Not many television shows in this country are known for the civility of discourse. Extended yelling matches, accusations of corruption and murder, physical threats and attacks on women’s moral character have all been fair game in the race for ratings for our news channels. And with reports emerging that Pakistanis are watching 10 percent less television than in 2015, it is unlikely that things will change soon. Last weekend a representative of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in the Punjab, Dr Shahbaz Gill, directly accused Asma Shirazi, a widely respected journalist of being critical of his party because she was a “hardcore supporter” of their opponents, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). To her credit, the show’s host played her role well by immediately rebuking the PTI government representative’s statement. Regardless, he maintained that being able to throw around accusations like this is a part of freedom of speech, and that he had done nothing wrong. It should also be pointed out hear that since Dr Gill was making unfounded accusations against a journalist for being critical of his party, if anyone was attacking freedom of speech, it was the representative himself. His conduct was all the more distasteful considering he was representing the party in government. This is why greater responsibility lies with the political parties for using such tactics in their campaigns. The incumbent PTI in particular threw around numerous accusations of corruption and disloyalty against the state in the years leading up to the General Elections 2018. It is high time the party begins to change its tactics and it can begin by condemning this latest incident. PEMRA should also take notice of this incident and come up with a plan to minimise such incidents from transpiring in future, if not eliminating them altogether. After all, the authorities have taken needless measures to limit or ban the airing of content that they feel is against national culture. Then why not come up with a plan to do what falls well within the regulator’s mandate: to counter the toxicity of evening news shows, considering the effects are already palpable in the country’s political discourse? Journalistic standards will never improve as long as media houses can use verbal spats and baseless conspiracies to spice up their otherwise dull news shows. * Published in Daily Times, February 7th 2019.