A role for opposition and the media -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

A role for opposition and the media

By Inayatullah

Should the media be neutral? Can it be neutral? Is it realistic to expect it to be so? Are the TV channels and the print media even in advanced societies non-partisan? The answer is ‘no’. Is there anything intrinsically wrong with a newspaper which reflects a set point of view – conservative and liberal – as is the case with some of the dailies in UK? Or how about the Fox News? It indeed is a glaring example of a channel with a pronounced bias. Take the most influential newspaper in the world, the New York Times. Its editorials are often manifestly pro- or anti- legislation, policies and candidates.

No doubt, the media has to adhere to certain norms and principles. However, it may not always observe a code of conduct and may have to face criticism if it deliberately seeks to humiliate or demonise someone, or project news and stories based on bad faith. We are familiar with what is dubbed as “yellow journalism”.

In a developing country like Pakistan, the media has played a crucial role in informing and educating the people. It is unfortunate that millions of our countrymen and women cannot read and write. The electronic media however reaches everywhere and, to some extent, fills the literacy gap. It has raised awareness of the masses about politics, economics, foreign affairs, social conditions and played its part, to a large extent, in building an informed citizenry.

One may also refer to the good and bad influence of ads and entertainment in the form of dramas, movies, fashion shows, music and dance programmes. (There is a need for research to find out the pros and cons of ideas and trends dished out in the TV programmes. Imagine the impact of horror and violence saturated English movies, night after night, shown via the cable television!)

The other night, I watched a talk show on TV about the war against terrorism. A participant was emphatically of the view that it was very much our war. Another was of the view that this war had been thrust on us because of American pressure. Senator Ibrahim hit the nail on the head when he said that our involvement in it was based on fear and greed. He was clearly referring to Musharraf’s readily yielding to the US diktat. There were hardly any suicide bombings or terrorist attacks prior to the movement of our troops into FATA, along the border with Afghanistan.

An interesting comment made during the discussion was that if indeed this was our war why do we keep pestering the Americans to give us money by way of reimbursement of expenses incurred by us? Are we mere mercenaries paid to fight our own people? There is also this humiliating and unending phenomenon of drone strikes. How do these so-called attacks on our sovereignty affect our sense of self-respect and international standing? We have a parliamentary resolution requiring stoppage of this blatant intrusion in our affairs.

In my previous columns, I wrote that our PM used to condemn these attacks. He no longer does so, while the strikes are escalating. The role of the opposition, too, in this context is disappointing. An intermittent criticism by one or two of its leaders is neither here nor there. The whole question of our policy to fight this war, the heavy engagement of our army and air force in it, the huge expenditure incurred, the mercenary money we receive, and the devastatingly violent fallout by way of reaction and revenge in our cities calls for an in-depth and extended discussion of the issues involved.

This has become all the more necessary because of the American plans to penetrate into sensitive areas, like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Quetta, in the guise of intelligence, training and operational exigencies.

The London School of EconomicsÂ’ allegations against Pakistan security forces alleged clandestine linkages with Afghan Taliban commanders demand an immediate high-level probe. Just to dismiss it by calling it “rubbish” is not good enough. What is urgently needed is a thorough examination of the very basis and direction of our security and defence policy? In the new US Security Strategy unveiled last month Pakistan (along with Afghanistan) has been described as “the epicentre of violent extremism practised by Al-Qaeda.” The strategy blue print further says: “To defeat violent extremists who threaten both of our countries we will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target violent extremists within its borders and continue to provide security assistance to support those efforts.”

The US, it appears, this time will not be restricting itself to security issues only: “To strengthen Pakistan’s democracy and development, we will provide substantial assistance….This strategic partnership that we are developing with Pakistan includes deepening cooperation in a broad range of areas, addressing both security and civilian challenges.”

What does this mean? Besides the Kerry-Lugar Bill’s tight conditionalities, it means that if we will not prudently attend to our affairs and do not undertake serious thinking to evolve our own policies (or at best leave the national policy to the military high command) and prepare our own security strategy, others will do the job for us essentially to further their own interests reducing us to the status of a client state holding a beggar’s bowl.

Will the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly please pay attention to this call, persuade opposition and government to join heads and develop a pro-Pakistan security strategy? The media, too, should exert its influence to ensure that this overwhelmingly important task is not neglected any more.

The writer is a political and international relations analyst.

Email: pacade@brain.net.pk
Source: The Nation