Scandalistan - Pakistan Today


In wag-the-dog country, everything is passé 

One of the great upsides of a decidedly, downside adventure that was Kargil was the birth of private media in Pakistan.

We may be still reaping the harvest of that madcap Musharraf mountaineering expedition — or so he conceived it — but the free wave that ensued changed the contours of the state beyond his wildest imagination.

In the end, it certainly bit the ‘feeding’ hand.

Last week, life seemed to have come a full circle however, and it was more than just Dunya turning upside down. That much abused term in a much abused land — trust deficit — is all the rage now.

What a spectacular turnaround this has been considering that the revolution was televised — remember those heady days of the lawyers movement, and the unsuspecting awam joining hands to herald Martin Luther kind of king-sized dreams?

The cocktail would have been far from intoxicating were it not for the media — every Pakistani’s darling then, save the minions of a dying dictator. Now he, of all Doubting Thomases, would be laughing his head off far from the madding crowd.

His bête noir — the judiciary and the media — as surely those of his successor found themselves in a right royal soup, which however, in some part hastened the fate of crime minister Gilani (the ‘p’ replaced by ‘c’ authored by the robes).

Much has been made out of Mehr Bokhari and Mubashir Lucman’s inglorious hour with stinging criticism over the damning role of the media — the general impression being that it is just as devilish as that of the next devil incarnate.

The subsequent release of unverified lists of the cream of TV anchors — some more creamy than others — at the receiving end of realtor Malik Riaz’s largesse has significantly raised the trust deficit.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What the self-incriminating ‘planted interview’ has done — notwithstanding the predictable contradictions rooted in afterthought — is to unwittingly tar the other, more self-respecting practitioners, with the same brush. That is the power and reach of the televised image for you! It has the inherent potential to create a mass perception regardless of merit.

It’s a moot point if the M duo will ever be able to live down the embarrassment particularly given how kinetic and eagle-eyed they appeared in grilling their guests for alleged corruption night after night on prime time. A thick hide may help to wade through but it’s a poor substitute for self-respect.

However, to lay the heap on them alone would not only be unfair but also holistically incorrect. Even though a broad investigation would be a helpful exercise, an unsuspecting Mubashir Lucman’s candid admission about who pressured him for the ‘planted interview’ in the damning off-air footage is a dead giveaway.

This necessarily brings into serious question the role of media owners and the integrity of their medium. Go further back on this arithmetic — this being no Pythagoras theorem — and you can make a decent guess of how all this is an old-fashioned game of vested interest.

Surely, some people in the higher echelons of power had something to gain in nudging a media magnate by arranging for a realtor — capable of buying his way out of most situations — to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at their common ‘enemy’.

It’s a full chain, and if not for the ‘screw-up’ — which even seems to be the realtor’s favourite pick (although less flamboyant in pronunciation) to describe his frustration at not getting relief he paid for — we would perhaps, be less suspecting of what goes on in la-la land.

The off-air brush with reality also lends itself to the unlovely imagination of how the media, which had assumed the rather comely status of being the last frontier for the powers-that-be, is not so holy after all.

The worst manifestation of this fiasco is not that some people have been caught with their pants down but the idea that the media as the much fancied voice of hoi polloi actually, has feet of clay.

Heavens know how much in need of hope this godforsaken nation is, and for the last frontier to become the first casualty of hope is a chastening thought.

Even the perception that the media can be bought — and it is much more pronounced in the realm of electronic since it remains the prime source of swift information — will prejudice the consumer towards the messenger as compromised. It’s a cinch the episode may have altered perceptions in a country where hearsay, innuendo and conspiracy theories are legion.

True to form, the other private TV channels immediately slipped into self-righteous mode. Interestingly, the one taking the most pot shots is also the one with the highest rankers on the unverified lists doing the rounds.

In this farce, there is an inescapable stench of envy permeating at how the thunder (Malik Riaz scoop) was stolen by a rival. Our private TV channels are, at the best of times, little more than jealous wives.

So what’s the bet this mini ‘Wikileak’, too, shan’t pass? With someone seriously wounded on the Constitution Avenue, one thing came to manifest like nothing else did on a testy Tuesday: ours is a not a wag-the-dog country for nothing.

The writer is a former newspaper editor based in Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]

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