Media trial of the army or dry cleaning? —Kahar Zalmay -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media trial of the army or dry cleaning? —Kahar Zalmay

Analysts who have an understanding of the Pakistani military believe that it is not different from any South American military, but what makes it more perilous is its public relations wing that manipulates the media people in Pakistan

Recently, four prime time talk shows were focused on the military and its shenanigans. The subjects ranged from the military’s role in the case of missing persons to its inexplicit role in the Memogate scandal not only to send Ambassador Haqqani home but also to put pressure on the civilian government.

This campaign has been initiated at a time when the government is hugely discredited for being very incompetent. It makes one suspect who could have provoked an atmosphere that propelled this campaign. Does it have a political intent? Is it really a media trial or an effort on the part of the media to condone the crimes committed by the Pakistan Army in the past like toppling civilian governments, hatching plots to weaken civilian institutions and now the latest: nurturing militant organisations as a strategic asset?

I might sound presumptuous to form an opinion at this early stage with regard to the authenticity of this trial. But what makes one question the credibility of this attempt is that two things are not debated at these talk shows. First, the issue of the military budget is not discussed — how much budget does the military spend and under which heads and why it should not be debated and sanctioned by parliament. Second, they do not discuss the audit of the ISI budget and civilian oversight of its operations (the former defence secretary submitted that his ministry did not exercise such oversight to the Supreme Court), as that has been the source of disruption and machinations in the country. Forming the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in the 1990s is a clear example of the misuse of the ISI budget and its freedom from civilian control. It is hoped that much more would become public when the Supreme Court starts hearing the long awaited Mehran Bank scandal case later this month.

A recent statement of our very prudent and veteran politician, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, that he did not want to end up in jail speaking about the military budget kind of corroborates the fears of media persons. Such messages were reported by other stakeholders as well recently.

The timing of this media trial makes one suspect the motive. I believe that the time suits the army to have such a campaign launched to absolve itself of the blunders and crimes it has committed and come through looking clean as the people would compare them with the present setup. This is what I witnessed in a talk show when messages from the public were displayed on the screen. The question that was put forward to the viewers was: should the ISI have any role in Pakistani politics? The response from most of the viewers was in the affirmative as they are made to believe that the politicians are not only corrupt to their core but are thoroughly incompetent as well. The messages were mostly from people who have access to mainstream media and they form their opinion watching television talk shows and reading newspapers. They are not that smart to understand the media theories of agenda setting or spiral of silence, but for more informed and educated people this sudden upsurge in programmes at this particular stage targeting the army and its role in politics is indeed surprising keeping in view the influence of the army and the dread of the ISI, long firmly cultivated in the Pakistani media.

Some people believe that the strength of the army and the ISI is its tangible financial assets and that is what attracts not only the politicians to join its ranks but young people also wish to be recruited to become rich and powerful. Their desire is to not let this country drift into the hands of the ‘bloody civilians’ and stay in power overtly or covertly.

The intention is not to discredit those media persons who have a history of struggle for the supremacy of civilian rule and have spent jail terms for freedom of speech and the media or those born-again journalists who gained courage and started speaking up against military intervention in politics. The perception developed regarding such journalists is hard to dispel, but if they have somehow reconsidered their views and have a genuine desire for improvement, it should be appreciated.

Analysts who have an understanding of the Pakistani military believe that it is not different from any South American military, but what makes it more perilous is its public relations wing that manipulates the media people in Pakistan. That is the reason most of the media stories are tilted in favour of the military in most cases. In some cases the stories and opinion pieces are so obviously pro-military that a perception developed that the army has a strong hold over the media and uses it against the politicians and political setups.

Whatever the case may be, whether this is genuinely a media trial of the army or a dry cleaning process, we should hope that the current trend will keep on going and the media plays the role of a watchdog, which is what it should be doing in any democracy. Nobody wants it to criticise the establishment unnecessarily but when it is due, it should not be reluctant to expose it and tell what its role actually is. The media should stand with the people and strengthen democracy and not be used as a tool by the establishment to further its interests, which are in collision with the interests of this country.

The writer can be reached at kaharzalmay@yahoo.com

Source: Daily Times