Had I not known Mr Akhtar Buland Rana, the newly appointed auditor-general (AG) of Pakistan, for the past 42 years, I would have been duped by the baseless stories making rounds in the media about him. We have watched some talk show hosts and a representative of the PML-N spouting venom with disgust against Rana. As a columnist for the last 36 years and as a public intellectual, I have defended freedom of the media and believe it is the first step toward democratising Pakistan. But is media freedom a free licence to malign individuals in position of power in the bureaucracy or politics?
Can the media assume responsibility to be the jury, the judge and the executioner? No. If that happens, and I am sorry to say it is happening, it is shoddy journalism and may serve to undermine the credibility of the channels and the talk-show hosts responsible. I believe many of these new recruits are without any training in journalism, history, politics and humanities and have already degraded the quality of discourses.
Sadly, quite a few media persons work with an agenda passed on to them from some hidden hands who like to spin some stories while suppressing others. In maligning Rana, we cannot rule out the role of other aspirants in the run for the AG position in becoming a ‘source’ for the media. Besides, Rana carries the burden of a government which has lost the trust of the people and carries little credibility both with the media and with ordinary citizens when it comes to appointments in high positions. Whatever the past wrongdoings of the government or its poor standing, we cannot paint all its decisions black. Two things are important in this respect. First, each case has to be examined on its own merit rather than be judged as motivated by ill intentions. Second, public discourses are a sacred trust that require us to engage on issues with fairness and integrity.
I have seldom seen a story as one-sided, with as rough a language and tendency to be superficial as far as substantiation is concerned as in the case of Rana. His detractors had one thing in mind — to make his appointment controversial, hoping some quarters of the state would notice. Sadly, this has happened. Rana and many others because of their positions in the bureaucracy cannot come forward to defend themselves and are condemned to be guilty without evidence and/or substantive argument.
I understand the ethnic prejudice and discomfort of the PML-N with the appointment of Rana, a Seraiki from the Seraiki region, but cannot understand how and why a section of the media has been one-sided.
Rana comes from a very humble background and from the most backward region of Punjab. He has struggled all his life and served this country with unflinching commitment and devotion. His only drawback is his place of birth, class, ethnicity and the fact that he is not part of the traditional social circles whose members have dominated top positions in the government of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2011.