Peer pressure is the answer
By: M Ziauddin
It is the job of the media to keep the government of the day under a very close watch and play the watchdog role to the best of its ability and capacity. The purpose is to keep the government from transgressing the civilised norms of governance; to discourage it from taking liberties with the constitution; to deter it from dipping its hands in the government till; to dissuade it from indulging in cronyism, favouritism, nepotism and political self-aggrandisement; and also to keep the people at large abreast with the up-to-date scorecard of the performance of the government. At the same time, it is also the duty of the watchdog to closely monitor the opposition as well to see if it is performing the job of the government-in-waiting honestly and responsibly, keeping the government on its toes and not opposing for the sake of opposition, but only for the greater good of the people.
The governments have the right to defend themselves against unfounded and baseless charges in the media. But they do not have the right to manipulate or try to buy off the media to suppress the truth and mislead the masses. Similarly, the parties in opposition have the right to complain against exaggerated media criticism. But again, it has no right to accuse the media of indulging in blackmail and/or in false propaganda to divert the attention of the masses from its failures. Seen in this context, the relations between the media and the government of the day and the opposition parties over the last 55 months appear far from being ideal. By ideal, I do not mean you-scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours kind of relations but an adversarial relationship that does not degenerate into pettiness. I felt that over the last four and a half years, the media, at times, went overboard with its watchdog role and the government/opposition parties, more often than not, were too manipulative.
Now, that we are probably just about to enter the last five-month lap of the current government’s tenure — most of which, I am sure, will be spent in electioneering — the media and the political parties will need to reassess their respective performances and rehash suitably their respective strategies so as to be able to help the people at large bring in a responsible and responsive new government through a fair, free and impartial general election, scheduled sometime early next year. While doing so, they must keep in mind that no matter how critical or how supportive the media is of a government or of the opposition parties — or, for that matter, how much success or failure the government and the parties in opposition have had in buying off the media — in normal circumstances, these factors influence the results of the elections only marginally.
Of course, in politics, perceptions play a significant role. But no matter how fancy the wrapper, if the product is bad it would not sell. On the other hand, no matter how bad the media image, if the party in question has served at the grassroots level to the satisfaction of a maximum number of people, then nothing would stop it from winning at the polls. In view of this, it would be advisable for the media to refrain from going overboard in support or in opposition of any of the contesting political parties. For the same reason, political parties would find it advisable to resist the temptation of buying media support for their election campaigns. Media, however, is not a monolithic entity. There are hundreds of newspapers and nearly 50 news/current affairs television channels in the country. Those who own these media vehicles may find it impossible not to be persuaded by their own respective political likes and dislikes and those who work in these media vehicles would be nursing their own likes and dislikes while performing their professional duties. Some of the owners and/or fieldworkers may find it very difficult to refuse tempting financial offers from political parties in return for their support. There is no way one can bring some kind of ethical discipline in this far from ideal situation, except through peer pressure.