The lessons of objectivity
Among the many recent important political developments in Pakistan, one concerns the emergence of a new political party – the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) headed by Syed Mustafa Kamal - that is an offshoot of the original MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) and is regarded by many as a re-run of the MQM (Haqiqi) that was purportedly launched by the security establishment in the early nineties. MQM (Haqiqi), however, did not gather much steam and the MQM (Muttahida) continued to rule the roost, becoming Pakistan’s third largest political party by virtue of its presence in the Senate, the National Assembly and the Sindh Assembly. Even then, the party could not succeed in spreading its popularity beyond the Urdu speaking populations of Karachi and some other cities of Sindh. It never delivered on its promises to its electorate and became a sort of a personal handmaiden for the party supremo Altaf Hussain who is said to have used it largely to maintain a place in the overall national political scenario. It is true that every time the MQM (Muttahida) contested the elections, it won hands down because it did not have to worry about looking for ‘electables.’ It could nominate just anybody, even the nearby ‘electric pole’ and get votes. Despite all this popularity, the only time the MQM (Muttahida) came out as having really worked for the benefit of the masses was the period when Mustafa Kamal was the Nazim (mayor) of Karachi and was able to successfully run the Local Government setup of the city on the basis of his enthusiasm and hard work and for a great part bolstered by the encouragement and monetary support coming from the then President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf and his government.
Many political analysts have commented on the progress of the MQM (Muttahida) and its contribution or otherwise to the national discourse but one analyst in particular has gone to the extent of describing it as being “disastrous for state and society.” The analyst writes that ‘’such parties end up distorting the political system and polluting the political environment by creating monsters in the form of non-state actors. These then become uncontrollable existential threats to the state itself. The Jihadi groups, the Taliban and the MQM fall into this category.” The analyst further comments on the role played by two Pakistan Army chiefs, namely General Aslam Beg and General Pervez Musharraf. “It is no coincidence that both generals were ‘muhajirs’ with avowed interventionist political agendas,” he comments mischievously, forgetting that the Pakistan Army or its generals do not have any ‘ethnic’ skeletons in their cupboards. He also forgets the time when his current favourite, namely Nawaz Sharif, pilloried him by sending him to jail and it was General Musharraf who rescued him after he assumed power.
Perhaps it goes to the credit of the country’s current media policy that the state institutions permit such views as the ones expressed by the analyst. The said writer is not only a journalist of some repute and the editor of his own fortnightly newspaper but also has a current affairs show on a TV channel and, for all intents and purposes, seems to enjoy a free hand in sometimes literally airing his views on the same issues that he writes about in his newspaper. It is interesting to note that he also sometimes boasts about his connections to the Army, the very institution that he purports to divide through his writings. He is also a responsible person in the Pakistan Cricket Board and often uses the platform of the TV channel to tell his side of the story. In fact, such is the freedom that he enjoys in conducting the TV show that while the language of the said channel is Urdu, he seems to think nothing of switching to Punjabi when spiritedly giving his views. He seems to ignore the fact in his gusto that while he is a Punjabi himself and that over 60 percent of Pakistan’s population comprises people who speak and understand Punjabi, the programme he is participating in is in Urdu and that a large part of his audience consists of people who do not understand Punjabi at all or understand it partially.
Writing in Daily Business Recorder, another political analyst, Ikram Sehgal says: “Attempting objectivity, the freedom of the press is perched on a fail-safe line in many countries, journalists are often an endangered species, Musharraf's liberal "letting a hundred flowers bloom" media policy became a "licence" in Pakistan for going beyond the norms of decency and propriety. Enjoying unprecedented media freedom like nowhere in the world, motivated media persons without adequate ability and/or knowledge have made freedom of the fourth estate a festering sore on our fledgling democracy.” If there is a lesson to be derived from Sehgal’s words, it is that journalism in Pakistan must maintain objectivity and that even-handedness is a virtue that needs to be carefully cultivated at the professional level and in order to nurture freedom of the press. Ikram Sehgal further writes: “Acting like a truly neutral observer, an independent analytical media must praise when praise is required and criticize when criticism is necessary.”
What are we looking for then – freedom of the press or freedom from the press?
Syed Jawaid Iqbal