Media and democracy rise and fall together
Media is under attack within and without — raft with dangers of its crumbling as a fourth pillar of the state. The whole edifice of democratic dispensation will also teeter as a consequence if this divisive tide continues to sway the media landscape of the country. Indeed the vision of Pakistan of the founding founders who conceived the new country as a state that would be at ease with itself and with the outside world would also remain a forlorn hope. Heart wrenchingly, today’s Pakistan is known world over for the wrong reasons, i.e. purveyor of polio virus, epicenter of extremism and terrorism, persecution of minorities, Muslim killing Muslims, most dangerous place for the working journalists, already 34 killed with no trace of culprits with one exception. The chances of making a turnaround look dim because the cycle of vicious problems had been accelerating incrementally and is gaining momentum as the government and its institutions have failed to stop it, not to speak of reversing it, due to their looking in different directions. The emerging gravity of the situation shudders all Pakistanis and the world alike who are keen to put an end to this degeneration.
The struggle for the freedom of press through the annals of country’s history was the beacon light for the emancipation of the people, which was indeed synonymous to the struggle for the restoration of democratic rights of the people wrested by the successive usurpers. Journalists were subjected to torture and dehumanization but they never abandoned the worthwhile cause and stood up in the face of brute authority demanding the revoking of the “Black Laws”, Press and Publication Ordinance 1962, promulgated by General Ayub Khan.
The ordinance imposed wide range of restrictions on media giving extraordinary powers to administration to proceed against the press on one or another frivolous pretext. The press was totally suffocated, but its will to fight back gave it the requisite strength to continue the struggle. The inevitability of the relentless struggle of the civil society dedicated for freedom of press at last saw the light of the day and the country attained the status of a free media country. The media attained freedom as result of it arduous struggle spread over six decades.
The attaining of media freedom was important but its preservation is even more important for which the civil society in general and the journalist community in particular have to be very vigilant to deny the opportunity to those who are after it with vengeance. Their retribution stems from their being above the law of the land, and are notorious for basking the fruits of impunity. Their aversion to accountability and transparency is embedded in their avarice that begged all descriptions. They are not prepared to jettison their old habits that refuse to die.
Again, media is under threat and the dividends of the struggle are in acute danger for being declared as redundant arbitrarily unless the stakeholders get united and stop the Bonaparte to take plunge to his advantage. The overpowering of the unknown will accrue total loss for the entire society, and the gains made during the stint of democratic era will unfortunately go down the drain. The resultant degeneration of the social order will break the back of the camel. Might will become right and when might becomes the rule than exception the state of anarchy is bound to emerge where life for all” will be nasty, poor, brutish and short” according to John Hobbes, a political scientist who is the architect of the famous Social Contract Theory. The society will become a hunting ground of crooks and opportunists who are fond of running with hare and hunting with hounds.
In Pakistan, media has its own baggage which is difficult to carry even if the benefit of the evolutionary process is given. Unfortunately, unbridled freedom of expression was considered here as an end itself by media and did not ponder for a moment to define the parameters of professionalism even on voluntarily basis. Whenever such suggestions came from the sane quarters in the past these were resented and rejected with contempt. It is well known and established principle that when prosecution and judicial authority are amalgamated in one institution or individual the administration of justice will end up in miscarriage of justice.
The media continued to bask the salience with impunity notwithstanding the imperatives of the Article 19 of the Constitution that stipulated the exercise of freedom of expression subject to defined limitations.
ad the media formulated a code of ethics in the light of the Article 19 of the Constitution, the present tiff might have not arisen? The worst part of it is the aftermaths, igniting the tug of war among the media houses and the journalists alike based on the parochial narrative ‘his losses are my gains’. Getting to each other hair to wade off in the troubled waters for fishing is synonymous to short-term gains for long-term pains. Make no mistake. They are cutting the grounds underneath from each other feet thus paving the way for their collective depredation. The freedom of speech and expression will be the first victim of this frenzy—striving for ascendance by pushing the competitors downward propelled by the instinct ‘ends justify the means’. Undoubtedly, mutual survival is better served by peaceful co-existence.
The jumping of a few politicians in the arena is equally worrisome because their tacit or open support is bound to strike the root of the cause and also democracy as the nascent edifice cannot afford the shocks and after shocks attached to potential brinkmanship. Instead, they should strive in facilitating the amicable resolution as they are also the major stakeholders. The negative fall-out of this controversy is not at all to the benefit of the well-wishers of democracy and the media. The glee of the politicians known for using the crutches is indeed suggestive, and the truly popular politicians should decipher it dispassionately and avoid the taking this war too far for obvious reasons. Popular political parties should reach out to the representatives organizations of the media, All Pakistan News Papers Society, Council of Newspapers Editors and All Pakistan Broadcasting Association for defusing the infighting sooner than later. Procrastination is likely to cause prodigious damage and the belated compunction will tantamount to crying over the spilled milk.
The nation and all Pakistanis are acutely worried about and their anxiety is not misplaced. The country’s present state of affairs is at the brink. It is fighting for its survival in the face of existential threat. The society, media and the politicians should put their acts together to ward off the dangers lurking. Their tardiness will be unforgiving and so the consequences for all and sundry.