How a vibrant media can thwart a coup

Published: January 12, 2012
The writer is director current affairs at Dunya TV and a former fellow at Asia Center, Harvard University

The writer is director current affairs at Dunya TV and a former fellow at Asia Center, Harvard University

No coup is about to take place in a Pakistan where the independent media has ensured that every move by every player on the national power scene is examined threadbare. This exercise in itself is both a leveller and a restrainer. Had there been an independent electronic media in October 1999 there would have been no coup. Examination of every move gives a fair share of public hearing and also self-examination, to all players. The resulting public censure, or approval, now informs the power players of the limits of their power, constitutional or otherwise. So while in the coming days we will see and hear some trial ballooning, some real moves, some political rhetoric, some bombastic claims, some propaganda, some shadow-boxing as well as alarmist breaking news, none of this is likely to send the president, prime minister, or the army or ISI chief packing.

The government will look towards constitutional and political means to survive, the army will be constrained to act within the Constitution and the honourable judges in the Supreme Court will engage with the Constitution remaining mindful of history and fairplay. Asma Jahangir’s critique of judgments and the workings of the Courts cannot be ignored and neither can the call to respect the judiciary as an arbitrator. Everyone, in any position of authority, is on trial in today’s Pakistan, even the Supreme Court.

The media ensures that the moves of all power players — government, politicians, army, and now the judiciary — are examined for historical precedents, legality, constitutionality, double standards; and whether they are based on individual, institutional, party or national interests. Regardless of which position they occupy, which party they lead, how many corps they command, what agencies they command, what bank balances they have, which ethnic card they can play, which foreign country they can lobby or how many votes they can poll, they cannot claim immunity to public scrutiny. All opinions in the public realm are scrutinised against the public’s inherent common sense, its experiential wisdom and the recall wisdom that the media discussions inject into public space.

Public debate and discussion, which many people are critical of and uncomfortable with, have emerged as Pakistan’s new power centre. Its ways are haphazard, and also in many cases questionable, but it is sections of this media that have ensured that the May 2 Abbottabad fiasco is not hushed up, that Saleem Shahzad’s killing does not go un-inquired, that Husain Haqqani is not declared guilty unheard, that a vigorous debate on the pros and cons of the memo issue is being conducted — the list is endless. And now in this current state of political boil in Pakistan, all power players will be forced to enter this interplay with this intangible power centre, by introducing their moves to the public through it, be it the January 11 ISPR press release, an observation by Supreme Court judges, the prime minister’s interview given to a Chinese newspaper, Nawaz Sharif’s call for abandoning the government or Imran Khan’s demand that the president resign.

Perhaps on a broader note, for us in Pakistan, in matters of power and politics there is only one unifying factor that straddles our collective consciousness; we all carry the burden of our tragic history. Tragic, above all, because a democratic system has not taken root. Had it taken root, we would have evolved a credible and effective national management within which Pakistanis could lead secure lives and have hope for progress, and where those exercising executive and bureaucratic authority were held accountable for their actions. Instead, through our history, Pakistan’s national managers, mainly khaki and occasionally civilian, have committed endless blunders.

In Pakistan, often pygmies have paraded as rulers, personal and institutional interests as national interests, and haphazard and reactive cobbling together of ideas as national policy. Hence modern statecraft, in a country so blessed with talent, competence and a collective will to reform Pakistan, tragically remain elusive.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Nadir
    Jan 12, 2012 - 10:42PM

    Pakistans media may be free but its definitely biased. I am not sure that the Pakistani media gives a “fair share of public hearing and also self-examination, to all players”. The coup may not have happened, but tv screens were lit up with newscasters championing one, and they were hardly any dissenting voices. Not to mention so many news worthy items and issues that never make headlines or are victim of self censorship. The coverage or the lack of coverage of the recent death of girls at an Atif Aslam concert is a case in point.


  • Amjad
    Jan 12, 2012 - 10:51PM

    Very well said nasim, i can not agree more to what u said


  • Roflcopter
    Jan 12, 2012 - 11:29PM

    lol this is hilarious “How a vibrant media can thwart a coup”….If army wanted a coup they’d bulldoze over this “vibrant media” of yours. Also I find it quite ironic that if there was no coup in 1999 there would be no free media in Pakistan today. btw given the current situation vast majority of Pakistani people would welcome a coup.


  • Syed Umair Javed
    Jan 12, 2012 - 11:42PM

    Yonder sits the forth estate, more powerful than they all !


  • Sindhvoice
    Jan 12, 2012 - 11:54PM

    Media is full of right wing anchors and media personalities and they twist and make news based on their wish list. Emotional rhetoric, excessive breaking news items, and projecting national security state version are the main follies of current media revolution. There is no effective mechanism in media for their self reformation, they all have one yard stick to measure their performance – Play with public sentiments to get “Rating”. There are few serious and sober voices like you available on media but in this ocean of pious and right leaning media, they hardly make a small percentage.


  • Sindhvoice
    Jan 12, 2012 - 11:59PM

    Urdu Electronic Media only focuses on big cities and other non-issues related to Elite class. Why free media is silent on Baluchistan situation. Nationalist workers from Sindh and Baluchistan are still being kidnapped and dumped. People are being kidnapped by their own institutions. Why missing person case is in hibernation both in media and Judiciary?


  • Super pak
    Jan 13, 2012 - 12:07AM

    Please give us a coup. Media doesnt know whats best for the country.


  • rafiq
    Jan 13, 2012 - 12:45AM

    Iagree what Mr Nadir feels….


  • shahid
    Jan 13, 2012 - 1:21AM

    Well, yes in general terms I agree to the drift of the article, however, specifically, the ‘coming coup’ was imagination of media it self in the first place. Beside self-congratulations, the writer should have examined the downside of media hype, speculative stories, and sensational pattern of breaking news, as well. Secondly, there must be some forum to critically examine the role of media too. Media has become really powerful, and as the power corrupts others, it also corrupts the media people. There are many examples of abuse of media power, but they hardly get on air! This aspect of media deserves attention, as well!


  • Salman Abbasy
    Jan 13, 2012 - 7:51AM

    Very well articulated, Nasim Zehra. Your concluding paragraphs should be required reading for all practitioners of national power in Pakistan. Keep up the good work.


  • ishaq
    Jan 13, 2012 - 9:26AM

    Urdu News Channels are Not More than a Masala News Makers
    There is no Research Work. Political Talk shows are used for
    Entertainment Purpose and we have seen 0% outcome in
    these talk shows as Political Parties are Just Talking and doing


  • Pashtun voice
    Jan 13, 2012 - 10:17AM

    Make sure we don’t declare Haqani guilty unheard? I saw your show Nasim—the one where you had Haqani on the phone and Ayaz Amir in the studio. Ayaz Amir declared him guilty that day on your show and I don’t recall you telling him not to judge prematurely. Please watch the show for yourself again. Ayaz Amir’s initial reactions are always wrong but then he sobers up and writes a good piece—weird phenomenon. I would say moral of the story—English print media far superior to the electronic media.


  • Manish
    Jan 13, 2012 - 11:11AM

    All crap! The army is too powerful and it can anytime go for a coup and also can ban.control the media.


  • Abhi
    Jan 13, 2012 - 2:10PM

    Coupd did not happen this time because of really bad poistion of army. after abbotabad and salala they don’t have guts to do a coup.


  • SAF
    Jan 13, 2012 - 5:42PM

    Media, no doubt, is an important player in today’s scenario. But to say, that media thwarted the coup…is quite a self-exaggeration by a media-person. The only reason for thwarting the coup has been PRO-DEMOCRACY policies of the ARMY. Gen Kayani has a very high respect for democracy and welfare of this country. He would be the last person in Pakistan to go for the coup. Given the opportunities offered by this government, any other general would have been lured into a coup.


  • arsalan
    Jan 13, 2012 - 7:15PM

    This article was written with clarity and force. Well done.


  • Omair
    Jan 13, 2012 - 8:11PM

    Recently an article in The Economist accused our media of doing the military’s bidding and of largely promoting army establishment interests. The behaviour of many journalists especially on the airwaves is self evident. The foaming self-righteous proclamations with pretensions of honour and sovereignty are clearly dictated.Recommend

  • Romm
    Jan 13, 2012 - 9:11PM

    I am surprised at the rhetoric of Ms Naseem Zehra. unfortunately, It’s.biased view. She failed to highlight the kind of Anarchy we are in at the moment due to unharnessed Media. Hasn’t media made foul play in incidents like Kharotabad where terrorists were portrayed the victims of Barbarism.
    When Courts criminalize/target immoraly the security forces, Media anchors present them like Moses, whereas, when Justices by virtue of their Glorified images portrayed by Media men, start Trespassing their constitutional limits People like Naseem Zehra start mourning.
    I would like to ask Ms Naseem Zehra, aren’t Media men bribed by politicians, Agencies and business tycoons?
    Why did not even a single media Channel name the college, responsible for the death of 3 girls killed in Recent stampede in Cultural hall at Lahore? Everyone knows who owns that chain of Colleges.
    Why all media person always target PPP govt? and why not Sharifs…
    is there any code of conduct for Media people, if yes, how many have been grilled so far?
    Did any News Channel give same kind of coverage to gruesome lynching of SHO Hadyara by a Rowdy mob in Lahore the way, they kept repeating the video clips of Kharotabad, Sialkot, and killing of a robber by Rangers in Karachi.. Recommend

  • Shakky
    Jan 13, 2012 - 9:13PM

    The media as an “intangible power center”?? Journalism is about informing the audience, not wielding power.


  • Bilal
    Jan 13, 2012 - 10:35PM

    Ms Zehra has a very high opinion of herself and her colleagues.

    First of all, a coup has already taken place. The media is terrified of asking any tough questions of the army. Pakistan already is practically ruled by the army with no little help from the “independent” media and the “independent” judiciary.

    Secondly, if the definition of independence is being biased against a democratically elected government, then Pakistani media is probably the most independent in the world.


  • incredible
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:59AM

    @ author
    urdu media is nothing just a puppet to those who give them journalist cheque read this article also

  • Ali
    Jan 14, 2012 - 3:41AM

    Our “vibrant” media is only free to criticize and blame politicians and highlight their corruption and ineptitude.

    The media did NOT do justice to the May 2 episode. Neither have they ever done justice to the involvement of our military with Jihadis and Al Qaeda.

    They did not do justice to exploring the murder of Saleem Shahzad either.


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