By Tarik Jan

The question how much freedom the media should have by itself is a sufficient indicator that it has assumed a disturbing particularity for society and state. What are those harmful aspects? To know them one has to look at the spectrum of the people running the Pakistani media.

Our information environment is being run by five kinds of people:

  • Chest beaters, who whip the national scene into despondency and want people to join them.
  • Pessimists, who see nothing but calamities, problems steaming with no redemption in sight.
  • Cynics, who repudiate everything, spreading negativity by ignoring the positive aspects.
  • Intellectuals, who speak with an air of superiority and think they have the right to deprive people of their values, transposing them with a foreign agenda. They self describe themselves as progressive and rational.
  • Optimists, who never miss an occasion to criticize the wrong but also see light at the end of the tunnel.

Besides, we have media czars who own print and electronic media sitting smug in their opulent offices counting money and garnering power regardless of the fact what their employees do.

The first four are seemingly sick but they are not. Beating chest, sketching dark scenarios, spreading despair, inducing skepticism and cynicism is their chosen path. That there is a method to their madness is evident from their proclaimed agenda. They insist on using their right to express in order to change the primary characteristics of the state.

In the psychological warfare when an enemy-state aims at destabilizing the other nation, the weapons used are mostly psychic, non-material, including spread of despair, negativity, cynicism, low self esteem, lack of confidence and disbelief in the future.

Likewise, those in tandem with their foreign sponsors keep on reinventing the wheel by resurrecting foundational issues settled in the Constitution in the past, followed by stirring them up repeatedly till they become controversial, eventually losing their sanctity. Evidently, the intention here is to unravel the unifying bond that keeps the nation together. And who can do it better than the media. The secular lobby active in such pursuits is well known

This is one side of the storm brewing, which no government really cared to tame or showed its grasp of the threat potential. The other feature is equally disturbing. In the conflict between the government and the media, the former clamps restrictions on it only when its nerves get tangled on the media’s criticism. It is on some such occasion that the government points its accusing finger at the media for being irresponsible, asking it to stay within the bounds.

The Peoples Party case is a different one for they want to do wrong and then desire that their dirty linen should not be exposed to the public.

In the past, Peoples Party came twice into power. And each time it was ousted on charges of corruption, nepotism, and maladministration. Luckily for them the media then did not enjoy the spread that it has now and most of their crimes remained hidden.

In Benazir’s second term when stories involving the big ones in the party caught people’s imagination, someone made the unsightly observation that her administration’s performance was dismal and she might not have another chance at the polls, she blurted out: “Don’t you worry. Our voters do not read newspapers.”

Even today PPP has the same mindset. They think people are imbeciles and can be deceived and if the media stays neutral, their game of deception can continue. The same by and large goes for the regional and ethnic parties.

Their attitudes notwithstanding, the media’s phenomenal uncollared growth has bewildered other nations while the PPP has begun to watch media with extended nostrils and clenched fists: “The media,” a PPP minister said in the vocabulary reflective of our present times, “is carrying out suicide attacks on the government, in response we have resorted to its target killing.”

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Obviously, it is not a good situation. When President Zardari says media should not criticize his administration and media retorts in matching tones as their right to say the disagreeable, or that they did not have their freedom free on a platter, the cleavage between the two becomes wide enough to bridge.

Ironically we may abound in pious intentions but when it comes to the golden principle of balance and moderation, we go bingo out on the limp. We insist on garnering authority and power beyond our right. In other words, we seek unbridled freedom for ourselves and restrictions for others.

For instance, for the last so many years there has been a lot of churning in the air about the code of conduct for the media but nothing came out of it. And when it was left to media to come up with a code of conduct for its own sake the result still was nothing.

The matter, however, is not that complex to have escaped solution provided the disputants had agreed to certain conditionality.

To begin with, the government, despite its childish sensitivity, must consent to media’s right to expose its misdeeds before the people.

The government’s acute sensibility toward criticism by itself is a disease that together with the people, the media must cure.

A smart government, which considers itself responsible to the people, is not only keen to seek good counseling but also present itself for accountability. In the same vein, it also considers judiciary as its best friend. Together with the media and judiciary it improves its performance and its natural consort image.

Unfortunately, PPP has always suffered from contradictions. They consider a feudal administrative set up as people’s government and indulge into lawlessness; and then to save themselves from legal cognizance, seek cover behind the people. To them, if the people vote them into power, then they are beyond legal reproach.

It is for this reason they tangle themselves with the media, show their eyes to the judiciary, and shout at the army.

In this conflict between the government and media, there is another unfortunate aspect that has surfaced. That is, when it comes to media’s criticism of the governmental inefficiency, the latter brandishes its sword to kill its tormentors. But when part of the media makes a scathing attack on the existence of the Pakistani state and repeatedly dares to annul the partition of British India on behest of its foreign sponsors, the government gives not a damn, even though laws are available under which such newspapers and TV channels can be punished. This is all the more regrettable for it is the government primary responsibility to protect and safeguard the security and integrity of the state.

Media is certainly not innocent and often come up with thoughts which can at best be described as presumptuous with little relevance to law or even to common sense. For example, media people should take this absurd notion out of their head that the right to enjoy freedom is unqualified. Such freedom notion is hardly found on this planet, for freedom without an orbit, eventually leads to disorder and anarchy, weakening societies and nations. Likewise, the media must also understand that if they have rights, the state and the Muslim society constituting it also have some rights.

Also in this media-government conflict, there is a third party named the people of Pakistan, who are currently silent but inside simmer with anguish and rage. Some foreign sponsored newspaper columns, TV talk shows and plays are raising lot of questions in the people’s minds awaiting answers.

Alarmed, they ask what kind of people are they who find space in the print and electronic media, and which country they represent that they abuse the very existence of a state that shelters them, question its Muslim identity and its values. And what kind of owners and their employees are they who give them the chance to utter such filth.

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Leaving aside formalities, one may ask who has given the media the right to abuse the state of Pakistan or say it had no justification to exist or it owes its creation to communal narrow-mindedness and to some imperialistic conspiracies; otherwise, Hindus and Muslims were one nation (Allah forbid). Such kufr (apostasy) can only be contrived by our secularists.

Likewise, who has given this right to the media to say that the Pakistani ideology is the greatest lie of this century; thus attempting to break the historic consensus that informs the Objectives Resolution in the Constitution, subsequently renamed in the 1973’s Constitution by Zulfiqar ‘Ali Bhutto as the Directive Principles of the State — the principles that determine the direction of the state. In other words, all those constitutional issues settled in the decade following 1947 are being repeatedly raised with impunity in TV talk shows and print media with acerbic tongues. Disturbing as it is, one may ask which democratic and constitutional norms allow such suicidal tendencies to perpetuate.

A right is not a license to kill. Exercising rights with reckless abandon is neither allowed to the media by the Constitution nor by the sociopolitical imperatives. The media parroting of the freedom mantra is absurd for every right has a specific content, from which it cannot be spliced off as an independent entity that may make it abstract and thus irrelevant.

Expressed differently, a society will allow fundamental rights only when it has this certitude that allowing them will help establish justice, check malpractices, safeguard its sovereignty, and address its security concerns.

On the contrary, if their senseless exercise creates disorder, induces inferiority and loss of esteem in the people, or spreads despair in society, and weakens the societal resolve to resist and fight, then they lose their justification in the eye of law as well as the imperatives of life and morality.

For example, the right to life is a supreme value in the corpus of human rights, and all states take it as their primary responsibility to protect people’s lives. But if an individual kills someone or raises arms against the state, the same state will kill him in retaliation. The same goes with the right to express one’s self.

Obviously in a situation formatted by conflicting interests, the remedy could be found if the situation is objectified by discarding subjective approaches. For it is only by being objective, that we can really have a criterion to help us make a value judgment on individual and institutional attitudes.

The objectivity that I talk about is possible only if we seek guidance from the Constitution of Pakistan. Articles 2-A, 227, 31, 40 and Pakistan Penal Code section 123 A, are very important in creating harmony among different organs and institutions of the state with their potential to save us from discord and ruination. According to these articles, the Pakistani state is bound by its charter to catalyze the social scene beneficial to Islamic living. But our today’s information environment is loaded with secular themes, while Islamic values are being castigated and lampooned. Most of the regional parties, including MQM and PPP by itself are secular openly hostile to the people’s Islamic aspirations and pro-India.

Besides, these articles tell us that obscenity will be discouraged. The state will help people’s fusion through media, education and legal measures. But here ethnic secular groups have set into motion an agenda of differentiation. So much so that they have started abusing each other, even killing people in the name of ethnicity and region.

The constitution also says that the nation’s foreign policy should be inclined toward Muslim countries fostering relations of Islamic oneness and togetherness. But our media, exception allowed, is engineering national tilt toward India.

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With such contradictions, no nation can have peaceful existence or a sustainable growth. We must also understand that freedom of expression bonded to a moral and constitutional grid is an enormous blessing, which can only be enjoyed if there is an unassailable document at its back that could be readily referred to by individuals and institution for guidance and which no government or judiciary could annul or compromise by clamping restrictions on it.

This is part of that essentialism to survive and grow that we have to reassess the media role. Information environment is part of the security environment and must not be left to those who have sold their souls to the nation’s enemies and their systems of thought.

The problem with our successive governments is that they hanker for power with no desire for accountability. At the same time, our politician might be good in power craft because of their stakes in it, but they are seemingly inapt in practicing statecraft to save and strengthen Pakistan. That is why all governments are willing to take a fight with the media when they are criticized but not when it undermines the state by ridiculing its statehood. For a number of reasons, the media has to be stopped from its disastrous course:

  • Statements against the state encourage sedition and treason.
  • Besides, it gives a distorted picture of Pakistan to foreign press and diplomats.
  • Ignoring anti-state elements creates doubt for the state’s continuance and gives a bad self-image to an average Pakistani.
  • It also encourages foreign aggression and internal subversion.
  • The media shall not allow statements or write news in newspapers, periodicals and journals against the creation and geographical and sovereign integrity of Pakistan.
  • The media shall not help spread or initiate the notion of merger with India or any form of union with India. Nor shall the media question or encourage discussion in any form on what was the need for the creation of Pakistan that casts aspersions on its existence. The media shall not publish anything that may influence any person or the whole or any section of the public in a manner prejudicial to Pakistan’s safety or endanger its sovereignty.
  • The media shall not give direct or indirect support to groups (mostly liberal-secular) indulging in politics of hatred and supplanting ethnic identity as opposed to Muslim consciousness.
  • The media shall not undermine the nation’s moral values.
  • The media shall not dispute or undermine the Islamic ideology as stated in the Constitution.
  • The media shall not encourage ethnic and sectarian feelings or support groups that believe and practice politics of hatred against the Pakistani nationhood.
  • The media shall give space to anyone who feels hurt or where distortion has been made which a person thinks call for correction

The media code

The media is the most important vehicle for shaping public opinion on issues of our vital concerns. Exceptions allowed, its anti-state posturing, its cynicism and continued campaign to create doubt about our nationhood is destroying people’s confidence in Pakistan and its future. It reflects on our nationhood as well as our sense of democracy that we seek to live in a civilized society by creating chaos in the name of free expression. The media – both print and electronic – must have a behavior code strictly followed in the light of 123 A, PPC and articles 2-A, 227, 31, 40 of the Constitution.

As for the continuation of democracy, without a cleansing of our political and information environments, it will not work.

Tarik Jan is a Research Scholar who has written several books including ‘Secular Threat To Pakistan.’ Tarik Jan is also Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker.