NOTES FROM A SOCIAL SCIENTIST
By Dr. Haider Mehdi
Mujhe hai jan say piyari yay suboh jis kay liye
Baha hai mere sitarooh ki anjuman ka lahoo
Professor Mashkoor Hussain Yad, Pakistan’s renowned poet and author of around fifty books on poetry, philosophy and literary criticism, is in town (where I reside overseas). He told me that 45 members of his immediate and extended family, including his wife, parents, and other near and dear ones including children were massacred at the time of migration from India to Pakistan in 1947; he was the only survivor of his family. Imagine the depth of emotions and extent of feelings for Pakistan that he and thousands of others like him have who suffered the agony, brutality and ultimate tragedy of life for a dream called Pakistan. Today, that dream lies in ruins. The nation is being subjected to massive corruption, mismanagement, deprivations and disappointments, death and destruction, and above all, it is plummeting into a moral-ethical abyss perpetrated from within by a flawed political culture, injustices of an economic structure of “haves” and “have nots,” social inequalities, and cultural and environmental disasters.
Added now to this long list of national mismanagement calamities and crises is the evolving untrustworthy role of certain segments of the television media. In recent days, the ethical misconduct and rampant corruption within the powerful media channels have come to light. It involves some key TV anchor persons who are supposedly the vanguards of public opinion in a democratic society. The story need not be retold; we all know it. It is not a surprise, why should it be? After all, we exist in a social-cultural-political environment in which, for all practical purposes, ethical-moral misconduct, money for favors, partisan relationships, association of vested-interests and large-scale corruption, financial irregularities, greed, bribery and personal acquisition of wealth, irrespective of legitimate or illegitimate means, is encouraged and practically institutionalized. The system in itself is a bastion of venality, promoting institutionalized unethical conduct. We have arrived at the height of moral bankruptcy. But that is in no way an excuse for the professional misconduct of several TV anchors in the recent “Anchorgate” scandal.
Chris Hedges, in his recent article Noam Chomsky Has Never Seen Anything Like This, comments on Chomsky’s conception of power as follows: “There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege, it will always be at the expense of truth and justice… Chomsky exposes the pretenses of those who claim to be the bearers of truth and justice.”
The “Anchorgate” episode in Pakistan has unmasked the false-righteousness and upright moral pretense of those TV anchors who “portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice.” In fact, those persons are hypocrites – intellectual and moral frauds – parasites in a system that is cancerous and collaborators in the present-day political discourse in Pakistan that is damaging to its national institutions and a barrier to democratic processes and the nation’s progress. They are partners with the political-commercial “mafia” that wish to make sure that the present socio-political-cultural “status-quo” in the country prevails indefinitely.
Perhaps it is quite possible that these media personalities, in their absolute ignorance, arrogance and pursuit of self-aggrandizement, are completely unaware of the damage they are doing to this nation, its institutions, its present and its future. But then “ignorance” in itself is a personal flaw and liability; it is no excuse for ethical misconduct.
I, myself, have taught Media Ethics, Broadcasting, Media Management, Perceptions and Articulations of Ideas, Investigative Reporting, and Research and Public Opinion-Making at a prestigious foreign university. I have been a “columnist” in several leading newspapers for over two decades, a graduate student in the Mass Communication Department of Punjab University (where I personally knew Waris Mir, late father of Hamid Mir, as a lecturer first, and a close friend later). I have a life-long association with journalism and politics, as an academic and a student of media political discourse globally and specifically in Pakistan’s checkered history. And yet, “I Have Never Seen Anything Like This (the Anchorgate scandal)” before. As students in the ‘60s, we had dreams of exposing “the lies of power elite and myths they perpetrate.” We imagined combining “moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship” with a commitment to national interests and moral-ethical standards of our profession. Suddenly, in an age of electronic media, we are at the threshold of the defeat of all of our cherished ideals, moral-ethical commitments, and professional requirements in the land of the “pure” and “pious” called Pakistan.
The ruling class in Pakistan has failed to see the naked moral-ethical contradictions they have created in the political-economic management of this country. Now some of the media moguls and TV public-opinion makers (TV anchors) have joined in the race of becoming rich overnight. They have formed alliances of interests with Right Wing pro-capitalistic ideological enterprises; however, this partnership is fundamentally detrimental to Pakistan’s future as a viable socio-economic-democratic public welfare state.
What today’s Pakistan needs is a revolutionary transformation of its traditional political and economic framework. Electronic and print media, most specifically television public opinion- makers, can play a vibrant and effective role in the making of the political revolution urgently needed in the country. But unfortunately, some TV talk show hosts have already compromised their moral-ethical professional obligations in exchange for personal financial rewards and social privileges. This, in fact, is a serious setback to the emerging national consensus for a fundamental change in the country’s political and economic structures. Media (most specifically TV) is a powerful instrument in bringing about such a revolutionary transformation. Hence, TV’s role in the transformational metamorphosis of public opinion must be re-vitalized.
How is it to be done? First and foremost, there is the fundamental need for self-reflection on the part of media management and its functionaries who conduct vital programs of public opinion-making and setting up public political discourse. The self-reflection must be focused on ethical-moral obligations that media functionaries owe to the public, above and beyond their own personal interests, both financial and personal beliefs. Secondly, it is quite obvious that proper self-management and media skills management training for anchor persons is overall lacking in nearly all major TV channels’ broadcasts. I have always been struck by the overwhelming egotistical, overbearing and overaggressive attitudes of some TV anchors. When they should be seeking the opinion of their guests on the show, they, in fact, try to impose their own judgments on the issues. Also, there have been several instances of the absence of proper protocol given to their guests and an entire mismanagement of communication dialects because of over-bearing egos and the inflated self-importance of the hosts. In short, it seems that there is a greater need for training in self-management, ethical-moral discourse, and communication skills of TV talk show professionals.
An independent institution, free of media owners and government control, comprised of media experts in academia should be entrusted with the training of TV broadcasters. Next, a judicial commission should investigate the recent “Anchorgate” scandal and impose legal penalties to anyone involved in this shameful scam.
Let me remind all of you to remember Mashkoor Hussain Yad’s opening verse at the onset of this article. Don’t violate this nation! Don’t hurt those who have already been hurt by personal tragedies and personal losses in creating this nation, and those who dream of a better, more prosperous nation.
Let us commit ourselves to living the dream that was – Pakistan!!