Trapped in a 24-hour breaking news cycle
I was at dinner with successful and important friends. They were gathered, I believe, to generate humour desperately needed to combat the gloom thrust upon us by the relentless trivial pursuits overwhelming us. A renowned media mogul just back from a sojourn in the US asked the question, “Do you know who they are saying will destroy Pakistan?” The obvious answers were quickly voiced. He came back and said, “No; it’s the media!”
Let’s go from there. Looking at it from “their” point of view, I am in partial agreement. Superpowers are ferociously protected by their press; the country itself I mean. Most times blindly without giving a chance to any other point of view. Politicians and internal policies, however, are fair game. Here sadly our media is poisoning the very meat that is served up to us. Forget politicians or policies, the core of the country is being attacked. Every single thing is wrong with it. In between the lines and not subtly, it’s being portrayed as unsustainable.
Having spent considerable time in Bangladesh recently, a country that is fiercely nationalistic, I recall many instances when, while watching a Pakistani origin TV channel that I had to leave the room because it became embarrassing. It didn’t matter if they had a go at anyone, but bringing our country to ridicule is unforgivable. I raised this matter with a director of that channel on a plane from Dhaka. He mumbled and hawed.
Media here just does not see it. News, in terms of substance is no longer provided. Entertainment rules the roost. And willing bit players abound and are eager to give anything from voice quips to personal appearances. It would seem they have no other occupation or are bored to death. The star roles in most instances are the anchors’. They have all the answers and the opinions. The panel and content is designed to provide entertainment value. The advertising industry thrives along with their chosen channels. So while it is perhaps a financial ‘win-win’, it is destroying the country’s image.
There will probably never be a more significant time than today for this country to come together. The foreign media is unrelenting in denouncing Pakistan as a terrorist state, an unreliable ‘friend’ and so on and so forth. This is seriously biased one-sided commentary by the Western media, in specific, intended to create strife and put Pakistan in the doghouse. Cries for stopping aid, abandoning the friendship are gaining ground. Are we as an independent media in any way trying to combat this? If we are, I don’t see it. The opinions supporting the country in its vast battle are few and far between.
Rightist, even extremist elements get more than their fair share of coverage. Is this what we are all about? We certainly are encouraging people to believe this. Every day bombs burst around us, the innocent are butchered by our very own and yet not a single press report raises a voice against the perpetrators. Sure they report it because somehow they have got entangled in producing bloodthirsty ‘breaking news’. Politicians shout hoarse about drone attacks and arrange blockades and marches. Has anyone bothered to visit those families struck by tragedies, their innocent bread-earners killed? When the news dies, they too die.
I would say that both the media and the politicians are just making numbers. No one gives a fig about repercussions. To mislead and frighten the public and create rhetoric that is demeaning is the order of the day. Clearly there are no options available; intellectual discourse and mode of delivery are absent. So bring the government and, unfortunately, the country into the crosshairs. You can pick up the weapon but you also need to know how to fire. Can’t see that happening either. It’s just stray bullets bloodying the environment!
Two sovereign governments reached an agreement that serves both well but the media creates hype about the nature of the “apology”. Understand that negotiations are serious business. When after months of painful debate finally an erudite point man is found and reality allows a solution, there being limited options one must go for the best one. The press needs to rise in congratulation, not steep to dig the dirt.
I’ve been debating why Pakistanis appear to despise democracy. The record shows that unconstitutional governments have been accepted while democratic governments have not been allowed to freely prosper. When I posed this question, the unanimous response was “Delivery”. Perhaps you can add corruption, but at what cost? Granted Ayub’s was a positive decade, there was growth and stability. Yahya broke the country. Zia destroyed every institution, including posting the infamous 8th amendment that continues to dominate the constitution. Musharraf started well, eventually succumbing to power and destroying the economy. Agreed public uprising ousted two and one was a victim of the defeat. Zia, on the other hand, was a pure “Act of God”. He was heading nowhere; he was going to take Pakistan down, even more than he did.
I guess I would be stretching it if I also called for wisdom and sagacity. That is perhaps the most important requirement. Freedom of press, undoubtedly started by the phase of democracy preceding Musharraf and reinforced during his time, is a cherished gift. An independent judiciary is the same. Democratic governments are the source and ultimate protectors of the constitution. Unless they operate in unison and within their agreed structure Pakistan will continue to feed on poisoned meat.
The writer can be contacted at [email protected]