Pakistan in Transformation


*This article originally appeared in Muftah.org and has been republished with permission.

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Founded in 1947, Pakistan has traveled a troublesome road.

For approximately thirty-five of its sixty-six years in existence, four different military dictatorships have ruled the country.

Even under civilian rule, the country has been gripped by political instability, with governments subject to intrigues and interventions by Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.

In light of the Arab Spring, many Arab nations have been compared to the country, especially regarding the military’s involvement in politics.

Nevertheless, despite Pakistan’s many challenges, there has been a lack of attention to contemporary developments in the country, which represent nothing less than a silent revolution.

Pakistan is in transformation.

Democratic Political Evolution:

In 2008, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was elected to office. The civilian government brought an end to the military dictatorship of then Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf, which had started nearly a decade earlier.

Five years later, in May 2013, Pakistan held its next scheduled round of parliamentary elections, making the PPP the first democratically-elected civilian government in the country’s history to complete its full term.

While this was an important milestone, it was also a bittersweet moment of reflection for ordinary Pakistani citizens.

An excerpt from Omar Waraich’s TIME’s article “Two Cheers for Pakistani Democracy: A Sobering Milestone” may help in explaining these sentiments:

‘Public resentment has been fed by an endless litany of problems: enduring power shortages (up to 18 hours a day at the peak of summer); the failure to curb terrorist attacks, protect religious minorities and formulate a coherent anti-terrorism strategy; a slow and weak response to the floods; sluggish economic growth, a bloated public sector, cresting inflation; and tales of legendary corruption, carving out private fortunes from a treasury to which they scandalously pay little in tax

In the words of Huma Yusuf, a Pakistani policy analyst: “It’s a true milestone that signals an emerging consensus that democracy is the right governing system for Pakistan. There’s a long way yet to go.”

Having suffered greatly under the previous administration, Pakistanis jumped at the opportunity to vote the incumbent PPP government out during the elections held on May 11. Recording an impressive voter turn-out of 55%, the contest set Pakistan on a new path.

The elections were largely peaceful with the EU Mission finding that 90% of polling stations exhibited satisfactory electoral conduct.

Braving security risks, terrorist threats, the sweltering heat of May and an entrenched sense of indifference, the people boldly gave their vote of confidence to democracy. In doing so, they rejected and repudiated perceptions that countries like Pakistan are ‘not ready for democracy’.

An unprecedented feat, the elections marked the peaceful transition from one elected government to another. In the process, these events resulted in a notable win for the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, the party head and former twice-elected prime minister, was elected prime minister for the third time.

The PML-N is generally seen as a moderate party. Before being ousted by General Pervez Musharraf in the coup of 1999, it was  previously voted into power in 1990 and 1997, and it is, to date, the only party in the history of the country to have a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Since the coup, it has reiterated its commitment to democracy and complete opposition to any undemocratic intervention in Pakistan’s politics and government.

Misconceptions:

A number of misconceptions about Pakistan’s state structure must be clarified to understand the changes currently occurring in the country as well as its democratic, political and social development.

In contrast to popular assumptions, with only one exception, Pakistanis have never elected an Islamist government or been ruled by Islamists. General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator without electoral legitimacy who ruled from 1978 until his death in an air crash 1988, is the one aberration.

While religious parties have wielded great power at the grassroots level and mastered the art of populist rhetoric, they have managed to grab only a meager amount of votes in elections.

This might explain the eagerness of religious parties in Pakistan to offer their services to military-run governments, which represent their best chance of sharing in governance processes.

Along with having vital, functioning state institutions, since the 1970s, Pakistan has had a proper, popularly accepted constitution in place, although numerous military interventions in politics have prevented its proper implementation from occurring. In recent years however the activist judiciary and media have resulted in greater accountability towards the ideals the constitution upholds.

In contrast to the gloom and doom that many believe indefinitely prevails in the country, Pakistan today hosts a vibrant, free, and fledgling independent print and electronic media; an active judiciary that respects the importance of the rule of law; an army that has begun to receive scrutiny and that has, at least ostensibly, taken a back-seat in politics; a robust opposition in parliament; and a vigilant network of citizens on social media who generously indulge in the country’s relative freedom of expression.

Pakistanis are also looking forward to the trial of Musharraf, under house arrest since his return this year on charges of deposing and arresting the judiciary in 2007 (in response to which the Movement for the Restoration of the Judiciary, popularly known as the Lawyers’ Movement, which ran from 2007 to 2009). He is also to face justice in connection with the murder of both Benazir Bhutto and the Baloch leader, Akbar Bugti; both cases in which he has been named the prime suspect.

Pakistan is a country that is continually learning the prerequisites for successful democracy: consensus-building, collaboration, dialogue, and inclusiveness.

This developing view can be seen in the country’s eighteenth constitutional amendment. Passed in 2012, the new law curbed the president’s sweeping powers to unilaterally dissolve the parliament, which had caused much havoc in the preceding years.

Population and Social Characteristics:

Pakistan enjoys massive human capital that has heretofore been hindered by political crises and widespread unemployment.

It is home to a population of 190 million people. Seventy million of these individuals are part of the country’s middle class, while 16 million have access to the Internet. 67.1% of Pakistanis are below the age of thirty.

The country is urbanizing at the fastest rate in South Asia. Half the population will live in cities by 2025, up one-third from current figures.

Pakistan has a burgeoning textile industry and immense potential to be an emerging market. It has women who serve both on political and combat frontlines and has produced a Nobel Laureate and two Oscar winners.

Conclusion: A Difficult Country

Yet side by side with these signs of success are the other, alarming aspects of Pakistan’s character.

Today, the country stands at the convergence of many grave social, political, and economic issues. It faces challenges from the dual monstrosity that is terrorism and extremism; an acute imbalance between military-civilian relations; corruption and venality; an economic breakdown; societal decadence; bureaucratic infighting; and hurdles in its geopolitical relations.

Just as the Arab world is in the throes of revolution and rebellion today, Pakistan also seeks a break from its own past, which is riddled with instability, uncertainty, contempt of law, and dictatorial violations of the sanctity and soul of the country.

This year’s democratic transition brings with it the hope that Pakistan will finally close the chapter on its history of military intervention in politics. It also indicates the emergence of a democratic culture in a place where the rule of law had long been subordinate.

Pakistan’s new government may not entirely cure its problems but that these historic elections have occurred is an achievement in itself. Indeed, it represents a much-needed first step in the right direction.

The world should embrace Pakistan as it finally embraces democracy.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Political Expediency & Abetting Extremism in Pakistan


*First published on Borderline Green.

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With the arrival of 2013 and fast-approaching elections scheduled for the year, the political environment in Pakistan is heating up. Recently, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which is in government presently, announced an alliance with the Sunni Ittehad Council.

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In view of the political season, this would be seen as a conventional electoral alliance, except that it isn’t.

In early January 2011, Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who belonged to Pakistan People’s Party himself, was gunned down in broad daylight by his guard Malik Mumtaz Qadri due to his vehement opposition to the country’s controversial Blasphemy Laws. An incident which intensely polarized the Pakistani society, leaving its fault lines exposed; with the people divided over antipathy to the killing and shockingly, raising justifications for it on religious grounds.

A product of this polarization, the Sunni Ittehad Council, amongst the other hordes, thronged to the court where Qadri was later presented to hail, cheer and garland him. Later, they held rallies in his support.

Despite being small, like all religious parties in Pakistan, the Sunni Ittehad Council has great street power stemming from the country being deeply religious (over 95% in Pakistan are Muslims) and have considerable organizational capacity and ability. Although, for reasons otherwise, this power of the religious parties does not translate into a significant percentage of votes at elections.

In 2001, the Sunni Ittehad Council(SIC) launched a *’Difa-e-Pakistan’ (Defense of Pakistan) campaign that was aimed at creating public awareness against NATO attacks on Pakistan’s border military posts in Mohmand Agency. Also involving participation in a ‘Condemn America Day’.

Despite this, it was revealed after SIC’s support for Qadri that the U.S government had given aid to them in 2009 to plan and organize nationwide rallies, demonstrations and protests against militants, suicide-bombings and terrorist attacks.

A report on the matter says:

A US diplomat said that the embassy had given money to the group to organise the rallies, but that it had since changed direction and leadership. He said it was a one-off grant, and wouldn’t be repeated.

The Ittehad council was formed in 2009 to counter extremism. It groups politicians and clerics from Pakistan’s traditionalist Barelvi Muslim movement, often referred to as theological moderates in the Pakistani context.

Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, is a Barelvi. He claimed he acted to defend the honour of Prophet Mohammed.

At its rallies, the group (Sunni Ittehad Council) maintains its criticism of the Taliban even as it supports Qadri — a seemingly contradictory stance that suggests its leaders may be more interested in harnessing the political support and street power of Barelvis than in genuinely countering militancy.

For many, this indicated that Sunni Ittehad Council’s ardent antagonism towards militancy was somewhat, a dollar-fueled programme or play that they merely executed and orchestrated.

In response to the revelation, the head of the council Sahibzada Fazal Karim said:

This propaganda is being unleashed against us because we are strongly opposed to Western democracy and American policies in the region and in the world.. we are against extremism, but we support Qadri because he did a right thing,”

The Sunni Ittehad Council also strongly denounced any move to grant India the status of Most Favored Nation by Pakistan as means of liberalizing trade between the countries which it is firmly against.

Scholars and clerics from the SIC were part of the Islamic clerics in Pakistan which publicly denounced and even issued a fatwa against the Taliban’s attempt to kill Malala Yousafzai. Many people and skeptics see these occasional stances of theirs as a smokescreen to appear religiously moderate and politically progressive.

What makes this alliance stand out is the popular perception, at home and especially abroad, of the Pakistan People’s Party as a liberal or a relatively liberal party in Pakistan: one that has suffered the losses of many of its members and leaders to the rage of extremism, including its chairperson and the Muslim world‘s first female prime minister, the iconic Benazir Bhutto, due to its liberal and staunchly anti-extremist stances. But the  PPP has continually belied this image with its decisions and reactions to events in this tenure, that astoundingly go uncritically unquestioned by Pakistan’s otherwise vocal intellectuals.

PML ASWJ articleIt is not just the PPP which has formed such an alliance, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or PML-N is also widely known to be on cordial terms with and to have reached a political consensus over seat adjustments for the upcoming general elections with the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. The SSP, which resurged by changing its name to ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’ in order to display organizational differentiation – from the SSP which was banned under Musharraf’s rule – is an extremist and terrorist organization.  Ineffectively banned by the state, it is primarily concerned with thwarting Shia influence in Pakistan. It is the ideological father of the terrorist militant organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangivi which has been responsible for the slaughter of countless Shias in Pakistan.

These are not isolated events of the electoral season.The formation of these reprehensible alliances by two of Pakistan’s largest and most prominent political parties which have enjoyed stints in power are but a microcosm of politics in this South Asian country:

Playing to the gallery of the religious right, exploiting religion, allying with extremist factions for political gain which inevitably leads to appeasing and patronizing them thus, augmenting their growth and emboldening them.

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These instances of indulgence in political expediency, which reign supreme, have been a potent factor in abetting extremism in Pakistan.

As Pakistan finds itself at a crucial juncture, it is a demand of time that all segments of the state unite to devote themselves, with absolute sincerity, to the battle against extremism and terrorism that has already spilled the blood of over 40,000 innocent Pakistanis and cast the state as a virtual international outcast.

It is mutually exclusive for a party or government which blatantly collaborates and partners with organizations, that are established on the idea of hate and radicalism and promote bigotry, to ever fully commit itself to the war against terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. And that is the last that the country needs today.

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*Not to be confused with ’Difa-e-Pakistan Council’ (Council for the Defense of Pakistan) which is an umbrella coalition of more than 40 Pakistani quasi-political religious parties that advocates closing NATO supply routes to Afghanistan and rejects the Pakistani government decision to grant India most-favored nation status.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Pakistan’s Political Messiah Fixation


*Originally published in Pakistan Today.

A chapter of a survey released in July 2012 by PEW, spanning six predominantly Muslim countries – Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia – shows that majorities in four of the six states believe that democracy, rather than a strong leader, can best solve their country’s problems.

The country with the most prominent opinion contrary to those of other countries is Pakistan, where preference of a leader over a democratic government is mirrored in the percentages: 61 percent of Pakistanis say their country should rely on a strong leader, while just 31 percent say democracy can better solve national problems.

The expression of favorability towards an individual over a system, be it judicial or governmental, isn’t a new phenomena but a political and cultural approach that has been ingrained in Pakistan.

The plausible notion of a strong leader being the pivot of progress has been made to inflate in importance through over-emphasis in the country, to a magnitude that all remaining requisites for the state’s prosperity are blurred into insignificance by it. That is, potential leaders or figures are deemed the panacea; virtually messiahs.

Although the roots of this precedence remain somewhat obscure, it can be assumed that they lie in the grounds of political culture and history.

A quick glimpse through Pakistan’s tumultuous history would reveal a dearth of stability and continuation of a democratic system, which all the more provides validation to the idea that Pakistan is a developing democracy, not yet a complete democracy.

In February this year, a survey conducted by the Oxford Research International says Libyans would favor a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government. Commenting on which Oxford University’s Dr Christoph Sahm said the survey suggested Libyans lacked the knowledge of how democracy works.

This applies to Pakistan as well.

This inadequacy of acquaintance with the system of democracy is one of the reasons for the ‘Messiah Mania’ in Pakistan: lack of understanding of how democracy works and interest in it leads to supposing one man can cure the country’s ills all by his existence at the helm.

A developing democracy, as we are, Pakistanis are also terribly disenchanted with the order of democracy itself after what they have seen in this greatly disappointing democratically-elected government’s tenure.

 Sifting through the historical pages of Pakistan’s formation, most Pakistanis evince towards Jinnah single-handedly creating Pakistan in support of this preference (of choosing an individual or leader over a system), forgetting the lapses of decades that have occurred since 1947 and the vortex of change that there has been on the geographical, political, social, regional and national landscapes, which cancel much, if not the entire, basis of comparisons and references of Jinnah.

Pakistan’s political culture has also bred this disposition: with parties centered on dynasties, their histories and scions, politics and governance in Pakistan have been made a play of personalities beyond what they should probably be.

But with the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), it has been proven that the fashioning of this leaning is not exclusive to dynastic and ‘family’ parties such as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The Kaptaan’s larger than life persona, charisma of the cricketing days and illustrious background in a sport that is similar to religion in Pakistan’s – along with philanthropy, his shrewd stance that subliminally echoes this mentality (a single honest man can channel change even through a team of ideological turncoats, opportunists and remnants of previous regimes) – has alone bolstered and intensified the idea of a messiah.

A dictatorial history may also explain why nations like Pakistan and Libya would choose a ‘strong leader’ over a democratic government.

A past that has been a witness to and victim of four separate authoritarian military men wheels around the concept of a single omnipotent figure. This has devised the perception of ‘one-man-government’ in peoples’ mind who believe a lone man can cause massive shifts in the country’s fortunes, systems and situations depending on his nature an d intentions (good or bad).

After the death of Czech politician Vaclav Havel and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Joshua A Trucker, professor of politics at New York University, pertinently writes in his article on Al-Jazeera English ‘How much do individuals really matter in politics?’

The most pressing question for policymakers now is how likely it is that the course of Czech or North Korean politics will be altered by the death of Havel or Kim. Many important differences exist between the two, not the least of which is that Havel has been out of political power for years now, while Kim (we assume) has been running the country.

However, perhaps the most important difference is the fact that the Czech Republic is an institutionalized democracy while North Korea may be the world’s last totalitarian dictatorship. Therefore, one viable hypothesis would seem to be that there should be less disruption to the Czech Republic’s political trajectory (or any established democracy) due to the death of an important political figure than in a case like North Korea, where power is so centrally wrapped up around one person.”

Professor Trucker’s analysis is the principal point in this matter: power patterns contrast between a totalitarian and democratic governments and countries. Absolute control and authority is always vested in one figure in an autocracy but an individual is weighed by and down by the system in democracy (especially in a parliamentary democracy) with no space for any such ‘messiah’.

Another pressing question arises of this messiah culture that stresses a tremendous amount of reliance on a single figure: what will become of the country with the demise of the leader? Will the system, institutions and nation tumble into chaos? Who will take his place? After all, even messiahs are mortals.

Pakistan will have to take political leaders as they are: humans with flaws, who will have to make compromises, reconciliations and unfavorable decisions in the face of political gridlocks. A politician may possess a fine character and even a vision, but to expect him to actualize it for the country’s good all in his own entirety, unaided of followers, party members, a framework for implementation and a civilized system of governance is outright ludicrous. Which is why critical thought must be lent to all these factors and to make a cult of leadership is wholly nugatory.

Sculpting messianic idols out of political leaders, criticizing whom is to blaspheme and who are unknown to mistakes and over and above any system or principles – and the search for saviors needs to end for Pakistan, for it is an endless and futile one. To pull Pakistan from the precipice it currently staggers at will take more than a leader or a savior, and the population’s sensibilities being held hostage by this mindset that seeks a messiah will certainly not help.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

PTI: Nickel and Dime No More


The week of all hyped political shows-of-power finally came to an electrifying end with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s massive Jalsa in the heart of Punjab on Sunday.

Led by the heads of PML-N and PTI respectively, the rally and Jalsa contained mediocre speeches and may seem to be just pre-2013 election jockeying but their implications yield greater implications and establish substantial modifications in Pakistan‘s national, political and social landscape, especially the latter’s.

(Regardless of the drastically differing views and opinions the nation holds when it comes to Khan Sb)

With estimations of the number of those who attended varying from 150,000 to 500,00, PTI’s Jalsa was undeniably a befitting announcement of its entrance into mainstream politics and to put it aptly, the birth of Imran Khan, the politician.

Imran Khan’s Jalsa succeeded in mobilizing the middle class, upper middle class and the youth to come out of their comfort zones, drawing rooms and into the field, with sheer zeal and discipline, to take part in the political process of the country; something which is imperative for the democratic structuring of Pakistan thus, for the development and advance of the democratic environment too.

Nadeem F. Paracha writes in his article:

‘Becoming a political participant through the democratic process edges out the fanciful Utopianism that usually overtakes and muddles the thinking of those who want to remain outside this process in the name of revolution or whatever. The result of such a disposition is mere frustration and eventual isolation from ground realities turning the person into a mindless, babbling conspiracy theorist or a blob of reactionary emotions.’

One may attribute the pleasantly surprising turnout of these people to their complete and utter disillusionment and disenchantment with the two main tried-and-tested parties, PML-N and PPP against whom they view Imran Khan and his party, as the only alternative to rule and take Pakistan forward.

While overuse of the word ‘Inquilab’ (revolution) and ‘Tabdeeli’ (change) does not actualize them, a spark has already been lit by the populist event which evoked a fresh sense among all, those who attended it and those who watched through the media, of being active participants in the next elections and using their votes as the channel for a change.

The day right after the Jalsa, groups thronged to the Office of Election Commission in Lahore and around Pakistan, to register themselves and their families to verify themselves, many of whom have never voted or deemed voting to be an act of significance, as voters or to get registered as ones.

Outside the Lahore Office of ECP, the diverse range of parked vehicles, each associated with a different class, attested to the scope of influence emanating from the event.

This particular surge in the rush of voter-registration is also the result of statements from political parties (which comes after their practice of dismissing PTI as an important or worthy party to be even discussed by stating its followers are all ensconced in their air-conditioned rooms in front of their laptops or computers; ’Facebook warriors/supporters’) questioning PTI’s ability to translate the number of supporters at their Jalsa into votes in the next elections. To prove wrong their delectable skepticism of the capacity of PTI Supporters to vote for their party, the supporters of other parties who were a part of this rush and the PTI supporters abandoned their apathy in pursuit of making their voice and choice count through their votes in the forthcoming elections.

The ECP Officials in Punjab had also been increasingly disobliging after the Jalsa, which might be ascribed to the instructions given under intense insecurity by the Provincial Government.

A revival of this activity is a betoken of the restored faith in people related to the system of democracy and their vigor to strengthen it; a manifestation of the hope the event has permeated people with.

In the political arena, PTI’s Jalsa which surpassed PML-N’s two-days-earlier held rally in attendance of genuine supporters, luster and in magnitude of all that mattered- sent jolts of shock to them by conducting an entirely triumphant event at what is, the core of their power.

The Jalsa clearly denoted, increased and accentuated the cracks of division in PML-N’s urban vote bank in Punjab; evincing a snap or a fracture in their prepotency and dominance with its origins in Lahore, auguring well for both PTI and PPP.

Although, PTI’s stupendous Jalsa should push all parties in Government or in Pakistan to a rouse from complacency

PML-N’s apprehensions connected with the rise of PTI are well-grounded if the reported registration of 3 crore new voters, of the chunk of which comprise much youth – generally, which is a quarter of the population amongst which Imran Khan has an immeasurable clout, is taken into consideration.

While it is certainly debatable whether PTI can sweep the next elections or even bag enough seats to form the provincial government in Punjab in 2013, as seen in retrospect; late Benazir Bhutto’s Jalsa in Lahore in 1986 was the biggest in the city’s history yet the 1988 Elections resulted in PML-N being the recipient of a notable slice of the seats in Punjab, and the country after PPP, (They were supported by the Establishment as part of the IJI  to counter PPP, which also makes that comparable to the state of affairs currently involving PTI and PML-N).

Not to mention, PTI’s vote bank centers around urban areas and has not, yet, reached rural areas (where around 60% to 70% of Pakistanis live) where support for PML-N is concentrated. PTI will have to toil to break through the entrenched voter loyalties and political demographics of Punjab and Pakistan.

Nonetheless, PTI has now self-validated and elevated its position to of a party, that can not be deemed nickel and dime or bundled into oblivion, and in all that followed on at the Jalsa, the victor was no party but the cultivation of the democracy and the democratic culture in Pakistan.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Taming The Wild One : Media In Pakistan


Carte blanche for anything leads to an unhealthy atmosphere to be created in the sphere of its activities.

In a country where events have lead to the people lending unparallel countenance to the media, the line that should have been long drawn between freedom for the media and abuse of freedom seems to have self-effaced.

 

Media, both print and electronic, has become an important instrument in weaving a society’s ideologies and opinions both politically, mentally, emotionally and socially but in a country like Pakistan where for the past 63 years; the nation has been jerking between the rules of corrupt politicians and power-thirsty Generals which has nurtured the feelings of divestiture, infuriation and pessimism amongst them; the media with its raging political expositions and uncovering of happenings swept under the carpet by those running the country – has surfaced as a significant organ which is immensely trusted and supported by the people.

Media ethics have dwindled in the storm of the 21st Century that has left behind a plethora of ‘psuedo intellectuals’, anchors, journalists and a spate of private media channels.

Its influence on the mind of the average Pakistani has swollen to an enormous extent that almost boundless reliance and confidence is bestowed unto them.

Rather than informing people, the media has begun to feed them news that they wish to and each word of it is believed resulting into the paucity of much-needed critical thinking amongst them.

This utmost belief has also let the media commence with whatever they plan in the run for booming ratings or reader/viewership, without any questioning thus the swift corrosion of media ethics and principles.

 

It’d be apt to quote Arundhati Roy here:

 “In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred.”

  

 

Impartiality seems to have withered visibly with open bias seeping into what is written and reported. One-sided stories, deceptive and misleading headlines and fallacies have become rampant.

Interpretive journalism with sharp visible tones of personal opinions has rocketed causing a considerable abrasion of neutrality.

Thomas Patterson, a Professor of Government & the Press at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government guages the reasons that breed negativity in news in his book ‘The Vanishing Voter’ which can be associated to journlaism here also:

 [Excerpts]:

 “Interpretive reporting has unleashed the skepticism traditional in journalism. This style requires reporters to give shape to the news, and they tend naturally to shape it around their perspective on politics. To the journalist, politics is not a struggle over policy issues. They see it largely as a competitive game waged between power-hungry leaders. Politicians’ failings and disputes are played up; their successes and overtures are played down.”

 

Bashing political figures with boisterous, unjustified insolence and a brazen condescending attitude has slipped into the garb of a growing fad while sensationalism (which is defined as “the notion that media outlets often choose to report heavily on stories with shock value or attention-grabbing names or events, rather than reporting on more pressing issues to the general public. In the extreme case, the media would report the news if it makes a good story, without much regard for the factual accuracy or social relevance.” ) and yellow journalism coupled with impudent insensitivity, have transformed into a raging conflagration.

 

American historian and journalist Frank Luther Mott had defined yellow journalism in terms of five characteristics:

1. Scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news

2. Lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings

3. Use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts

4. Emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips (which is now normal in the U.S.)

5. Dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.

It is undisputably conspicuous from here, that some of these characteristics do exist widely in Pakistani media.

The need of the hour is certainly a code of conduct for the press and media in Pakistan.

The last was adopted by the General Assembly of the Committee of the Press on May 17, 1972 – with only 17 points and those too in accordance with the situations 39 years ago.

In October 2002, the government issued a new code as part of the “Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance”, though published under a military government, it is comparatively better than the former.

The Pakistani Government needs to revise, update, make alterations and additions in the previous documents of media conduct or chart out an entirely new comprehensive code of ethics which neither provides or is used as a tool for advantage by any of the two parties (Government and the media), which addresses and establishes accountability of the expanding affairs related to the media of today and ensures the prevention of misdemeanor by journalists and the media-men.

 

Even India’s Norms of Journalistic Conduct is a much particularized set of rules.

Ranging from Pre-publication Verification, Parameters of the right of the Press to comment on the acts and conduct of public officials, discernment between Conjecture, comment and fact, / encouragement of social evils to be eschewed, Covering communal disputes/ clashes, Reporting on natural calamities and Investigative journalism, its norms and parameters – it is characterized enough to deal with the emerging matters and activities of the media in this decade.

Keeping in view the stage of our budding media, the introduction of restraints and limits concerning the print and electronic media has become a compulsion of time. They need to be made and put into effect immediately so that our media evolves into a mature and responsible structure whose rightful freedom, position and flamboyance is preserved and protected while guaranteeing it complies to remain inside the set boundaries.

 

Most importantly, the regulations should be enforced and strictly actuated with their following stringently monitored by either a Government or autonomous body – for implementation of laws and plans is one of the basic problems in Pakistan.

A position paper titled ‘Codes of Conduct’ by Mike Jempson, Director of ‘The Press Wise Trust’ is a commendable work that concisely provides an understanding of why the code is required and the plan to sketch it and implement it.

It also mentions:

  “Media freedom is NOT about allowing those who can afford to own media outlets, or who work as journalists, to do what they wish (to make money or obtain political advantage); it is about guaranteeing the public the right to receive and communicate information and ideas.

 As The Press Wise Trust puts it: ‘Press freedom is a responsibility exercised by journalists on behalf of the public’.

The position of the media of any country forms an essential part in the criterion to judge the state of matters there and an independent media is the cornerstone of a democratic government but a sense of aversion and a feeling of distastefulness is developing towards the media in Pakistan due to the wrong direction it is taking its given freedom towards.

Rather than availing it, it is being abused.

I A Rahman, in his piece titled ‘Balance or Power’ states:

“The Pakistan media has almost always been the victim of excesses by governments, democratic as well as dictatorial, though the former cannot be as highhanded as the latter. As a result, the media has developed a persecution syndrome that has bred an exaggerated feeling of self-righteousness on the one hand, and an aversion to self-criticism on the other hand. Neither can be defended all the time, and the present appears to be a good opportunity for the media to do some soul-searching.”

 

So as the media gallops, wildly, to enjoy its independence on Pakistani soil – it must be tamed before it tramples much on the very ground.

 

– Hafsa Khawaja