Media – a false hope?
December 9, 2009 § 17 Comments
Democracy has been without much luck in Pakistan ever since the Partition. So often has it been derailed and resumed over time that a major faction even doubts it to be viable enough a solution for this nation of some seventeen million mortals. And perhaps not without reason.
A lot has already been said and read over the contributing factors to such democratic anarchy that has marred the hopes of this ‘land of pure.’ For long, the verdict has rested upon external influences on or interferences into the political setup, primarily that of the army. And of course, white house signals often concluding the democratic battles here also make a fine issue for public debate, not quite without logic and historical evidence to it.
However, such theories, prophecies and proclamations regarding the failure to sustain a democratic political outfit have been as diverse as they can be – and as dissenting. And one may not be surprised if an obdurate despondency is expressed as to the fate of democracy in Pakistan. Nevertheless, there’s been hope of late and that hope came from none but the two solid pillars that constitute the state – judiciary and the media.
To use a frank flavor, the judiciary rather arose out of a notorious anonymity when Mr. Musharraf stroke at the heart of it – the moment was decisive in that it paved the future, or the immediate future, of the power of judiciary in national affairs and the role it was to play in them. A fine final settlement, of course, with the eventual restoration of the deposed Chief Justice, thus surrendering to the will of the masses and black coats. For now, it seems that judiciary is at least playing a far better role that our national history has formerly assumed to it. And one can only hope that this state of affairs improves with time.
Coming to the other column, I feel bit too overwhelmed. Such has been the bumpy ride of the national media that one is quite appalled at a first glance. Back in the days of PTV supremacy, things were as simple as they could have been, with the only channel being a spokesperson of the government. It simply was a tool to propagate the official policies and the viewers were doomed to an hourly ‘hakomat-nama.’ However, amid other things, media freedom and a gift of many new channels and FM stations, we do owe to Mr. Musharraf.
The inception of such freedom of air waves remarked an entire new era in the journalism of Pakistan. Hopes were high and the change was a grand one in that it allowed viewers to have a different taste of things, apart from the official flavor. This, consequently, ingrained more realism and less officially-spewed idealism into the minds of common masses. Things started to clear and facts really were brought to light.
However, ever since the inception of this new medium, the new-found freedom media had gained also contained a darker side. And that of course was the notorious use of this liberty of expression. Well was it put to use during the movement to reinstall CJ and the entailing lawyers’ movement. And the civil mobility only triggered further by watching displays of activism through private TV channels’ coverage. In a post-Musharraf era, things really have change a lot. Both media and judiciary emerged triumphant and to both, was finally given the power to do what they were to.
Sadly though, it is unfortunate to note that media went on to misuse this power greatly. While ideological alignment is one thing and none can deny that right to a media outlet. A newspaper or a media outlet me be leftist, rightist, centrist or liberal, whatever it chooses to be. However, at the same time, this shouldn’t rip that particular organization of reporting the truth and giving rational analysis. Being rightist, then, doesn’t mean to look from all the vile acts of the right-wing organizations and being left doesn’t mean the same for the left. In fact, media is a tool of the society to reprimand those who cross the line and if that doesn’t help, instigate the public to take a stand against them – but even in that, the media is bound to base everything upon facts and facts alone.
When we look to the TV channels at home, we’re rather astounded to find the regular straying from this doctrine. Conspiracy theories are the most popular notion to capture the audiences with and facts barely find any space in the prevalent media culture. It’s all the more sad since this gives birth to many different views, all based in empty air and none on solid ground, and some of them being capable of resulting in drastic consequences.
Take, for instance, the Lal Masjid episode. While before the operation against the LM brigade, media kept insisting for such an operation. Even when knowing the stats and having done its arithmetic on number of students within that facility, media persuaded the government for such an operation. And when the inevitable, both in the form of the operation and bloodshed, happened, media was all cries. Is it not a clear hypocrisy on the part of the media?
Same stands true for the recent saga of terrorism who’s reign is stretched all across our nation. Watch as many channels you may, you barely ever hear a categorical declaration of the fact that Talibans are the ones doing it all. Media anchors, the guest that are called to a show and the final verdict, all are heavily clouded with conspiracy theories, with no evidence or sane logic to it. And the result, as is obvious, is that the public too largely dwells in this mood of pretension and denial. While media would have been a very effective tool in making people realize their mistake in the sympathies they formerly extended to Taliban, it’s playing a diametrically opposite role.
While that’s on issue, media also has recently earned notoriety for taking things personal against certain personnel. For now, it’s the President against whom a channel has simply launched a campaign. I am no fan of Mr. Zardari and my sympathies certainly go to better fellow but the fact is, without any proof, the leveling of so extensive an opposition against the president is simply the result of his criticism of this very channel, which in itself is famous for media maneuvers and has a rather well-bred brigade of conspiracy theorists.
What remains for us to wonder, then, is that who is to stop them? It’s also a simple, calculated fact that money, resources or political will or all three could affect both the policy and reporting of a private TV channel. And that should be a state concern since a private channel having it’s bearing upon a considerable number of viewers is something to be looked to. This then brings us down to the media ordinance which drew a lot of debate through all media watchdogs and opposition from nearly all of them. The saner outlets favored such an ordinance only when it really did a watching over without barring the freedom of expression or speech in any way. And that’s exactly what we need today.
We need such media regulations which may watch out for any political-motivated or monetary influence exerted upon any media channel to direct its energies in a certain direction. Of course that can’t be implemented without the judiciary and it has to be an active aid in this regard. Moreover, the media also need be reminded that it’s a fact-finding machine of the society, not one which may shape people’s opinions through its own ‘expert analysis.’ That, in itself, is a violation of media’s duties – more so when based entirely upon assumptions and theories.