Positive effects of media on Pakistan’s society
The media has played a significant role in the formation of a new attitude in Pakistan. The country has opened up and it has attained a progressive aura. The traditional gap between the rulers and the people has shrunk to such an extent that governments are forced to change their way of working to sustain their credibility. In countries like Pakistan it is said the institution of accountability has always remained weak and governments have been blamed for keeping the public deliberately uneducated but this is no longer an applicable theory. The media has taken up the responsibility of exposing corrupt leaders in politics or in any other institution. Because of its ubiquity, the single exposure of disorder in the public sphere spreads like fire across the country. In no time, illiterate people become aware of the moss gathered around them with the result that if in the future elections are held in a free and impartial manner, we might find many leading politicians leaving politics for good.
A very interesting trend has been observed on social media recently in the wake of the Paris attacks. Facebook’s option to paint one’s display picture in the colour of France’s flag brought out a healthy discussion between people supporting the cause against Islamic State (IS) and those criticising the west over its hypocrisy in ignoring the atrocities meted out by Israel on the Palestinians stranded in Gaza. One group bashed the other for giving space to the west whose wrong policies in combating terrorism has brought the world to this pass while the other side was trying to make a case that there can be no comparison between acts of violence. This was not polarisation of Pakistani society, as many critics tend to label it; it was a clear demarcation between two sets of people taking a position on different ideas with supporting evidence. If one comes to think of it, both groups were right. Palestine has been under the worst form of terrorism than any other country but it finds little or no support among western countries hamstrung to Israel’s settlement policy. Similarly, terrorism has become global. Every country is experiencing its 9/11. This date has become the hallmark of merciless killings of innocent human beings at the hands of terrorists. Both condemnations right; it might have saddled its proponents into competing positions but the target of their anger was singular: terrorism.
I had a chance to teach in one of the leading universities in Pakistan. Being expensive, only children from the upper class could gain admission in it. Most of the students showed little or no interest in their books. On close inquiry as to why they were studying if books or studies did not inspire them, the reply was made of the usual stuff: they were paying to buy a degree. However, the remarkable thing about these students was their grip on general knowledge. They were not only technology savvy, they also knew about different happenings around the world on the tips of their fingers. They were interpreting scenarios and recasting them into the mould of their own perspective. They were sensitive to the sectarian crisis in Pakistan. I had Sunnis, Shias and Ahmedis in my class. All of them shared each other’s grief. This sensitivity and knowledge was the result of phenomenal newsgathering and the disseminating potential of social media and other 24/7 media sources such as television, mobiles, news applications etc. These children were no longer under the influence of a closed network of people — parents, siblings and clerics hired to teach he Quran; they have at their disposal a wider arena to wage the battle of minds and hearts. If only the government could provide internet facilities in the rural areas and give the information industry in Pakistan the right impetus both in cash and motivation, the nation would be on a new trajectory of learning.
The media faces its own identity crises in countries like Pakistan vying to get rid of the traditional mind-set while evolving modern values. Still finding its way, it is at times sensationalism and utter blackmailing that take over the mores of the media. For years the Pakistani media has been gagged by military dictators who ruled the country for almost 30 years, keeping many journalists underpaid and professionally constrained. Therefore, when the media opened up and lent opportunities, this once suppressed profession spread out, flaunting rules and regulations. It was difficult even for media outlets to standardise style, pattern or trend. However, the growing pressure of sane voices and awareness in the government about the media’s inevitable presence, it would still find its identity and maturity in due course. For the time being Pakistan may have 50 percent illiteracy but its people are sounder and more enlightened due to the progressive media policies of the government.