Skip to main content

VIEW: ‘Press—Amendment’

PUBLISHED IN THE POST AS FREEDOM OF THE PRESS JULY 03, 2007

Free press is multi -dimensional; it anchors democracy in the civilized world, preserves the semblance of democratic systems elsewhere, and could serve as an independent reformer of society; therefore, its longevity is desirable and a well governed, better regulated setup critical.

Now that the impressive credentials of a free press have been established, we can move on to its fate in our society.

Where we stand today regarding the state of journalism manifests itself in the form of events that, from a distance, indicate widening fissures in press freedom land. Pakistan’s ranking in terms of press freedom comes at a dismal 157 in 2006 down from 119 in 2002 ; a questionnaire considering actions taken against journalists and media outlets censored, seized or ransacked provides the press freedom index. The events of 2007 suggest that we may be headed further South in press freedom land.

While the track record of this government, in terms of granting press freedom, had been creditable thus far, little wonder then that hints at retraction of liberal policies or possibility of reinstatement of dated oppressive ones left people uneasy about the fickle definition of laissez-fair practiced in Pakistan. Orders to seize, fine, seal and suspend culprit channels have mercifully been rescinded; countermeasures against spin and undue bias on the other hand, has prompted the launch of a ‘code of conduct’ creating yet another flurry. Rules, however, are lesser of the two evils; in fact most societies deem them a necessity and the free spirited press of the civilized world ardently practice self regulation.

A closer examination reveals that the present status of journalistic freedom in Pakistan can be gauged more in terms of quantity than quality of broadcast channels. Today 48 odd channels have taken over the airwaves; they dominant the local satellite news dissemination department perhaps because the original(sycophant) pet network, pompously serenades the state but unlike FOX TV, fails to make it entertaining. The influence of privately owned media channels cannot be disputed, but some people, after seeing the treatment of the recent crisis, have found unkind parallels between media practices of today and the monkey with a machine gun.

Freedom for the more amateur media outlets has translated into providing a stage to launch in rancorous debates with political adversaries, voicing a stream of invectives against State oblivious of the libel laws and giving an unfiltered coverage of violent breakdowns in law and order. Whether it is a show put on for ratings or something more sinister, untamed media, that can reshape perception, is a formidable force to reckon with.

Finally the State could no longer feign indifference to the ‘weapons of mass conversion’ wielded by mainstream media, it challenged their objectivity and while their original heavy-handed approach continues to rankle, the resultant effect is that our media now has to reconcile itself with the fact that power does not absolve it from responsibility and prepares to make the necessary adjustments.

Restraint has been imposed on certain aspects of reporting but media is also expected to be self regulatory and the contents of an official code will soon be divulged. Who knows, guidelines may actually prevent this watchdog from turning into a vicious hound dog.

Repressing free speech will never be viewed kindly but having said that, there is nothing wrong with a ‘code of conduct’ that will ultimately prevent the ignorant, immature or avaricious elements in the media, if they exist, from fermenting accidental (or otherwise) strife within society. The other side of argument, made on a local news channel stands that when information flow is checked, disinformation seeps out.

There’s no visible change since the crackdown; anti government statements appear all the time in prominent dailies, partisan voices have not been silenced in the media and the fixation on CJ issue is unabated albeit in a subdued manner.

While there is a way to quantify press freedom, however, none exist to quantify press objectivity, but watchdog groups like MRC-Media Research Centre and FAIR, to name a few, have been active in exposing bias, sensationalism in the US media for the world is as prone to sensationalize as we are. As to who can challenge inaccuracy and pinpoint bias in the ‘rookie’ Pakistani media? There has been a suggestion that senior journalists, ex-judges, senior officials serve on a surveillance team to guide the uninitiated on national priorities with the proviso of sound editorial policies practiced by media moguls to chart Media’s future course. The case against press freedom is strong but media has always been subject to a degree of restraint; granted that there may be no formal media censorship in democracies like USA, they show zero tolerance for those questioning their patriotism.

Bill Maher hosts ‘real time’ on HBO now but antipatriotic sentiments on his previous late night talk show ‘politically incorrect’ cost him the show . Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his Vietnam War coverage, criticized the Iraq War Plan on Iraqi state TV” and lost his job. Then there’s Ann Coulter, at the other end of the spectrum who does get airtime on American national television but has been fired from networks for vicious personal attacks.

Censorship issues also abound; the worst riots in France were given superficial coverage by French broadcasters in 2005, ostensibly to avoid further goading the rioters or playing into the right wing politicians hands. British broadcasters endured a 6 year ban (1988-1994) that prevented them from airing ‘direct speeches’ from 11 Irish organizations. In 2001, major news networks like CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC and CNN convinced themselves that their national security and public interest lay in acceding to their Secretary of State request in curtailing coverage of Bin Ladens taped messages; statements like "In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities." further illustrate the picture.

By contrast, the leader of a dissident madrassa in Pakistan keeps appearing on media to justify acts of sedition and violence. Scathing observations are made concerning the sluggishness of ongoing search and rescue efforts in devastated coastal areas of Pakistan during the storm season as the relief agencies and armed forces battle impossible weather conditions. The presence of cameras sometimes appears correlated to the level of violence during crisis hours (power riots for instance) and the bright smiles of some agitators seen toppling structures make one wonder if their actions are more motivated by the 3 and a half minutes of fame. And flashing images of ‘injured ’ women

Somewhere underneath all this lies good reporting and makes its presence felt now and then.

That the national interest is best served when media cheers our progress while stopping to point out flaws is a given; however, the sheer impropriety of denouncing actions of a nation in distress or deep focus on the marginal rather than essential and sensationalism over substance will ultimately invalidate the effectiveness of this watchdog. Such an event will neither be in the public’s interest nor the States. Then again, state sponsored censorship could be the surest way to commit political ‘Hara-Kiri’.

Seen in the context of emerging threats and changing priorities, possibly some democratic systems have become increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices, but few take kindly to irresponsible journalism and all place their national interest supreme. The cases quoted above merely show that the censorship trend is not an isolated incident but part of a global phenomenon. The difference, perhaps, lies in subtlety (we just don’t have any); so If we could only bear in mind that casual potshots at medias freedom might be easy to forgive but napalming them will be impossible to forget.

Images Courtesy of: http://files.coloribus.com/files/adsarchive/part_177/1779555/file/free-press-free-press-for-free-people-small-55073.jpg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What Pakistan Wants from Afghanistan...?

Published by Global Affairs / July 2017


In the aftermath of the deadly attacks in a diplomatic enclave and a funeral, Afghanistan’s fate now hangs in the balance, while experts mull over the merits of potential troop surges and worry about the endemic corruption, plummeting morale and ensuing chaos. Afghan President Ghani’s statement that his nation suffers from an ‘undeclared war of aggression from Pakistan’ delivered at Kabul Process meeting sums up the problem.

Interestingly, a week before, he expressed the exact same sentiment – only the words were ‘undeclared war of aggression from non-state actors.’ Later his Twitter feed regurgitated the passive aggressive plea from the speech that by turns call for dialogue and apportions blame to its neighbors.

What is it that Pakistan wants is the question foremost in his mind. He also wonders what the Taliban want.

The first question is easily answered. The Pak Army COAS wants Afghanistan to look inwards. Probably at the safe havens …

Pakistan’s Neutral Stance on Qatar

Written right after the Qatar embargo

Published Global Affairs Jul 2017


Qatar recently found itself in hot water based on comments attributed to its leadership – comments that had been categorized as fake news. As a pretext it served its purpose. The oil-gas rich nation has been placed in a diplomatic stranglehold though it renounced charges of funding terrorism and being a destabilizing influence the region. These may be pressure tactics meant to put Qatar in its place, cut it down to size, make it tow the GCC line whatever that might be at the moment. The definition of terror in this case is open to interpretation. Qatar fights ISIL alongside coalition partners. But its support for proscribed groups like Muslim Brotherhood for instance and relationship with Tehran keeps it in the doghouse.

Washington remains ambivalent. The American President endorsed the move. The Secretary of State cautioned against boycotts. But GCC nations seem clear-sighted. The small state houses US CENTCOM, t…

BOOK REVIEW: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam (2007)

Author: Zahid Hussain

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUNE 14, 2007

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam goes for the jugular with an insiders look at a deformed culture borne of a dated ideology, fueled by vested interest and driven by intolerance; and a nation’s complicity.

Not surprisingly, the legitimacy granted jihadists by ISI-CIA ran out soon, as did the sympathy for their jihadist actions formally perceived as heroic. Once used to counter the threat of communism, the rapid shift in their objectives that placed Pakistan’s national interest on a collision course with its security rendered them an anachronism.

This led to a parting of ways with the ISI; consequently, the deadliness of operations and depth of penetration in society seen in the context of 9/11 forever breached the line between liberators and terrorists.

Veteran journalist Zahid Hussain, Pakistani correspondent for the "Times of London", "The Wall Street Journal", …

The Importance of Being Pakistan

Published in Global Village Space / July 2017

Implications of a Modi – Trump style ‘meet and greet’

As Mr. Modi descended upon Washington, armed with Kashmiri shawls, tea, honey, and personalized invites for the first family to visit India, the U.S. media hastened to find parallels between the two nations. Democracies both (biggest / oldest), led by men with a degree of social-media savvy, men indifferent to public opinion and sporting unique greeting styles - hugs from Modi, handshakes from Trump.

Seen from afar, the show stopping performance yielded significant results, strengthened defense cooperation and secured 22 shiny new Guardian drones. Commentators noted that contentious issues like H1-B work visas and climate change etc were reportedly left out in the cold while detractors brooded over the symbolism that signaled the arrival of a new world order. As with all these visits, Pakistan wasn’t far from India’s thoughts and opinion makers now wonder at the extent Modi can shape…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

OPED: Why the World needs to see Pakistan’s Dark Side

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017


Because the dark side does not get enough exposure. Though this is where all the good Samaritans, the creative giants, crusading angels and intellectual powerhouses reside. It is where genius flourishes hoping to break free of type casting. It is where Oscar winners and Nobel laureates go once they have scaled the summit and conquered cultural biases and social disparity.

A vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans?

But their victories are somehow viewed in isolation. They are seen as outliers - their great accomplishments relegated to the shadows in favor of unflattering headlines beamed across the globe that slyly remove the context and reduce the country to one giant misogynistic, intolerant, vat of vice and wickedness amid a sea of green turbans. While the worst of humanity hogs the limelight – our most prized assets go unheralded. And tragedies like Mashal Khan and mafias in religious guise along with shady men with offshore acc…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…