Media and Pakistani society
By Raza Rahman Khan Qazi
Perhaps the best way to study a society and its dynamics, especially of change is to study its social institutions. As far as Pakistani society is concerned it is passing through an era of unprecedented changes and the role of media cannot be overlooked in this process. Historically, Pakistani society has had a very conservative orientations. However, the institutions of such a society are briskly evaporating.
Each country has a media system at different stages of development. Pakistan, a country of 140 million, has not had a correspondingly developed media system. The main reason behind this is the monopoly of government over the electronic media and strict working framework for print media. Going by the standards of normative theories of the press, Pakistani media can be placed somewhere near what is known as the Authoritarian Model. Generally speaking, mass media systems every where are changing due to sweeping commercialisation; rapid increase in the number of media channels and sources; global organisations and flow of mass communication; hitherto unthinkable sophistication in media technology; de-massification of media audiences etc.
The above factors are inextricably interconnected to the social system that is triggering innumerable social changes. Social institutions, like political institutions, clergy, local communities are losing their role of binding forces. This loss of authority has not come without loss in reverence for their leaders.
There is no denying the fact that mass media has constantly been replacing the classical agencies of socialisation and public order, like family and schools. On the other hand, due to weakening of the family and the school, the level of informal social control has drastically lowered and there has been increasing need for formal tools of social control.
Most of mass media messages have been such that they have been inculcating individualism in their once socially well-integrated audiences. Mass media have constantly been transforming the social system by increasing social mobility of individuals and groups. This social mobility is multi-faceted, viz geographical, occupational, income-wise, as well as psychological.
The impact of media on Pakistan’s traditional social system can better be understood analysing it in the matrix of social institutions, the primary components of social system.
Family is the basic unit of any society and, therefore, of its respective social system. In Pakistan the institution of family has been quite strong. There has been a system of extended families all over Pakistan. The media with their rootless culture have been diffusing a culture of nuclear families and neo-local families. There are noteworthy social changes correspondingly due to this diffusion. The instances of divorce that was, and still is considered a social anathema has risen sharply. Whereas, the so-called joint family system is on the decline.
Moreover, families in Pakistan have always been the domains of primary socialisation. Now under media’s influence the role of the families has constantly and increasingly been replaced by the former. This has negative implications because, empirically media has not been the true representative of Pakistan’s traditional social system, in particular of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan, two of the more traditional provinces of Pakistan. Therefore, they are also socialising people in alien’s norms and values. Moreover, having individualistic orientations and also diffusing individualistic values, the media is rendering the Pakistani society as atomised thus resulting in the fragmentation of that once well-bound society.
It can safely be said that almost every media reinforced by foreign elements via the satellite and other gadgets of the communication revolution, have been vociferous exponents for elimination of “gender discrimination” in Pakistan. Media portrayals have ‘empowered’ the female gender to a certain extent and they are briskly adopting roles that have been hitherto the domain of men. This on one hand strengthens the feminists “cause” but on the other, it has also obviously resulted in infinite and dangerous conflicts within traditional Pakistani families. Like the emergence and aggravation of gender gaps; the creation of significant knowledge gaps; plummeting compassion, as well as raising family feuds; and materialism.
Religion, ie Islam, has more than significant presence in Pakistani society. The overall tendency of media contents, one can say, has been quite instrumental in enfeebling religious institutions and even alienating people from religion. For instance, with multiplication of media sources and their round the clock availability, offer temptation to people to shun religious obligations like evading routine prayers and funerals etc. Resultantly social bonds are eroding.
Above all, the traditional role of religion in integrating Pakistani society has constantly been replaced with the “integrating” role of media. Because in Pakistani federalism, the common religion, Islam, of diverse ethnic groups, is assumed to be providing the strongest bond has had a very important role to play; in reality religion has never performed that function.
It is argued that media induced passivity and “well-informed futility”. If analysed in this context, the religious contents of media, even if presented in good faith ought to get neutralised due to the latent nature of the media. Thus under media influence, Pakistani society is experiencing the erosion of practical religion and the tendency is towards greater ritualism.
As in Pakistan, the “manufacturers” of the media messages are from well-educated backgrounds and a considerable number of them are from urban backgrounds and they have little connections with the traditional culture. Consequently, they develop leanings towards the Western thoughts and ideas that are in direct conflict with the ideas of “religious man”.
The capitalist media disseminating their voracious agenda have been instrumental in the establishment of a class-conscious society and the traditional social stratification of Pakistani society has been immensely disturbed.
The general charges upon media for greatly affecting the morality of the people and in a sense setting their own moral standards for society are not without substance. Empirical evidences, especially in private life suggest substantial moral decline. Even the traditional dress having its cultural functions has gone.
More or less, Pakistani society is a rural one where the economic institutions are of subsistence level. Media, having an urbanite nature and capitalist in character, has been instrumental in the essential end of this subsistence level of economy and the introduction of economy based on the principal of producing for profit. The most important effect of media in the economic arena on Pakistani traditional social system is their auxiliary role in metamorphosing a subsistence-feudal-agrarian society to a consumerist-materialist society.
Traditionally, the Pakistani heartland that is Punjab and rural Sindh are feudal societies. Media has transformed the feudal society by unleashing an assault on feudal institutions but the advantage of this transformation has not accrued to the masses.
A society so diverse as Pakistan can not be kept intact without promoting culture of each component and providing all the nationalities their due equal economic and legal rights. These rights have never been given. Thus, the only other tools left for integration were media, which successive governments have had to use for the purpose. The so-called integrative role of Pakistani media may have superficially cobbled together a disparate Pakistani society but below this veneer lie silent voices of millions clamouring for their cultural and political rights.
The role of Pakistani media in democratising the country has left a lot to be desired. By helping centralising the traditional political power centres, the media on the other hand failed to back the countrywide democratic forces. Therefore, Pakistani media could not play their expected role of politically making people aware and facilitate their political participation. So there has been no qualitative improvement in the political consciousness of members of a traditionally apolitical society. This is perhaps the reason that whenever there has been a military take over in Pakistan it was widely welcomed by the people.
As media provides a lot of information to children which their teachers are unable to keep abreast with, the children are loosing respect for them being far ahead in knowledge and reservoirs of character building tasks far more important than information.
The most important criticism of Pakistani media is in their overzealous nationalist fervour, they have been disseminating propaganda. While for official media, propaganda has been indispensable; the track record of private print media has not been that satisfactory because at many instances they had been defending the indefensible. Therefore, in Pakistani media research and objectivity is hardly to be found with value-judgements in abundance. This has significantly impeded the true education of the society.
In Pakistan media has an insurmountable impact on the traditional social institutions. They have been the cause of great changes in the conservative social structure. But most of the changes have not been functional, if one uses the sociological lexicon. Consequently, the element of conflict in the operation of different social institutions is more than conspicuous.
The writer is a Peshawar based freelance contributor and a research scholar.
Source: The News