Prowess pundits and the media -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Prowess pundits and the media

Miranda Husain

These pundit-prowess experts are the professional opportunists who, when talk turns to the current political scenario, move swiftly to monopolise the spotlight with their zealous decrying of the media. And to hell with the damned cat lover.

It may be homage to the arrogance of youth that in times gone by, I used to find myself happy to engage in debates on the media’s role within society. A self-imposed naivety, perhaps, that seduced me into taking these conversational overtures as part of a healthy, wider discourse on narrative dissent.

Today, however, I would describe the passing of years – that begrudging recognition that belonging to the original MTV generation is, in contemporary terms, about as uncool as being the last hippie standing — as the basis for my increasing intolerance of shameless soundbyters.

These are the professional opportunists who, when talk turns to the current political scenario, move swiftly to monopolise the spotlight with their zealous decrying of the media. And to hell with the damned cat lover.

This, of course, is entirely understandable. Every would-be superhero needs to defeat a would-be villain to achieve elevated moral recognition.

Naturally, most of these experts in pundit-prowess are sufficiently sophisticated to realise that simply labelling the media sensationalist – without elaboration – is no longer considered cricket.

Thus we are now inundated by disco remixes of soundbyte classics.

The Pakistani media, they say, unashamedly plays a negative role by criticising a ruling government and covering negative stories, such as escalating terrorist violence. Of course, our experts conveniently forget that the media, as society’s fourth pillar, is part of a nation’s system of checks and balances. Not to mention a public information service. Meaning that reporting is only about collecting the facts and, at times, joining the dots. And that editorials, within the print media context, and talk shows, within the electronic, are the only spaces where organisations have the right to make their political viewpoints known.

Of course, the media itself must be subject to external checks and balances. Thus a superintendent of police is right to blast crime reporters for threatening to depict law enforcers in a less than flattering hue unless certain information is handed over. And is equally justified in lambasting journalists across the board for abusing their ‘power’ by flashing their press cards as a get-out-of-jail free pass. But, unfortunately, these criticisms fail to recognise that such dirty tricks represent the broader symptoms of a trust deficit society. Meaning that when a drunken police officer, for example, sees fit to stop a lone female driver late at night, shooing away his on-the-beat colleague, and demand that she exit her vehicle – the flashing of a press card may provide the only safeguard against harassment, or worse.

The key, therefore, is to know how to choose one’s battles on a priority basis.

One starting place may be holding certain quarters of the media to task over selling shares to members of a ruling government. Such moves naturally compromise an organisation’s editorial policy, making a mockery of the notion of a so-called independent free media.

Similarly, it would be more than reasonable to censure the media when it collectively supports government practices of taking it ‘into confidence’ by attending off-the-record briefings, as happened regularly under the last regime. In such cases, the media conveniently forgets that it has no business acting as middleman between a government and its citizenry. Thus a blanket boycott of these convivial get-togethers can be the only appropriate response.

The same can be said of the media’s approach to advertising. Meaning that when a regime curbs media freedoms, the industry should unite and refuse to carry or air paid government advertisements professing its role in the march towards media freedom. Ditto regarding the media’s tendency, at times, to self-censor when news reports run contrary to the ‘policyÂ’ of certain advertisers.

But it does not end there, given our pundit-prowess experts’ penchant for venting their angst in equal dose against the Western media.

Thus when an American outlet, for example, spotlights Pakistan’s alleged role in nuclear component trafficking or the harbouring of cross-border terrorist groups, our experts translate this into Western conspiracies to discredit the country.

Yet in doing so, they overlook one important fact: in most of these instances, Pakistani sources are quoted. Likely because they believe that the local media may not highlight their viewpoint, given the certain editorial restrictions mentioned earlier. Or they may just feel flattered at being courted by global players.

I would suggest that our pundit-prowess experts may do better to take issue, for example, with the focus of decadent Muslim East stories – ranging from the excesses of the elite party circuit, to the manufacturing of export-only sex toys, to prostitution – by Western journalists. Not because these realities somehow defame Pakistan. But because the objective is simply to send a message to Muslim populations in the West that their country of origin has seemingly moved on. Thereby obscuring the need for internal and inclusive debate there.

And finally, our pundit-prowess experts should feel free to take umbrage at foreign journalists coming to Pakistan with the specific mandate of covering issues from a Western perspective. Again, news or feature reporting should be about ground realities, not tailoring the end product for a particular readership or audience. In addition, certain foreign journalists should stop expecting to rely almost exclusively on local journalists to draft pitches and reporting outlines and to surrender hard won contact lists.

I could go on, but it I must concede that it does, at times, become rather tiring being the last hippie standing.
Source: Daily Times
Date:3/25/2010