Happy and clueless
By: Kamal Siddiqi
Out of the blue there comes news of hope. In a survey conducted by the till-now-unknown New Economics Foundation, we are told that Pakistan ranked 16th among 151 countries of the world on the Happy Planet Index (HPI) 2012, beating India and the United States, which ranked 32nd and 105th respectively. Costa Rica was termed the happiest country, followed by Vietnam and Colombia.
This is news to most Pakistanis given the problems and headaches they face every day. Many of these are of our own making and others have been handed to us by a combination of bad luck and fate.
However, it is interesting to note who our people blame for their doom and gloom. After the politicians, people usually blame the media for highlighting the negative and downplaying the positive. They feel the media only wants to create more chaos and cause depression. One is tired of meeting our diplomats posted in foreign lands because all they talk about is how the Pakistani media works against the “national interest” and how it continues to play into the hands of others by highlighting the problems of the country.
From what I remember of my journalism experience, which spans over two decades, it is the work of the media in Pakistan to report what they see. Not to make up stories or misinterpret events. One businessman asked me whether we could tone down the bad news on our paper’s website given that “many people read it abroad and they get a bad impression of Pakistan”. What next? Invent stories?
The Pakistani media, today, is a vibrant entity which continues to push the limits so that the legislature and the executive can be held accountable. I remember former information minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmad saying in an interview that this media is not like the entity of yesteryear — it is a different animal that is “quick to pounce and eager to devour”.
In the Muslim world, Pakistan has one of the freest media. In South Asia, which has a tradition of outspokenness, it ranks high. Yes, we may be chaotic but we are independent in many respects. That is why no matter how much Imran Khan says it, we won’t have an Arab spring here.
It’s not that we don’t have people stopping us from doing our work. In the opinion of journalist and media analyst Ghazi Salahuddin, news is anything that someone wants to stop from being aired or published. The fact that Pakistan has the highest number of casualties of media persons in the world, tells you a lot about the bravery of our profession.
Please don’t shoot the messenger. Or at least, don’t shoot it for the wrong reasons. There are some within us who have crossed the line and are now more of entertainers than journalists. Others have become guardians of our supposed social and moral values. Even more have lost their independence for illusions of glory, for naked power, for money or for a combination of these.
Coming back to the question of happiness, there is little in Pakistan for people to rejoice over. We are facing international isolation. Parts of our country are up in open revolt. There is terrorism and corruption, as well as an ineffective government and erosion of the rule of law. Crime continues to rise. Extremism and a lack of tolerance are now hallmarks of the day.
And yet, all these things have pushed back the real problems that the country faces. These are illiteracy, disease and poverty; a steadily rising population which is relying on a diminishing set of resources; depleting water and natural gas amongst other resources that we are fast consuming. In actual terms, we are possibly the only country in the world where the number of illiterate persons rises annually. We have millions of young people to whom we cannot offer education or employment.
This is where I feel the media has let us down. We highlight the mundane — like the never-ending squabbles between the executive and the judiciary. We project in detail the nonsense that is spoken in our legislatures. But we don’t talk about the issues that matter. Perhaps, this is where we have failed.