Pakistan has a vibrant media landscape. To a large extent, the media enjoys freedom of expression in spite of political pressure and direct bans sometimes administered by political stakeholders. In today’s world media imperialism is a matter of primary importance especially to the developing world. Pakistan is one of those developing countries which are suffering from the imperialism of media.
Some sixty-five years ago, about the same time when Pakistan was created, a renowned English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, Eric Arthur Blair, with his nom de plume George Orwell, wrote his famous dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Written with miraculous prescience, this classic piece depicted with a fair amount of accuracy, the events that were to unfold in the present era. Orwell goes on to predict that totalitarian regimes would rely on a ubiquitous ‘oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror’ to keep the citizens of Oceania brainwashed and obedient: ‘The instrument called television could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely’.
Media in Pakistan has saw chequered freedom till 2002 when a military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf ‘a member of the class of rulers presumed to curb freedom of expression’ provided for unprecedented media freedom and permitted the establishment of private TV and FM Radio channels. Since then, the electronic media has grown at an exponential rate. But, unfortunately, it has become unbridled and like a genie out of the bottle, it has become a conglomerate where media houses indulge in imperialism and manipulation of public opinion.
Orwell’s prophecy couldn’t be more correct for television is here to stay and cannot be shut off. It is one of the most effective means of communication since it has access to nearly every home and reaches even the remotest corners. Thus, whoever controls it has a very powerful instrument in his hand for he can channelize the very thoughts of people.
Although Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was established to ensure best practices by the private TV and FM Radio Channels but ineffective legislation and weak enforcement created a Frankenstein in form of media. Cross media ownership provided unrestrained power to the media owners; some of whom exploited this very powerful tool to further their own aims. And, in some cases, vested interests found a vibrant platform to further their own agenda.
Professor A. R. Khalid, in his book ‘Communication Today’ writes:
‘The fact is that the Pakistani journalists are anything but human. Most of them are the worst breed of parasites. Instead of helping the nation they seem hell-bent to suck its blood, to strip it to last drop and even to bargain national interests for the sake of personal aggrandizement. Their slogan about freedom is only a camouflage to squeeze personal benefits out of the state officials who spare no effort either to out-clever the journalists. Thus the media men in Pakistan should realize their responsibilities and try to discharge their duties to the satisfaction of the people and not to wangle the hypocritical favours of the rulers to secure lucrative advantages for themselves’.
A considerable portion of the Pakistani press is thriving on sensationalism. The modus operandi of these sensationalists is that they pick any small incident, and create a storm in the teacup to create sensation.
Media has been an effective tool for propaganda that is an intricate science and a planned exercise to undermine the will of the people. Hitler had entrusted an entire ministry to Goebbles to achieve his ends. The Jews and Hindus are past masters at it. Machiavelli and Chanakya devoted volumes to the art of statecraft and deceit through propaganda.
In case of Pakistan, its hostile eastern neighbour India has used media for its heinous aim of brainwashing the Pakistani viewers in accordance with a devious plan. Sushma Swaraj, a former information minister of India, once claimed that India didn’t need to invade Pakistan physically; through its powerful and effective electronic media, it would so condition the Pakistani viewers with its permissive dances, songs and dramas that Pakistanis would have a cultural invasion and be programmed to adopt Hindu customs, traditions, rituals and mores. Regrettably, some private Pakistani channels have become partners to Indian media and they virulently air Indian content.
Moreover, some anchors also have taken up the cudgels to tarnish the image of Pakistan, its armed forces and intelligence agency ISI to weaken the confidence of the Pakistani nation in its defenders.
Recently, when Hamid Mir was attacked by unknown assailants in Karachi, at the drop of a hat, his brother blamed the ISI. Every journalist, institution and human rights practitioner condemned the attack and wanted the culprits to be brought to book. The media group however went berserk in its campaign and continuously portrayed the ISI as villainous and demanded the resignation of the DG of this prestigious institution that has been a thorn in the side of the Indians.
This is not only contrary to all forms of decorum but tantamount to conspiring with the enemy to weaken a state institution. If the media group had evidence of the involvement of the ISI, it could have presented before the free and fair judicial system and seek reparation. PEMRA would be well advised to ensure media freedom but discourage its imperialism and misuse to further vested interests.