including poverty, acts of terror and separatist movements there.
Another blogger, whose words appear on Pakistan Defence Blog, alleges that Geo-TV seeks to malign and destabilize Pakistan for nefarious purposes. “Geo TV is providing [an] ample base to [the] Indian-led propaganda machine that Pakistan should be attacked like Iraq or Afghanistan,” the blog charges. “How long we will fool ourselves [until we] see this [as an] Indian propaganda mouthpiece?”
Yet another Pakistani blogger ascribed dark motivations to Geo-TV’s content and news dissemination. “Geo TV is responsible for maligning Pakistan and its institutions,” the blogger wrote, adding that it helped to “rig” the recent elections that brought Nawaz Sharif back to power. “India always blames Pakistan and [uses] Pakistan for negative purposes but Geo still wants normal relations with India?,” he asked rhetorically. “It is just because they are getting funding from India?”
The angry blogger also accused Geo-TV of seeking to promote Indian culture at the expense of Pakistani’s own customs as a way of weakening and corrupting the nation’s youth. “Geo TV continues to destabilize Pakistan and … [are] encouraging India to raise a war against Pakistan and giving India an open corridor in Afghanistan to let its army fight with Pakistan.”