WHO declared coronavirus a pandemic on 11 March 2020, as the virus continued to spread across the globe. The death toll continues to rise with no immediate vaccine in sight. The organisation has released guidelines that are advised to be implemented and followed by anyone and everyone in a country that has been hit by the virus.

The pandemic forced governments to take extreme measures despite the foreseen catastrophic effects on the economy. A country-wide lockdown was the only solution in sight to slow down the virus and ‘flatten the curve’. Many governments did show a great deal of reluctance and delay in following suit, fearing the immense burden of the ripple effects of such a lockdown would cause.

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Pakistan’s already fragile economy would suffer but a lockdown of sorts was brought in place eventually. Unfortunately, the lockdown could not prevent the congregation and enforce effective social distancing protocols, with many simply turning a blind eye to the gravity of the situation and some simply out of helplessness of their worsening financial state.

The government, public figures, and media came together to spread public service messages on prevention measures emphasizing staying indoors. While almost every business at some point has faced closure, TV channels [ majority of them being news channels], remained operational due to the nature and demand of their business.

However, some late-night shows (or what some like to call them) ‘comedy’ shows continue their production with careful placement of hand sanitizers on props ensuring they are in that master shot. They maintain distance which isn’t exactly 6 feet but at least they have stopped the free cheers coming in from the live studio audience. Come to think of it, it wasn’t a selfless sacrifice but actually a directive issued of PEMRA.

The late-night shows have been joined by the heavily endorsed Ramzan transmissions, which could not be halted even by a pandemic. Before Ramzan began, transmission announced a change in format by making teams. It was assumed that everyone will be heading their teams virtually, but the exact opposite happened.

The makers got together to decide what can be done to fill in the studio audience void and someone in the meeting room had an epiphany. While we are already putting the host at risk why should he go down alone? Let’s bring in more people to his existing entourage and that too celebrities, they shall join the comrade in this noble cause! Huzzah!

Most shows have almost 6 people on the screen whereas the technical crew continuing the daily hustle behind the scenes. There are no masks and at times no gloves in sight. Some are even seated dangerously close to each other. What is ironic is how this small party brings up COVID-19 and states examples or narrates personal experiences about how they advocated social distancing but the other person ignored these warnings. Well, can you blame them?

It is almost bizarre to see them go on air and one wonders whether PEMRA is going to sit this one out?

Television itself is a mass-consumed medium, the situation itself is concerning, but what is more concerning is the influence that the continuation of such shows will have. Every day among the regulars of the shows, there are some celebrity guests invited as well. The very same celebrities who are seen advocating social distancing and quarantine. One cannot help but pause and think about the contradictory message they are sending across. It won’t be an understatement to say that such behavior may encourage fans to be just as reckless. They may think if they can dress up and appear on a TV show amidst a pandemic then we might as well drop by our friend’s house for a scrumptious Iftar.

They say follow what you preach, it is high time someone holds up a mirror to these ‘heroes’ willing to put their lives at risk for sake of ‘entertainment’.

Media not only has an influence but also a responsibility as to what message is being sent across. In a growing health crisis, many international regular shows have moved production to the comfort of their homes making full use of technology that is very much attainable and approachable to media houses here in Pakistan.

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In fact what is interesting is that many digital platforms, that are shoved under the category of content creators/bloggers, have actually proven to be “woke”. They have followed suit and adapted but our conventional TV channels fail to part with their bright-lit big-budget sets. If this is not the time to adapt, I am not sure when will it be.

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