A boring script

One should walk the talk or the talk would push people to walk out of their loyalty to the state

M Zeb Khan June 12, 2023
The writer is a PhD in Administrative Sciences and associated with SZABIST, Islamabad. He can be reached at dr.zeb@szabist-isb.edu.pk


The script concerning who we are and where we are heading as a nation, which is read out in press conferences and presented on TV screens, has become quite boring and at times nauseating! It is full of clichés, not in sync with ground realities, and deeply depressing. Apart from change in the role of characters and their turn on stage, everything else in the script (words, structure, order, tone, etc) is pre-defined and path-dependent. If ground realities (socio-economic and political conditions) are difficult to change, the least one can expect from the writers is to change the script to make it representative, interesting and credible.

A press release/press conference by a government minister or other prominent public official follows a predictable pattern. It begins with a reference to the Pakistan’s ideology, muddles through the need for national integration and socio-economic progress as the core policy objectives of the state, and ends with the government’s resolve to thwart any attempt by anti-state elements to disturb peace, hinder economic progress and malign state institutions. The Q&A session is structured around themes that reflect a prescribed agenda (script) and is mostly based on premeditated questions aimed at pleasing the powerful rather than speaking truth to them and exposing their policy contradictions.

It reminds me of my childhood experience in the 1980s when Zia ruled the country with an iron fist and a religious face. I would sit with my elders in the hujra to listen to their views on different issues. The source of information and analysis for them was none other than the Radio Pakistan that would either present the government version or play patriotic songs on special occasions or during a national crisis. Both the format and contents of a programme were so well defined that one could precisely predict what would follow next! For example, the news would regularly begin with a moving eulogy of the President’s leadership followed by a thumping glorification of the PM for his selfless efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism and cross-border incursions, solve the energy crisis and create economic opportunities for a better future.

The next in line worthy of praise would certainly be the Minister for Information whose performance in projecting the image of Pakistan was to be shared with all and sundry. The CMs, too, would get their fair share in the news-bites if the Interior Minister had not issued a fresh warning to miscreants and criminals of stern action against their anti-state and anti-social activities. The most recurring news item would be a morbid and passing reference to the Kashmiris’ struggle for self-determination in the face of untold atrocities and human rights violations by the ferocious Indian security forces. The news would end with an urge to the UN to help resolve the issue in accordance with its resolutions.

A typical feature of Radio Pakistan then was its emphasis on patriotism expressed through national songs and speeches. The citizens were advised to work for the prosperity and solidarity of the country and obey laws of the land. Missing from any discussion on governance would, however, be any reference to the way rulers could be held accountable for what they do or fail to do. No one in the village would ever know their rights as citizens. Any developmental work done by a government functionary or public representative was to be recognised and promoted as a special favour done to the people. Local politicians would remind them of those projects as IOUs (I owe you) whenever they ask for a return under the norm of reciprocity.

The ‘make-people-believe’ script riddled mostly with catchy slogans and window-dressing is no longer effective in the presence of social media. One should walk the talk or the talk would push people to walk out of their loyalty to the state. We already witness this phenomenon in various forms. In the midst of information revolution, the official channels of broadcasting (Radio and TV) and press conferences can survive as useful platforms for discussion, analysis and promotion of state interests if they are driven exclusively by the interests of citizens and not dictated by the powerful classes/institutions.


Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2023.

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