The 21st century is the age of information explosion and it is with the advent of infotech tools that the world has become a global village. However, the reason why Pakistan has attained a progressive aura and a global significance in today’s world is not solely the information technology; the role of media which consists of print (newspapers, journals, magazines, etc.) electronic (radio and television channels) and the interactive media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), too, has a significant contribution.
It is because of media that the traditional gap between the rulers and the ruled has shrunk to such an extent that governments are forced to change their ways of doing things to sustain their credibility. In countries like Pakistan, the accountability mechanism has always remained — or more rightly had been kept — weak and the governments have kept the masses deliberately uneducated. However, this no longer seems to be a plausible stance. The media, in recent years, has taken up the responsibility of exposing corrupt people in politics or in any other institution. Owing to its ubiquity, the single exposure of disorder spreads like a wildfire across the country and within no time even illiterate people become aware of what is going on around them. The consequences of this media-spread information are that the future elections will be held in a free and impartial manner, and hence we might find many leading politicians becoming a story of bygone days.
However, the role of media in Pakistan is not limited only to politics but it is fairly diverse; disseminating uninterrupted awareness among the masses. The media has a plethora of positive impacts on our society; however, here it is imperative to outline the fundamental changes that we, as a nation, have witnessed over the decades.
First of all, we see that people’s ‘voices’ have started coming into the limelight with the advent of media. Not only the thoughts and interests of people are being highlighted but their opinions are also being considered. A recent example of this phenomenon can be found in the Facebook posts of famous Pakistani actor and political activist Hamza Ali Abbasi. If, on the one hand, there are people who consider his views on Pakistan and its government controversial and uncalled for, there are people who stand by his opinions, on the other.
Another interesting trend observed on social media after the Paris attacks recently was the Facebook option to paint one’s profile picture in the colour of French flag. This stirred a healthy debate between people supporting the cause against Islamic State (IS) and those criticizing the West over its hypocrisy over ignoring the atrocities inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians in Gaza. One group bashed the other for giving space to the West whose wrong policies have pushed the world to hell while the other was trying to make a case that there can be no comparison between acts of violence. This was not polarization of Pakistani society — as many critics tend to label it — rather it was a clear demarcation between two sets of people taking a position on different ideas with supporting evidence. However, what is imperative to note here is that the masses now do recognize their right to freedom of expression.
Media in Pakistan has also been providing a much-needed boost to the country’s entertainment industry. The drama, film and music sectors of the showbiz industry are making great headways. Even more, the enterprises like “Coke Studio” have rejuvenated our Pakistani culture by re-creating Pakistani masterpieces of legends like Malika-e-Tarannum, (the queen of melody) Noor Jahan and the maestro Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Besides entertainment, media is also a constant hub of knowledge. Over the decades, we have seen many universities (e.g. Virtual University of Pakistan) launching their own TV channels and thus providing education on a broader and wider scale. Moreover, various channels give copious amounts of knowledge on every field of life to the audience.
The potential of advertisement and marketing through media in Pakistan is also huge. The television is watched in almost every house, office and even on shops across the country. Newspapers and journals are also read immensely everywhere. So Pakistan — though it’s not a developed country — has the basic infrastructure for marketing and advertisement. There are more than 100 TV channels operative in the country and a huge chunk of their income comes from the advertisement and marketing campaigns they broadcast. Moreover, the advertisers too find it convenient to create the demand for their products through TV ads. It is because of the extraordinarily large audience of the TV channels who then show their responses to the ads they had watched. Hence, the advertisers want to use electronic media for their advert campaigns, though it costs them a lot.
After electronic media, the second biggest source of advertisement is print media as it helps get huge response from potential clients. Outdoor media and online media are also very vibrant and catch many advertisement campaigns.
However, where at one end of the spectrum we seem to relish the pros our media has, the other side of the story needs to be brought forth as well.
In today’s world, it seems that ‘limits, brinks, borders’ are just irrelevant concepts. A huge number of people use social networking sites and other media fora with recklessness and without any care for the morality because of which the sentiments of people are often hurt. In addition, be it a political talk show or an entertainment programme, our media, at times, highlights instances that are contradictory to our basic values; giving out a discourteous and uncouth impact. Thus a perception has developed that Pakistani media is ‘westernizing’ our nation. This apprehension seems valid when we watch TV commercials and programmes on subjects that otherwise are considered a taboo in our society.
Many a time, Pakistani media projects ‘false values’ and present our culture with a tinge of hyperbole. The dramas being aired by many TV channels nowadays are either based on love stories or they depict lavish lifestyles — representing only the elite class — without realizing that the ground realities are immensely different.
But, besides all these pros and cons, our media has to face some predicaments as well. SC Media Commission member and former information minister, Javed Jabbar, counts a lack of self-regulation system and Pemra’s inability to get its regulations implemented among the negative outcomes of media to society. Pemra has not been able to fulfil its developmental mandate and regulatory functions under the PEMRA Ordinance.
While these were the main points regarding pros and cons of mass media in Pakistan, the more significant question here is: what should be done to solve all these problems and how to have its growth in a more positive manner?
The growing pressure of sane voices and awareness in the government about the media’s inevitable presence would help it furnish its identity and maturity in due course. For the time being, Pakistan may have a high illiteracy rate but its people are sounder and more enlightened due to the progressive role of media in our country.
Like reforms in the superior judiciary and its instant positive outcome in dispense of justice to the society, media reforms should also be introduced so that an effective utilisation of our media may help the healthy growth of our society and the state to which the media is the fourth pillar.