The blind patriotism of our cable operators
The All Pakistan Cable Operators Association (APCOA) were greatly offended by the foreign TV channels’ coverage of Pakistan in the wake of the Mohmand cross-border attack by the US-Isaf forces, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post.
They said they could not tolerate the airing of anti-Pakistan programmes and were ready to take action on their own. They requested Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to revoke landing rights to BBC for showing “Secret Pakistan” after the Mohmand incident.
Pakistan already doesn’t show Indian news channels for fear that these may offend patriotic feeling in Pakistan. Now the BBC has been targeted for showing the ‘other side of the picture’ in one of its programmes.
The channel has offended with this manner of programmes in the past, too, but this time around the entire nation is outraged with what the US has done at the climax of a period of mutual distrust between the US establishment and its Pakistani counterpart. The coming together of the ‘Pakistani nation’ has many factors behind it – and it is not always good that a nation have just one opinion – but the trend of blocking news channels can be to the disadvantage of Pakistan.
States that ban news have a pathology and much has been written about it during and after the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe made their populations live in an information blackout. As Pakistan gets ready to confront the US as a prelude probably to breaking off all ties with it, the popular mind is being prepared through channel bans.
Is this uniformity of opinion good for us? A consensus that results in national self-damage can occur even in democracies and it has recently taken place in the US too. However, in states such as Pakistan, where one institution of the state dominates all decision-making functions and those who should be ruling and not allowing this domination are busy in lethal self-diminution, this trend of blocking TV channels can be dangerous.
Pakistani popular anger is based on just one side of the story. One version has the official endorsement and is already inclining the Pakistani mind to rash punitive reactions. (Rash reactions tend to hurt even the powerful states but tend to damage the weaker ones more permanently.) The fact is that there are two versions of the truth.
Unfortunately the American version is what is credited at the international level, while the Pakistani version can only hold if the news channels are prevented from puncturing it. Our asymmetric proxy war against India was rejected by the world while the Pakistanis were force-fed with ‘justifiable jihad’ by non-state actors. Its fallout was experienced by Pakistan’s neighbours whose fear of what Pakistan may do next has isolated Pakistan in the region too.
Even big states have to do self-correction after reversals. Weaker nations don’t have the capacity to do that without being crippled in sectors where they are weak. Creating a popular ‘consensus’ is more dangerous in Pakistan than in the US.
We had a glimpse of it during the Raymond Davis crisis when the ‘revenge’ hype manufactured through the media made it almost impossible for Islamabad to slacken its maximalist position – of letting a local judge give Davis a death verdict – and de-escalate the crisis of relations with the US. This time, Pakistan is determined to get the Americans out of the Shamsi airbase and thinks it should not attend the Bonn conference.
The world knows that if Pakistan doesn’t attend the conference, a major stakeholder in post-withdrawal Afghanistan will go missing. And it will bend all efforts to get it to return to it. By blocking news and opinion of the variant sort, Pakistan may entrench itself in dangerous isolation and may find it difficult to do course-correction in the midst of popular resistance.
What the cable operators are recommending is going to push the Pakistani TV channels into further unilateralism on what narrative to push. We all know that the ‘national narrative’ has big holes in it – take the example of the Mumbai attacks of 2008 and the current Haqqani network issues – and nurturing it will not be good for Pakistan and its palsied economy.
Source: The Express Tribune