Media and minus-one formula

A must-read editorial from the Daily Times:

Media and minus-one formula

The Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, declared at the Independence Day flag-hoisting ceremony at the Mazar of Quaid-e-Azam on Friday that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had never before accepted the minus-one formula, nor will it accept it today. He said, PPPs democratic government has not entered the corridors of power from the back door as it enjoys a public mandate. Conspiracies are being hatched against democracy and the PPP.

Mr Shah was referring to a media campaign against the person and party of Mr Asif Zardari. Though the campaigners say they are not gunning for President Zardari, the PPP rank and file certainly see a get Zardari front by a certain section of the print and electronic media that has been the greatest supporter of the campaign for the restoration of the judges and at odds with Mr Zardari and the PPP from the outset.

Unfortunately, after a protesting response from a senior PPP member at the centre, the campaign by this particular media group has become a confrontation. The plaint of media trial has been accepted as a challenge and more revelations have been promised in what might become a demonstration of the power of the media in the country. Is the campaign fair?

Theoretically speaking, in so far as the job of the media is to hold the government of the day to account and scrutinise its actions in the light of the law, no critical revelation is out of bound. At worst, the government or a member of the party can take the concerned media source to court and demand proof, failing which it can claim compensation. But this is Pakistan. The courts are flushed with pro-media feelings, especially for a media group that has supported the judges to the hilt. So for the government to get justice against this mediain Pakistan right now is asking for the moon. At any rate, such recourse would attract even more censure at home and abroad and prove counter-productive for the government. So it can only lie back and enjoy it.

On the other hand, aiming or seeming to aim at getting rid of President Zardari through such a campaign, which often verges on being discriminatory-defamatory, is not kosher at all. This is what the PPP is partly complaining about when it talks of the minus-one formula. For instance, you can describe the plight of the PIA as a bankrupt organization like many others in the public sector  but it may be difficult to prove corruption against the sitting government by only describing a bankruptcy which is nothing new and implicates several governments in the past.

If truth be told, the campaign against Mr Zardari has often become unsavoury. One can only approximate the innuendos carried in certain pointed TV programmes and columns. For instance a column on August 12, 2009 said, After getting out of jail through an understanding with Musharraf, Zardari thought he could lead the PPP, but Benazir did not allow that. Even her children were bred away from the shadow of his character. The same column also informs us that when Zardari was not successful in playing a prominent role in the party during Benazirs life, he went off to Dubai where he caught a strange malady of the heart which could only be removed by being in his flat in New York among his pretty ones. Only his medical adviser recently removed as adviser to the government’ can tell what his heart was suffering from. This is hitting below the belt and not journalism.

Everyone has disavowed the old reflex of trying to get rid of the government mid-tenure. But if you look at the political landscape of Pakistan you will clearly see that there is a media campaign to do just that to the PPP government. Criticism of the government is a duty that a free media must perform, even of problems like the PIA, of load-shedding and rental units, and the wheat and sugar crises, that have a history in the past. But defaming the president of the country so blithely is not a good precedent to set, especially by comparing him to a president recently deposed in Latin America for corruption.

The PPP has won the 2008 election fair and square. It rejects the minus-one formula and has the right to rule till the end of its tenure. Its opponents can get rid of it by defeating it in the next elections. The media has no business launching any campaign for regime change.

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