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Life & Politics

  • You Are For Sale: How Big Media Works & Where The Consumer Stands

    We live in the age of media.
    Be it television, print, or social media, we are directly connected to media outlets for most of the information we consume. 
    Human beings are a product of their experiences and as media consumers we are by and large the product of the information we consume, or more appropriately, the information that is fed to us. 
    This raises a few interesting questions. 
    Who is feeding us the information we consume?
    What type of information is being fed to us?
    How much, if any control we have over what we consume on a day to day basis?
    In this article I will try to explain a couple of important concepts that every consumer should know. These concepts will help clarify the relationship that exists between the media and the consumer.
    We are all aware of the names Geo TV, Dunya News, ARY, CNN, Aljazeera and the list goes on. On a daily basis we watch their programming, but while we are consuming their content, none of us are mindful that these media outlets are in fact for-profit corporations. These are not charitable organizations that provide news and entertainment merely out of the goodness of their heart, far from it, these are giant corporate behemoths that are strictly in the business of selling products and making money from it. 
    If these media outlets sell non-entertaining products that do not attract viewers, then just like any other business, soon they'll be out of operation. That's basic economics which isn't hard to understand. In an effort to attract more and more viewers, a lot of the content on these media outlets is sensationalized and overly juiced up which in itself is a whole another debate. 

    So, now that we've clarified this concept that all major media outlets are big "for-profit" corporations, the question is what do they sell and who buys it?

    In presenting news and entertainment including some juicy nonsense, media outlets have one main objective, that is, to turn us viewers into a loyal audience base. This loyal audience is in fact their product which they then sell to other parties which are (yup, you guessed right) large corporations just like themselves.

    With a slightly closer look, this entire cycle can be clearly seen at work.

    Audiences watches various tv channels and those tv channels are run by major corporations. These tv channels then sell the audiences (you and I) to advertisers which are again large corporations. These corporations pay the tv channels large sums of money to buy time and attention of the audiences. This is the advertising time slots that the corporations buy. In these time slots, they can sell you products, information, or propaganda etc.
    (((For media outlets like Geo TV, CNN etc, audiences is the product and other large corporations are the market where this product is sold.)))

    In a country like Pakistan, large corporate advertisers mostly advertise products, but in western markets, time slots are sold and purchased to further private agenda and even personal propaganda; a phenomena that can be widely seen during election campaigns.  (By the way, if this trend is not common in Pakistan now, shortly it will be). That is one of the reasons why an election cycle is one of the most profitable time for media outlets in the United States and that is one of the main reasons why an American presidential candidate who raises the most funds generally wins.

    So this cycle can be explained like this.

    Corporations (GEO, CNN etc) ---> Build Audiences To Sell --- > Corporations (Nestle, Coke etc) ----> Buy Audiences To Sell Them Products

    So there is a for-profit corporation on the left side in the above cycle and a for-profit corporation on the right side in the cycle, with the average consumer, the audience (you and I) sandwiched in the middle.

    In the midst of all of this is the powerful government with its plentiful resources which is driven by its own goals and motivations while being heavily influenced (lobbied and even possibly bribed) by large corporations.
    So, the average consumer is stuck in the middle of large for-profit corporate forces and the government which raises an interesting question.
    If large corporations are working for their profit and government which is heavily influenced by the same corporations is not interested in the well being of the masses, then who is looking out for the consumer?
    It turns out that the average consumer is quite powerless in all of this. While being the main driver of the economy, the 500 lb guerilla in the big economic picture, unfortunately the average consumer is the least empowered component of the economy. 
    There would be no government without the productivity, spending, and taxation of the masses, and there would be no large corporations if they don't have any masses to sell their products to. The large corporations seem to get bigger and bigger with time and so do the pockets of many people in the government. 
    Why then is the consumer, the average person, the most vital component of the economic equation left high and dry when it comes to reaping the rewards of the big economic wheel? 
    Who is looking out for the consumer?
    These are questions we must ask ourselves in addition to understanding our role in the overall scheme of things.
    There is a strong need for organization on part of the average citizens in order to get their voices heard. With organization and a unified voice missing, it become way too easy for the corporate powers and even the government to exploit and manipulate the masses any way they desire.
    So next time you watch TV and feel as if you are being programmed to do this or that and made to feel one way or the other, you may be on to something. It only helps to understand your role as a consumer because informed consumers and organized citizens are better able to look out for their interests when big corporations and even governments are busy looking after theirs.
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  • Baba's Love or Burden? Panama Leaks and the Sharif Conondrum

    While a situation such as the Panama leaks and the political quagmire that the Sharifs find themselves embroiled in makes for great theater as well as learning, it also brings some interesting questions to mind.
    For example, let's put ourselves in the shoes of a Sharif-Nextgen (young Sharifs) for a moment.
    Would you want your father to stash away hundreds of millions of dollars to "secure your future" and to build a family empire even if that involved committing corruption, or looting and plundering wealth that did not belong to you?
    The situation that Sharif-Nextgens find themselves in, with their beloved father fighting not only for his political future but also for the "reputation and respect" gained over decades; is this a situation they take lightly, or would they give something; anything; to get out of it? The answer is obviously the latter.
    The level of stress and threat to their empire that they are feeling now is unprecedented, and the Sharifs would probably give a lot to get out of the ugly mess they are in. It is not a pretty picture at all.
    That being said, while Panama leaks have shown that Sharifs own off-shore companies and have acquired properties abroad, any allegations of corruption against them are unproven at this point. Hopefully there will be due and proper investigations in the future which will reveal whether or not they are guilty of corruption and/or money-laundering etc. 
    Just as the great Tipu Sultan once said "To live like a lion for a day is far better than to live like a jackal for a hundred years", there is no doubt that a single day of life lived with dignity and honor, and your head held up high, is far greater than hundred years of life lived in shame, remorse, and guilt.
    So, here is an open message for all present fathers and fathers of the future. 
    Bring up your kids with less, but 'halal', and gift to them qualities of honor, dignity, and integrity that will open up the great possibilities of life for them. Do not risk their personal integrity and future reputation by brining them up on tainted resources that have the curse of corruption attached to them.
    It is not a coincidence that many great leaders of present and past came from humble backgrounds. Hailing from a humble background keeps you honest. You learn to work hard and earn your progress instead of being handed thrones and positions of great honor. Wrapping your kids with abundant and ill-gotten resources and depriving them of living examples of honor, dignity, and hard work shrinks the great and legitimate possibilities of life for them. 
    They are more likely to live their lives with a narrow mindset, shying away and detached from the real people who undergo tough struggles to earn their way to the top. More than likely, they will always feel 'out of place' with respect to the truly great and worthy people around them. 
    Sometimes it's not about the kids as much as it's about a parent. There are situations where a never-ending pursuit of wealth and resources on part of parents is a result of their own addiction with wealth and power. It's not as much about 'securing' their kids' future but to keep churning the money-making-machine and the multiple income streams they spent years of their life to build. The parent's ego and their lust for wealth and power makes them feel compelled to focus more on building an empire than to understand what their children's needs really are.  
    They fail to ask themselves the question as to how much is enough? Do you need, let's say, a 5th home to ensure a financially safe future for your kids or would you trade that 5th home for better guidance and an extra 50 minutes of quality time with them? 
    In an ideal environment, inculcating strong moral and ethical values and providing kids with a great role model should take more precedence than providing them with a fourth, fifth, or sixth property and an extra million dollars stashed in some remote foreign account. 
    Ignore grooming your kids at your own peril and give them more of what they need and not more of what you want. 
    While any allegations of wrong-doing on part of Sharifs are yet to be proven, if you are a Sharif-Nextgen and your name appears in documents that are tied to allegations of corruption and money laundering, then your political future looks rather bleak.
    It may not be an overstatement that with Panama leaks furore in full swing, and with a threat of more evidence to come, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the Sharif political dynasty. In the post-Panama Leaks era Sharif powerhouse will have an ever-diminishing leverage in Pakistani political landscape. Sometimes it's more a case of what's lost in the hearts and minds of the people than one's political skill and maneuverability. 
    Times are changing fast, and the informed masses of this rapidly evolving world appear less and less tolerant of repeat offenders of corruption whose dirty actions adversely impact their lifestyle. People are starting to see how this cycle works against them. 
    The naked truth is that any 'dirty' dollar sitting in a foreign bank account of a Pakistani politician was once a good dollar that could bolster Pakistan's economy and directly improve the life of the masses.
    As you watch the Panama Leaks unfold, be proud of your hard working father and go give him a hug. He may not be Nawaz Sharif the prime minister, but most likely he's a shareef person.
    And fathers, please be kind to your children. Give them little but give them 'halal', as tainted-wealth can only bring them 'zawal'.
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