By: Agha Haider Raza
Journalists across Pakistan have continuously stressed the importance
of protecting the freedom of speech as way of ensuring the media’s
role as one of the country’s most crucial accountability mechanisms.
However as of late the media seems to have overstepped the very
function they speak so highly of.
Creating a national narrative is part of politics. Senator Obama
touted in his 2004 keynote speech for then-Democratic Presidential
nominee John Kerry, ‘there is not a blue America or a red America,
there is the United States of America’. Upon his election in 2008,
President Obama has carried forward this narrative of a bipartisan
America that works towards the uplift of the American people. Point
being – a politician set the narrative forward and enacted upon his
election by the ballot.
Unfortunately in Pakistan, the elected officials have not framed the
national narrative, typically expected of leaders in a democratic
system of governance. This has created a vacuum, which various
institutions have hijacked to their own advantage. The MMM (Military,
Media and Mullahs) have set forward a national narrative which
directly and indirectly weakens the civilian government. Fortunately
for the MMM, the judiciary acts as a mechanism to apply the obtrusive
narrative set in motion by the MMM. One of the core issues with the
MMM is their self-belief in being righteous. While I am focusing
particularly on the media for this piece, I plan to follow up with
articles on how the Military and Maulvi have further controlled our
Our media gained a very valuable card under General Musharraf. They
were allotted independent airtime and were made independent from the
state, its institutions and various agencies across the country.
However, the media has not carried out their duties with the respect
and dignity their profession requires. The role of the media requires
them to keep a check on a civilian government (GoP), making sure they
conduct their business per the Articles and Clauses laid out in the
constitution of Pakistan. The media however, is not entitled to
dictate the narrative of the country. They do not have the electoral
mandate by the people of Pakistan to increase their standard of living
nor provide security to the citizens.
News anchors and journalists have discredited facts while highlighting
opinions. Basic principles of journalism require the media to check
the reality of statements made by politicians and hold them answerable
and responsible for their actions. Nightly talk shows have become a
forum for political jargon and predictions, which more often than not,
end up in personal attacks on various politicos.
Furthermore, many journalists have a holier than thou attitude where
they refuse to be questioned for their writings and have complete
disregard for defamation laws (albeit weak in Pakistan). No evidence
is provided for sweeping statements while specific buzzwords are used
in articles to create impressionable meanings for readers. I am not
saying one should muzzle the media, but rather the media needs to
‘practice what they preach’, accountability and transparency within
their own profession.
In the aftermath of the OBL operation, all eyes turned to Pakistan.
How could OBL be in Abbottabad? Was the military incompetent or
compliant? While the Presidency remained indoors penning an Op-Ed for
the Washington Post, Rawalpindi put together a press release for
Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir to read out in front of the cameras.
GoP lost the narrative.
A man, who accused Mr. Taseer of blasphemy, murdered the Punjab
Governor in broad daylight. While the murder itself is questionable,
the underlying factor that it was carried out over religious
differences was a narrative the GoP should have grabbed by the horns
and tackled. Rather – as is done in most political crises – the GoP
remained quiet and eventually the media focused its attention on other
issues. The cancerous ideology causing the murder was swept under the
rug. GoP lost the narrative.
The HEC was (according to the GoP) to be dissolved under the 18th
Amendment. A public battle ensued between the media and the GoP.
Without explaining legitimate reasons, the GoP was merely using a
machete where they needed a scalpel to dissolve various ministries.
Social media played an active role in highlighting the achievements of
the HEC. The GoP would not supply the public with reasons for its
decision to dissolve the Commission. Lower ranking officials
published Op-Eds, while Twitter personalities faithfully defended the
government with their own reasons, not the GoP’s narrative.
Eventually, the plan to dissolve the HEC was shelved, because the PPP
was wooing the PML-Q for Federal support. Yes, I know there is no
connection between the political courtship and HEC, but the commission
The Zardari/Gilani administration has unfortunately not been able to
tackle the new media in Pakistan. While the President refuses to stay
on message, the Prime Minister has too much message. And dare I say –
the timing is often off for whatever message comes out of Islamabad.
Tackling extremism, economic and foreign policy and outline of a plan
for domestic uplift all requires a narrative. I don’t need to hear a
vision (2020 load-shedding will end!). I need a roadmap that will be
carried out, benchmarks to be graded, and long-term goals to be
While the three M’s have formed and pushed forward Pakistan’s
narrative, none of them have been given this responsibility by the
people of Pakistan. That job is granted solely to the members of
Parliament. Unfortunately our current leaders have refused to provide
a national narrative to unite a fractured country towards a stronger
and safer future. Having said that, they need to realize they have
the authority to put forward our agenda. The media space needs to be
utilized by the government of Pakistan to change the current national
discourse. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani need to step
up to the plate and carry out the functions and duties of their
respective offices they selflessly signed up for. Our discourse needs
to be changed; our future needs to be altered.