Pakistani TV cameras slowly start rolling again with new coronavirus guidelines 

This photograph taken on October 18, 2017, shows Pakistani actress Fatiam Shah Jeelani (C) and actor Imran Ashraf filming the drama serial 'Mein Maa Nahi Banna Chahti' (I Don't Want To Become A Mother) in Karachi. (AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2020

Pakistani TV cameras slowly start rolling again with new coronavirus guidelines 

  • Pandemic has hugely disrupted the entertainment industry worldwide and many popular television shows have had to suspend production
  • Heads of major Pakistani networks say production has slowly resumed since June with strict coronavirus safeguards in place

KARACHI: Heads of major TV networks have said they have resumed, or plan to soon resume, shooting new projects after filming was largely halted in mid-March to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The pandemic has hugely disrupted the entertainment industry worldwide and many popular television shows have had to suspend production.

In Pakistan, too, production of new TV shows was halted around March, and major networks have since shown reruns of old shows or used content that had been shot before the pandemic began.

The shooting of several on-air series, like Sabaat, Meherposh, Kashf and Raaz e Ulfat, was not yet wrapped up when the pandemic hit in March. Similarly, Hum TV’s Ramazan-special series featuring Osman Khalid Butt, Mira Sethi and Youtuber Arslan Naseer did not air because the shoot was incomplete.

Since June, however, heads of major networks say production was slowly resuming with extensive coronavirus testing, daily symptom checks and other safeguards in place to allow actors and crew members to safely return to work.

Sultana Siddiqui, President of Hum TV, told Arab News that given that more people were indoors due to the coronavirus and thus had more time to watch TV, her network was planning to resume production on a smaller scale, with fewer people on set and social distancing measures in place. 

Jarjees Seja, the CEO of ARY Digital, said many of the network’s shoots had to be pushed forward because the artists had been infected with the coronavirus.

One such serial was the on-air ‘Mera Dil Mera Dushman,’ whose shooting had to be halted as the lead actor Yasir Nawaz contracted COVID-19. Shooting had resumed since mid June, Seja said, though he admitted that new safety measures would mean slower productions and less TV shows.

 “The criteria of planning, production and results would be entirely different from the previous one,” he said.

He declined to give a figure for losses faced by the drama industry or his channel but said ARY’s losses were less than the network had estimated.

Geo Entertainment Managing Director Shadab Tayyab said the network had only resumed 20-25 percent of its shoots, adding that actors were suffering the most.

“The established actors are safe for a while but the emerging actors will be in a difficult situation if they don’t get work for a longer period,” he said.

TV One’s Seema Tahir said fresh production had started at a “slow pace” but would pick up properly after August or September with strict coronavirus-related guidelines to ensure the safety of actors and crew.

She said the pandemic would require networks and production houses to undergo a “paradigm shift” in the story lines they pursued, and fewer productions would be the new reality.

“In this new setup, if we have to work with fewer locations and cast, the story lines of present day dramas would become irrelevant,” Tahir said. “If in real life, we will no longer be doing big events like wedding functions, it would be inappropriate to show them in dramas.”


Political parties, army chief agree military ‘intervenes’ in politics but only at government’s request — opposition 

Updated 23 September 2020

Political parties, army chief agree military ‘intervenes’ in politics but only at government’s request — opposition 

  • Opposition politicians confirm discussing army’s ‘interference’ in politics with army chief at meeting last week
  • Army intervenes because “civilians provided the military this space, sought the army’s help,” PMLN’s Khawaja Asif says 

ISLAMABAD: Opposition politicians have said this week that they discussed the issue of the all-powerful military’s interference in Pakistani politics at a meeting with the army chief last week where General Qamar Javed Bajwa and all parliamentary parties agreed that the army had intervened in the past but only when requested by civilian governments. 
The September 16 meeting with Bajwa has generated much controversy in Pakistan and was attended by at least 15 opposition leaders, including Shehbaz Sharif, Khawaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Sherry Rehman from the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, the Aawami National Party’s Amir Haider Hoti, and others. The head of Pakistan’s military-run ISI spy agency was also present at the meeting.
Pakistan’s powerful military has ruled the country for more than half of its history, and sets defence and security policy. It has in the past denied meddling in politics.
During the current army chief’s tenure, the military has been accused by opposition politicians of electoral manipulation, meddling in politics, suspension of civil liberties and muzzling the media. The military has denied all counts.
But at the meeting last week, Bajwa admitted that the army had meddled in politics, but only at the behest of civilian politicians and governments, at least three opposition politicians interviewed by Arab News said. 

The army's media wing did not respond to detailed queries from Arab News sent via email.
“The gist of the army chief’s entire conversation was that in Pakistan, historically … whenever the military interfered - he [the army chief] gave his point of view - it happened because civilians provided the military this space, and sought the army’s help against each other,” Khawaja Asif, a senior leader of the PMLN and a former defence minister, said in a TV interview. 
“There was consensus among all people [at the meeting] that politicians ceded territory [to the army], themselves invited the army,” he added.
Asif said the “consensus point of view” at the meeting, which the army chief agreed to and reiterated, was that in Pakistan’s history, “all components of the power structure have committed excesses, which includes politicians, establishment, the army, bureaucracy, courts, media.”
“This is a territorial dispute between different power centers and we should sit down under one roof and resolve it,” the former defence minister said, saying that the solution should be based on rule of law and the constitution. 
“The territorial boundaries, according to the constitution: it is important to determine them,” he said. 
Asif said the September 16 meeting was requested by the military to discuss the issue of the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of disputed Kashmir to China. In recent weeks, government officials have said Pakistan plans to declare the region a fifth province, a proposal which has unnerved neighbouring India with which Pakistan has a territorial dispute over the Kashmir valley. 
Asif said it was PPP senator Sherry Rehman who raised the issue at the meeting that the prime minister should have been present at a huddle at which a “legal and constitutional” issue such as making Gilgit-Baltistan a new province was being discussed. 
“From here, the direction of the meeting, the discussion, changed, and went in the direction of why does the army have to interfere … basically politicians provide this space… the discussion went into this direction,” Asif said. “And the prime minister’s absence became a kind of testimony, that if the prime minister had been here, if prime minister had taken charge of things, then the army chief or the military would not have had to call parliamentary leaders to discuss this but the issue [of Gilgit-Baltistan] would have just been discussed in a committee room in parliament.”
Senator Sherry Rehman confirmed to Arab News that she had raised the issue of the prime minister’s absence at the meeting with the army chief. “Why was this meeting not convened at the PM House,” she said she had asked the meeting’s participants. 
PMLN politician Ahsan Iqbal also said the army chief had called the meeting because the prime minister refused to sit down with the opposition or discuss Gilgit-Baltistan in parliament. 
“The prime minister is continuously refusing to sit with the opposition,” he told Arab News. “How can the system work this way?”
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, minister for railways, quoted the army chief at the meeting as saying the army was bound to respond “positively” when an elected government requested them for help. 
Senior journalist and head of Hum News, Mohammad Malick, said politicians often “dragged” the military leadership into political issues. 
“Why do politicians go to the military instead of using forums like parliament, media and judiciary?” he asked. “When you will take an issue to a state institution, then the institution will definitely give its viewpoint and suggest a preferred course of action.”
He said parliamentarians should have the courage to take ‘big decisions’ instead of looking towards the military for support. 
“The military does intervene in many areas, but it doesn’t mean that it intervenes in each and every issue,” Malick said. “We can’t blame them for the sins they haven’t committed.”