Self-censorship to designer facts

With the ouster of Khan, something dramatic has happened to the practice of journalism in Pakistan

Imran Jan November 17, 2022
The author is a political analyst. Email: [email protected] Twitter @iamimranjan

When Imran Khan was the prime minister, a lot of noise used to be made about a certain newspaper’s supply being disturbed. Unsurprisingly, an article or two would appear in The New York Times and The Post as well. The entire focus was the repeat of the narrative that journalism in Pakistan was under an assault and that Khan’s regime is becoming more and more perilous for journalists. Journalists making the western favourite noise would be applauded in the mainstream American news publications.

One of the oft-repeated mantra in those days, which people seem to have forgotten about, was that the Khan regime was so hard on free speech that the journalistic community had started practising self-censorship where they refrain from discussing and writing certain things knowing that there would be dire consequences for them if they dared publish or broadcast them.

However, with the ouster of Khan, something dramatic has happened to the practice of journalism in Pakistan. It has transitioned from self-censorship to this mega spin machinery where designer facts and custom opinions are engineered. We don’t detect any noise about self-censorship anymore. The noise now is louder except that it’s not the victim claiming of the recent past but rather the intellectually mediocre and morally bankrupt desperate calls to achieve the results assigned to them.

Take the latest example: Imran Khan gave an interview to the Financial Times where he repeated what he had been saying from day one, even before he became the prime minister. He had always complained about the US treating Pakistan as a hired gun and that he wanted that to change. Khan had always said that he wanted the US to treat Pakistan as an ally, not as a slave. He had implored that Pakistan would be a partner with the US in peace initiatives rather than going to war in some distant land.

Even sitting next to President Trump, Khan in his shalwar kameez and Charsadda chappal, reiterated that Pakistan under his government would be a Pakistan that the US can trust and rely on. That it would be a Pakistan that would be honest and straightforward in its dealings with the United States. That Pakistan sought a good relationship with the United States. And that Pakistan only wanted partnership in peace and trade instead of war and aid.

In that FT interview, he as usual repeated the same points. He added that the regime change actions of the United States were behind him and that he was looking forward to a healthy relationship between the two countries under his watch in the future. Notice the repeat of the same rhetoric that Khan has had for close to two decades now. He never wanted to confront the United States, rather he wanted respect for his country from an ally.

Lo and behold, that didn’t stop the mainstream journalists and some newspapers from printing third class journalistic rubbish such as that Khan no longer blames the US for his removal. That’s like a man forgiving a thief who stole from him and then for the big noise media report that the man no longer blames the thief for stealing from him. Letting the bygones be bygones in the interest of pragmatism as well as national interests doesn’t mean a denial of those bygones.

Khan wants to clear the slate. He doesn’t say the slate was not dirty in the first place and that it was merely a figment of his imagination. That’s what the mainstream journalists have made it to sound and appear like. But their spin has failed miserably and has backfired, further hurting whatever tiny credibility they enjoyed. Opinions can be argued with, facts can’t be. Facts, unlike opinions, can’t be different for different people. There are no designer facts. But that’s exactly what we’re witnessing. This is dangerous territory.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2022.

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