Attempting objectivity, the freedom of the press is perched on a fail-safe line in many countries, journalists are often an endangered species, (General Pervez) Musharraf’s liberal “letting a hundred flowers bloom” media policy became a “license” 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 or ability and/or knowledge have made freedom of the fourth estate a festering sore on our fledgling democracy. The Musharraf honeymoon with the media did not last, the beneficiaries deserted him en bloc when he needed them most.
One of the major casualties of the 21st century in (and of) the media is objectivity. A lack of objectivity where authoritarian rule is holding sway, mostly in third world countries is understandable, but even in developed countries censorship and clampdown on media entities started to become more frequent after 9/11. Variously defined in dictionary meanings as impartially, neutrally, fairly, without prejudice, with an open mind, without fear of favor, even-handedly, without bias, etc, Wikipedia says ‘Objectivity’ is a central philosophical concept, related to reality and truth. Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside of a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings.
Readers and/or viewers develop perceptions based on what they see, read or hear, reconstruction of events seldom gets scrutiny and deliberation. Depending upon the TV presentation, the opinion can be gospel truth or be suspect as lies. Given this crass motivation, can we expect credible objectivity? Luckily the advent of the social media supported by new media technologies allows response in new ways.
Acting like a truly neutral observer, an independent analytical media must praise when praise is required and criticise when criticism is necessary; that is objectivity. Kayani easily was an outstanding COAS, bringing about far reaching reforms throughout the Army. Focusing on education and training across the broad spectrum, he made the Army professional, above all he instituted major measures for the improvement of the lot of the common soldier. With emphasis on the word “almost”, his promotions to Maj Gen and above, unlike that of Musharraf, were mostly on merit. Having come of age and maturing, today’s Pakistan Army is a far better fighting machine than at anytime in its history. The rank and file accepts that democracy is a necessary ingredient for the well being and prosperity of any nation i.e. of course sans corruption for which they have necessarily very strong views, and thank God for it. Once powerful Kayani is now vilified and scorned because of perceived complicity with his younger brothers, his enormous contribution to today’s professional Army has no consequence in public perception.
Sensationalizing to attract the largest audience can seriously damage both the social and the national fabric. If the media does not act with maturity or a motivated agenda, this can seriously damage the national integrity, particularly if it has motivation. While Hamid Mir was extremely lucky to be the only one out of thousands and thousands in Karachi to survive a targeted killing, the motivated campaign started by a major media group on cue against the ISI was obnoxious. Ministers like Pervez Rasheed, etc (and nearly even a commercial bank) became part and parcel of the attempt to defame the ISI, and by default the Army. No real forensic investigation was done to find out the motive and punish those behind the hate-Army campaign.
Remember two mainline media anchors caught inadvertently on a leaked tape in candid conversation with a real estate tycoon in an attempt to whitewash all his misdemeanors. Or consider the blatant white lies aired on primetime TV by former President Zardari about his friends in custody, a ludicrous attempt to confuse and waylay public perception about their connection with corruption, organized crime, and by default terrorism. The anchor in question should have known better than give this man the opportunity to give credence to misinformation in the face of 2,000 pages of evidence and confessions on videotape collected by NAB and Rangers. As an effective instrument in the “offense is the best defense” policy, the electronic media’s time can be bought. By the way Zardari’s “Hoshiar” display of bravery has melted, he now claims he never attacked the Army.
The media’s tendency is to run riot with the “truth” as long as it is anti-establishment, and in some cases, anti-country. Subverting the truth erodes the maturity and professionalism necessary in media entities, but this has been undermined by corruption in contrast to it’s watchdog role. With information capable of being “managed”, can one never really find the truth from any one media source and/or entity?
Pakistan suffers from many divisions, ethnic and religious. It is easy for our enemies to exploit this by planting innocuous facts out of context and then let the seeds of division take its own course. Numerous attempts have been made to divide the Army on sectarian and racial basis. Our Armed Forces comprise many from different religious seats and races, except in 1971 there are. With a fair percentage of officers of Mohajir origin, agencies like RAW are working overtime to play the “Mohajir” card to inspire friction along racial lines. Please do note where such suggestions emanate from. The clever sugar-coat it behind fake smiles.
The journalists watchdogs position is in stark contrast with that of sober and objective presenting of facts. Robert Fisk says, “There is a misconception that journalists can be objective. What journalism is really about is to monitor power and the centers of power.” There can be no objective journalism when there is motivation and the editors (or their RAW handlers) stationed abroad become selective about what news and views to omit and what to put on the front and/or editorial pages, etc. These decisions actually reflect not only the political bias and “corporate” interests of those making them but also express their anti-country motivation.
Adhering to rules, editors who enforce strict standards about facts and sources are on the decline in the Pakistani media. Most private television networks in Pakistan have forsaken objectivity entirely and produce little actual news – sensationalism has become the order of the day. Assailed by the media mostly from within and force-multiplied by ignorant analysis, not based on facts and/or vested interests is motivated by forces inimical to Pakistan.
There is a dire need for a responsible media to restore objectivity. The demise of objectivity has made things black or white, there are no shades of grey.
The writer is a security and defense analyst.