February 22, 2012 marks the second year of DawnNews channel’s language switch from English to Urdu. As Pakistan’s first news English language TV channel, it began its test transmission on May 25, 2007. It was an exciting time when the buzz started to filter around that Dawn Newspaper was going to launch an English news channel. The newspaper having made its name for its progressive and liberal views, some naïve observers and readers felt that it would give a tough time to its competitor Geo which had resorted to Hitlersque sensationalism in the form of anti-India and anti-West propaganda by bringing forth a counter narrative.
It attracted bright editors, writers and reporters to its new venture with ridiculously high compensation packages and a workplace so swanky that some of the staff members who may have earlier worked in its decrepit and bland newspaper building would have pinched themselves for their unbelievable good luck.
Two years down the line one is hard pressed to recall any of its landmark programmes but one does remember its anchorpersons and hosts whose English accents were as diverse as spoken across the social spectrum of any country. Ali Mustafa with his booming Shakespearan theatrical voice, Naveen Naqvi for her monotonous delivery, Saima Mohsin with her heavily accented Brit English, Hasan Abdullah for his pretentious Brit-American twang and Wajahat S Khan with his bombastic Americanised vocal chords…
As I am writing this I can now recall some of its programmes: the incredibly pointless and boring “Enter the Prime Minister” helmed by Hameed Haroon who with his verbal diarrhea coupled with high-brow English vocab (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH9O7awEPh0) made a potentially good programme into an epic disaster. The overall format of the show reminded one of those tiresome seminars and conferences that one attends voluntarily or involuntarily where one is assaulted by dull as dishwater speakers. “Newseye” produced and hosted by Saima Mohsin was a fairly decent talk show that was occasionally helmed by the able substitute host Razeshta Sethna (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2ZbAtS–ck.
Then there was The First Blast, a morning show that felt more like a corporate marketing show with two extremely bland hosts Amina and Mariam. Also there was the unforgettable Wajahat S Khan with his interview programme TalkBack whereby he asked even the most innocuous of questions as if he was accusing them of a criminal misdemeanor (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cz0vsBqvc4s). No Reservations hosted by the serial marrying woman Ayesha Alam Khan was kind of blah because the guests were kind of blah.
Within an extremely short span of three years, the channel started to sink so fast that uncharacteristically for the media group it fired about a 100 of its employees. Then one heard through the grape vine that the channel was going to shut down as it was undergoing a loss of 5 crore rupees a day or a month, depending on who you were speaking to.
But from February 2010 onwards, billboards announcing new programmes in Urdu Language started to appear in Karachi. Some old programmes with their hosts transitioned into Urdu such as The First Blast with Sonia Rehman Qureshi, who had earlier replaced Amina and Mariam during the English phase. Ayesha Alam’s No Reservations too was allowed to be broadcast in Urdu but my god if people make fun of Meera’s English then Ayesha Alam too is guilty of assaulting Urdu in her show. A taste of fusion with Poppy Agha also made the cut and luckily for her continues to this day.
As for the quality of news unfortunately it has become just like any other news channel in Urdu today. Their first headline too can be about Veena Malik’s nude photograph in an Indian publication or Aishwariya Rai giving birth to her first child or Salman Khan sneezing in Katrina Kaif’s face and relegating important political news to somewhere down the list. The channel also lured the popular Aaj TV anchorperson and news director Syed Talat Hussain with apparently a lucrative pay packet. His show News Night with Talat hardly registers with the viewers in my opinion but I could be wrong too. After he published his disgusting column on Angeline Jolie, he lost a few more fans including myself. Some female anchorpersons reading out the news have the voice quality and demeanor of a mouse and while some such as Sophia Jamal who now has her own show Kab Tak has taken anchoring to a new level of obnoxiousness. Café pyala has done a wonderful post on it: http://cafepyala.blogspot.com/2011/11/you-are-not-story.html
A sad, sad regression indeed…