ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani television is screening what many call its most controversial content yet in a ruthless quest for ratings: a talk-show host who gives away babies live on air.
Aamir Liaquat Hussain, a bespectacled 41-year-old who is one of Pakistan’s most popular talk-show hosts, gave away two abandoned infant girls to childless families last month and plans to give away a baby boy this week.
“If we didn’t find this baby, a cat or a dog would have eaten it,” Hussain proclaimed during one broadcast, before presenting a tiny girl wrapped in pink and red to her new parents. The audience erupted in applause.
During his marathon broadcasts, Hussain cooks, interviews clerics and celebrities, entertains children and hosts game shows. He usually gives prizes such as motorcycles, cellphones and land deeds to audience members who answer questions about Islam.
But at the beginning of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, Hussain astonished Pakistan when he presented two families with infants.
“We were told that we had passed all the interviews and had been selected to adopt a baby,” said Riaz Uddin, 40, an engineer. “We got our baby on live TV.”
The abandoned babies were rescued by the Chhipa Welfare Association, a Pakistani aid organization.
“In a day or two, the next baby will be given away, God willing,” its head, Ramzan Chhipa, said Thursday.
While the Chhipa teams scour garbage dumps and other sites for discarded newborns, Hussain also is appealing for babies directly.
“If any family cannot afford to bring up their newborn baby due to poverty or illness, then instead of killing them, they should hand over the baby to Dr Aamir,” a notice on his Web site reads. The children would be given to deserving couples on air, the notice says.
The show’s producers did not return calls seeking comment. It was not clear whether poor families wishing to keep their children would also be helped.
Many Pakistanis expressed disgust that abandoned babies were being given away in what they consider an attempt to boost ratings. Chhipa insisted that thousands of people want a baby and that all potential parents were properly vetted.
The true outrage, he said, is the poverty forcing families to abandon children.
Hussain’s show is one of many such broadcasts. The Pakistani media have flourished over the past decade or so following the liberalization of the industry, particularly broadcasting, after decades of tight state control, and hosts routinely compete to be the most outrageous.