Media and the right to dialogue in democracy -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media and the right to dialogue in democracy

Pakistan Press Foundation

A pragmatic approach and rationality are very important factors in policy-making by parliamentary representatives to formulate bills and pass them. Our youth has so much potential and a pioneering approach but they remain unheard because of joblessness and a lack of platforms to express their views.

In order to assess the social scenario of Pakistan, it is important to understand the true spirit of democracy here. The frustration of our citizens, especially the youth who comprise the largest component of the population of Pakistan, is growing due to the economic crash and diminishing opportunities here. The basic problem that can be seen is a communication gap between the government and the aggrieved, which may aggravate the situation if the voices of the latter are not heard. The best way for the youth to communicate with the mainstream is through the media.

There are many types of media available in Pakistan, both conventional and unconventional. How much does the mainstream, conventional media digress from ground realities and what is their role in changing the policies of the state are questions that still need to be ascertained. In many cases, it has been found that the ground reality is never depicted in the corporate media, which is heavily politicised and serves the interests of sponsors, thus further widening the communication gap between the aggrieved and the government. Based on the geo-political and cultural structure of Pakistan, there is the need for a strong mass campaign to remove biased perceptions at the social level by engaging social activists and key political lobbyists to pressure the government and ensure protection of fundamental rights of every citizen regardless of class, creed, ethnicity, gender or religion.

The recent situation created by a media house and the reaction of the ISI is deplorable, with the threat of containing the free press or even banning it for airing the news of the attack on Hamid Mir and his brother’s claim of ISI involvement. It is true that airing this news was premature but it does not mean that the licence can be revoked and the nation deprived of a particular news source. It is akin to depriving the nation of their fundamental right to information. The essence of democracy lies in the sovereignty of the people of a country. Unless people are consulted and consent sought on matters of government, democracy cannot exist. The tools of democracy consist of an expression of the ideas, views, news and feedback from the audience and practitioners, criticism and reviews, public circulation and the vicinity or proximity of an incident, event or the birth of an idea in analysing how, when, why and where it has taken place. Democracy is based on the freely expressed will of the people, which can only be done through opening dialogue channels with the government.

In his landmark speech in Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln defined a democratic government as a “government of the people, for the people and by the people”. Two prominent scholars of journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenthal, described certain elements in their book Elements of Journalism. These elements include truthfulness, loyalty to citizens, verification, independent monitoring of power, independence, criticism, compromise, relevance, comprehensive and proportional news, personal conscience, rights and responsibility of the citizens. The major objective of public discourse is keeping the public informed in a factual, free and balanced way. Its important roles include acting as a bridge between the government and the people, and lessening the gap between them, protecting the interests of the people and making the elected representatives accountable to the people.

According to writer Walter Lippmann, the main role of a journalist is to act as a mediator between the public and policy makers. As the public has little understanding of actual facts, a journalist should interpret events and views on their behalf. Lippmann’s views were heavily opposed by another significant philosopher, John Dewey, who was of the view that the public is not only capable of understanding the facts and issues very well but is also very active in responding to these. He was of the view that a journalist’s role is not merely to report the events or issues but also to report and weigh the consequences arising out of these issues. Community journalism is an offshoot of Dewey’s philosophy.

For the purpose of understanding current issues and the constraints the media faces in Pakistan, we have divided them into two categories. The media’s constraints relate to the laws and regulations that control freedom of expression and the media, and quality constraints refer to the degeneration of professionalism by journalists. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is the best example when it comes to curbing freedom of speech due to which many important views of the youth remain misrepresented. Because of media constraints, the quality of news is also heavily compromised: lack of objectivity, biased overviews, distortion of the truth, plagiarism, intellectual dishonesty and inaccurate reporting are serious quality control problems. As an integral part of the democratic structure, the educated youth can play a pivotal role in sustaining and further strengthening democratic norms within a given society. It is important for the youth to develop clear concepts of the different tools of democracy and to promote ways that can assist them in the execution of their professional services through the media.

In order for them to be able to better perform their duties they should be able to fully amalgamate dynamic approaches towards strengthening democracy by making proper use of the media to bring out their pragmatism and make innovations in their respective professional fields. Alternate media, in this regard, becomes handy in assessing their success as a means of writing their views by anyone, which needs equal attention by the state in terms of policy making and redressing the youth’s grievances. Pakistan is a country where multitudes of thought, people and geography exist. Yet it is a nation that suffers severely from an identity crisis, which has bred an easy ground for social chaos and discrimination against the vulnerable, marginalised and minority classes of Pakistan. Resultantly, social bigotry has become a common phenomenon, which is further fuelled by judgmental fervour that has been propagated through misunderstood interpretations of the ideology of Pakistan. Orthodox rhetoric makes society lose its appreciation of cultural, ethnic, scientific and religious diversities; a sense of helplessness and desperation grows stronger in the affected communities that want to make their voices heard. The youth has a right to dialogue in any democratic set-up to help express their pragmatic and professional views, which can be very beneficial in the discourse in the social and physical sciences and the intellectual growth of a nation, if the government pays any heed to their views.

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