Media imperialism in Pakistan
Media in Pakistan was fettered by successive repressive regimes but in 1989, Benazir Bhutto freed the Print media while in 2002, ironically a military dictator General Pervez Musharraf provided relief by permitting the establishment of private TV and FM Radio channels. In the past twelve years the electronic media has grown at an exponential rate unfortunately, it has become unbridled and like a genie let out of the bottle, it has tended to become a conglomerate and media houses indulge in imperialism and manipulation of public opinion.
Some sixty five years ago, about the same time as Pakistan got its independence, George Orwell wrote his famous book “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. That classic novel with miraculous prescience depicted with a fair amount of accuracy, the events that were to unfold in the present era. Orwell goes on to predict that totalitarian regimes would rely on a ubiquitous “Oblong Metal Plaque like a Dulled Mirror” to keep the citizens of Oceania brainwashed and obedient: “the instrument called television could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely”.
His prophecy couldn’t be more correct for television is here to stay and cannot be shut off. It is one of the most effective means of communication since it has access to nearly every home and reaches even the remotest corners. Thus whoever controls it has a very powerful instrument in his hand for he can channelize the very thoughts of people. Although the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was established to ensure best practices by the private TV and FM Radio Channels but ineffective legislation and weak enforcement created virtual Frankenstein in the media. Cross media ownership provided unrestrained power to the media owners. Some of whom exploited this very powerful tool to further their own aims and in some cases, vested interests found a vibrant platform to further their own agenda, since media houses were more concerned with generation of revenues rather than the quality of the message or what dangerous implications it would have.
A R Khalid, Professor, Department of Journalism, University of Punjab, in his book “Communication Today” writes, “The fact is the Pakistani journalists are anything but human. Most of them are the worst breed of parasites. Instead of helping the nation they seem hell-bent to suck its blood, to strip it to last drop and even to bargain national interests for the sake of personal aggrandizement. Their slogan about freedom is only a camouflage to squeeze personal benefits out of the state officials who spare no effort either to out-clever the journalists. Thus the media men in Pakistan should realize their responsibilities and try to discharge their duties to the satisfaction of the people and not to wangle the hypocritical favours of the rulers to secure lucrative advantages for themselves”.
A considerable portion of the Pakistani press is thriving on sensationalism. These newspapers and magazines often resort to defamation of prestigious institutions. The modus operandi of these sensationalists is that they pick any small incident, often at the behest of some vested interest and blow it out of proportions in order to create sensation. Prof. Khalid’s book quoted above was published in 1991 but his comments are valid even today.
Media has been an effective tool for propaganda, which is an intricate science and a planned exercise to undermine the will of the people. Hitler had entrusted an entire ministry to Goebbles to achieve his ends. The Jews and Hindus are past masters at it. Machiavelli and Chanakya devoted volumes to the art of statecraft and deceit through propaganda.
In the case of Pakistan, its hostile eastern neighbour India has used media for its heinous aim of brainwashing of the Pakistani viewers in accordance with a devious plan. Sushma Swaraj, one time information Minister in the BJP regime, once claimed that India did not need to invade Pakistan physically. Through its powerful and effective electronic media, it would so condition the Pakistani viewers with its permissive dances, songs and dramas that Pakistanis would have a cultural invasion and be programmed to adopt Hindu customs, traditions, rituals and mores. Some of the private electronic media in Pakistan have become partners to Indian media and virulently air Indian content, which has all programs Sushma Swaraj had boasted of. Unfortunately, one such media group has partnered Indian media in its “Aman ki Asha” and in its guise the Pakistani viewers have been bombarded with the Indian content. Unfortunately some of the anchors and analysts of this media group have taken up the cudgels to tarnish the image of Pakistan and its armed forces and intelligence agency ISI to weaken the confidence of the Pakistani nation in its defenders.
Recently, a TV anchor of this group was attacked by an unknown group in Karachi. The anchor person survived but at the drop of a hat, blamed the ISI for the attempt on his life. Every journalist, institution and human rights practitioner condemned the attack and wanted the assailants to be brought to justice. The media group however went berserk in its campaign and continuously portrayed the ISI as villainous and demanded the resignation of the DG of this prestigious institution, which has been a thorn in the side of the Indians, thwarting conspiracies and assaults on Pakistan.
This is not only contrary to all forms of decorum but tantamount to conspiring with the enemy to weaken a state institution. If the media group had evidence of the involvement of the ISI, it could have presented before the free and fair judicial system and seek reparation. PEMRA would be well advised to ensure media freedom but discourage its imperialism and misuse to further vested interests.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.