We'll judge media as it is judging us: Kaira -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

We’ll judge media as it is judging us: Kaira

But minister was told it’s for people alone, and not govt whose job is to perform

By Afzal Khan

ISLAMABAD: The high drama that gripped the nation for nearly a week after the passage of an unusual resolution by the Punjab Assembly censuring the media, has apparently ended in a bizarre fashion. A counter resolution “acknowledging” journalists’ role in the restoration of democracy and independence of judiciary was meekly approved by nearly 150 lawmakers. It was marked more by words of consolation to buttress newsmen’s hurt ego than to recant, retract or express remorse on the earlier vitriolic attacks.

No wonder it has failed to satisfy journalists who have justifiably labelled it as an “eyewash”. But what they can do now? It is no more possible to build up the same momentum we witnessed last week. The initiative has slipped from their hands and all that they can do is to be content with whatever they have got. After all the media power that was in play during the standoff, has a limit. The moral of the story is that this power has to be exercised with utmost care and responsibility. If it is stretched too far as was evident from the strident demands made by protesters outside the Punjab Assembly, it will ratchet back causing considerable damage and embarrassment.

The entire episode has left a bad taste in the mouth and revealed some deep faultlines that run through our political and media landscape. Hypocrisy, deceit, doublespeak and deflection to shift blame have been the rule of the game. The crisis is almost over but its political implications and professional backlash would go beyond the tremours it has caused at present.

First we saw offensive outbursts of members accusing journalists and anchors of debasing elected representatives and ridiculing women members through caricatures in a conspiracy to derail the democratic process. There was lot of name calling: (blackmailers, corrupt, conspirators, enemies of democracy and carriers of muck and smear). In sharp contrast the resolution that followed with the support of all mainstream parties was couched in more refined language and carefully chosen phrases.

The media’s knee-jerk response, vented with unprecedented rage, was baffling. The journalists demanded withdrawal of the resolution refusing any prior negotiations, boycotted assembly proceedings, staged protest rallies across the country and denounced the government and elected representatives while imputing sinister motives. Its ferocity unnerved the leadership of the movers who not only distanced themselves from the prevalent atmosphere in the assembly hostile to journalists but even called for expulsion of the mover. This was in sharp contrast to the mood among their members who seem sticking to their guns as was evident from the rousing reception given to Sanaullah Khan Mastikhel, the man who had spearheaded the assault.

Mutual mistrust and misconceptions have dominated the latest developments. Notwithstanding their repeated disclaimers, the MPs believe that the relentless media campaign against fake degrees, corruption and mis-governance is motivated and inspired by forces who want to scandalise politicians and destabilise present democratic dispensation.

Prima facie the resolution summed up the sense of the house which was articulated by members during earlier speeches. The exception taken to it was based on a number of factors. i- It had no precedence in parliamentary history. ii) It smacked of ominous intentions to impose curbs; unleash a crack down; put the media on the defensive; and deflect attention from more pressing issues like corruption, bad governance and finally the question of fake degrees.

The issue has far serious implications than could be envisaged when it erupted. On the receiving end is the PML-N which has seen one misfortune after another in recent months swapping the role with the PPP. Fortunes have changed for the PPP and the media has trained its guns against the PML-N. The PPP faced charges of rampant corruption, blatant disregard of rules and merit, utter lack of governance, defiance and smear campaign against the judiciary and profligate style of governance. The PML-N is being accused of harbouring anti-media designs, indulging in double speak and cohabiting with banned extremist outfits who are producing suicide bombers. Its ability to deliver good governance is increasingly becoming suspect.

Opponents of the PML-N are exulting in its present predicament which has brought it in direct conflict with the media. In a display of rank opportunism, the likes of Shujaat and Babar Awan conveniently ignored the role of their own members in the anti-media resolution and instead directly blamed Nawaz Sharif for the entire crisis. Sharif had taken a principled position in decrying the resolution but had apparently panicked because of countrywide condemnation. He went out of the way to declare that people like Mastikhel be kicked out of the party. Already facing serious depletion of its parliamentary strength in the wake of fake degree disqualifications that may destabilise its government in the province, the PML-N feels constrained to backtrack on Mastikhel expulsion.

The revelation by provincial Law Minister Sanaullah that the original resolution envisaged some restrictions on the media, somewhat vindicates the strong misgivings voiced by newsmen. Governments besieged by awkward disclosures are always vulnerable to nurture the thought of reining in the messenger that brings unwelcome message. When the PPP was in trouble it hit back at the media calling them “political actors”. There were clear vibes that restrictive measures are being contemplated at various levels. Mercifully, the party pulled back from the disastrous course.

At a recent meeting in Islamabad Press Club, Information Minister Kaira declared: “We will judge the media as well just as it is judging us.” The writer pointed out that the government’s obligation is to perform and let the people judge it. The people include the media, the civil society and the electorate. The media is to be judged by its audience and the civil society. These are parameters of authority and obligations of every institution. Kaira insisted that he was only asserting his right and not calling for any press curbs. There can be thin line between the two and any misjudgment may induce the government to think of punishments.
Source: The News
Date:7/17/2010