The lessons of ob­jec­tiv­ity

Southasia - - COMMENT -

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

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