Media Its Own Worst Enemy


Mubashir Luqman PTI dharna

Raza Rumi’s latest piece is a must read for anyone concerned with the direction of the country, particularly those who believe that a free and independent media is a fundamental necessity. He begins with a troubling report on the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent in North America (APPNA) convention held in Washington, DC where wealthy Pakistani-American professionals and journalists trashed democracy and even recommended Pakistan to join an Islamic Caliphate (all while they live comfortably in America, no doubt). But this is an issue for another post. First let us deal with the issue of journalists trashing democracy and blurring the lines between reporting on events and influencing events.

Raza Rumi perfectly describes the issue in the context of the present political crisis:

Nearly 50 channels have been televising the protests of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri live; and have created an atmosphere that a ‘change’ is imminent. This has another effect — the shrinking space for dialogue, compromise and negotiation. Hardline speeches by leaders are followed by a commentary that is polarised, highly speculative offering a free-for-all ground where democracy and its ills are recounted by the hour. This engenders further political instability and influences the susceptible minds. No wonder many PTI/PAT supporters on social media state that a martial law is acceptable if the prime minister does not resign within the deadline (also a flexible notion in this mayhem) set by their leaders. Preparing the narrative for a military takeover is a disservice to Pakistan including the military itself, which is waging a major operation in the northwest of the country.

Political protests are newsworthy, but they are not the only event going on, and they are arguably not even the most important. By all counts, the showing of PTI and PAT supporters has been disappointing to their leaders. What is missing in bodies, however, is more than made up for in media coverage, amplifying the protests well beyond their natural volume. What is drowned out by this artificially increased volume are issues like the rising polio epidemic, continued terrorist attacks, economic collapse, and strained relations with critical allies.

Meanwhile, what is being reported in media is as unreliable as ever. Jang reported that JIT found no role of Punjab CM or other government officials in Model Town tragedy. Within days, though, the same media group was calling for Punjab CM’s resignation, reporting that ‘the judicial commission on June 17 Model Town incident constituted by chief minister himself not only raised serious questions on his conduct but has also indirectly held his government responsible for the unfortunate killings’.

Jang in particular, but actually all media groups are operating with very thin credibility at this date. Express Tribune has suffered due to its decision (not without reason) to stop publishing critical pieces on controversial issues (including Imran Khan, it should be noted), but the truth is that self-censorship has become the norm throughout the journalism profession.  The only ones who are still willing to speak openly are those who parrot the anti-government lines or those, like Raza Rumi, who have been forced into exile for daring to speak the truth.

And this brings us back to the beginning. Certain media celebrities may believe that if they play their cards right, they will be safe no matter what form of government they live under. But this delusion misses the point. As Raza Rumi so perfectly puts it, “A free media only operates in a democracy. In other ‘revolutionary’ models of governance, media freedoms shall be the first casualty.”