Social media brought a revolution in the Arab world and many of us here thought it may bring the same results in Pakistan without realising that the ‘Arab spring’ was not merely the result of media hype but had commitment, conviction and sincere leaders behind it. Some political pundits even felt that the media would be able to force the government to quit. This is not the media’s job and nor can we, or should we, be doing it.
The independence of the judiciary and the freedom of the media are two revolutions that have already taken place in Pakistan in the last decade. Now it is up to the politicians to do the rest. The media can play the role of a ‘mirror’ but it should also be able to see itself in the same mirror.
As the role of the judiciary in the last four years has come under criticism from certain sections, the media too has faced criticism for being biased and polarised. But can it make any difference in the next general elections? From Imran’s tsunami to Nawaz’s laptop and Zardari’s tricks, all will be tested and the media will play the role of a ‘watchdog’ (which it should), while the judiciary is supposed to play the role of a neutral umpire.
One of the reasons why Egyptians from the right, left and the centre were able to gather on one platform was due to the dictatorship of one man — a rule which had seen years of suppression, thousands of people imprisoned, censorship, etc. Here the government may be corrupt and the country poorly governed but the media is free, the judiciary is independent, there are no political prisoners and the government is an elected one.
In the last four and a half years, the biggest gathering that was witnessed was during the lawyers’ march. In Pakistan’s political history, all long marches enjoyed the support of the establishment whether it was led by Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif or the religious parties. However, private TV channels were held responsible for the success of the lawyers’ movement.
It is quite true that the media is polarised and biased to an extent. Is it not true that some of our leading columnists are also acting as ‘advisers’ to one party or the other? Is it not true that in the past some columnists and anchors have been members of cabinets or have held official positions? Can they be called neutral or objective? Why do they hide their past positions?
How the print and the electronic media will cover the next general elections will be interesting to watch as the leading political parties plan to spend millions on moulding public opinion and minimising or neutralising criticism in what appears to be highly polarised media.
Maybe after two or three more uninterrupted elections, we may also see debates between party heads like the ones we see taking place in the US. Maybe after some time we may also witness TV channels openly declaring their support for specific parties during general elections. The same is the case for our columnists and anchors. We need to be fair with our readers and viewers.
Our media can’t change the course of history. It can only present it in an objective manner. If talk shows could have made any real difference, the panel headed by comedian Umer Sharif would have swept last year’s Arts Council elections after it forced TV channels not to give the viewpoint of its rival panel. It lost by 1,000 votes despite its members having given over a dozen interviews prior to the polls.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2012.