They say there is no business like show business. The case of Pakistan, however, is a tad different and here there is no business like news business. Take any newspaper for instance; the front page would be full of statements, rhetoric, hearsay and guess work. There is hardly any good old-fashioned, solid news.
Every newspaper — national or vernacular — is wondering the state of Mansoor Ijaz’s visa application for his appearance before the judicial commission in Islamabad. Whether he has applied for the visa or not, and in case he applies for it, will he apply for a visa in Washington DC or London? Mansoor Ijaz, who vows to appear before the judicial commission yet again, even though he has made no concrete move to actualise his commitment, gets a headline. A news item like this, which is nothing but speculation and rhetoric, is usually given a prominent spot in most newspapers.
The news about the course of action advised by the coalition partners to the PPP government is one of the most prominently displayed ones, yet it is full of platitudes. The news about the army’s silence and how it is worrisome for the movers and shakers in Islamabad, is nothing but speculation. Similarly, the news about Altaf Husain talking to the Taliban and Imran Khan talking to all but the PML-N is mere political posturing.
The electronic media is worse and the events of the past couple of days are a good example of the fact that large segments of it seem to thrive only on sensationalism. Many anchors were willing to suffer coronaries and brain aneurysms to make their point. Some were so eager to ensure that they appear most earnest; they risked combustion by passionate rhetoric, if that’s possible. Dr Goebbels used propaganda as a war tool in Nazi Germany and he was quite successful in it. We, it appears, live in the age of rumours where it is used as a tool of political manoeuvring.
Similarly, the media’s news gathering is limited to a few big cities. A bomb blast in Lahore or rioting in Karachi gets maximum coverage and stays in the news for far longer than a blast in Charsadda and brutal massacre of government officials in Turbat. The lack of voices from Balochistan in the electronic media is unfair, if not criminal.
Those who sing praises of a free media should pause and ponder if the media is really doing what it is supposed to do? Does it give all the players equal opportunities to present their case? Does it posit the same pointing questions to all the players — political and apolitical — or does it do the bidding of a select group? Only this week, we have seen one TV anchor or the other championing coup, but were there any dissenting voices? If the honour of the armed forces cannot be questioned then why are we subjecting our elected representative to the repeated shame and humiliation? If the institution of judiciary is above any scrutiny — as presented by the media — then why not parliament?
Amidst all the rumours, rhetoric, conjecture, gossip, posturing and speculation, the real news gets lost somewhere. There are so many news worthy items that never get airtime because the media is busy peddling inanities.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2012.