An independent media is essential for democracy. As a watch-dog and as a fourth pillar of the state, it is supposed to promote democratic values and focus essentially on telling the people the truth about the policies and initiatives of any government, so that the people are able to make informed choices.
In carrying out its obligations towards state and society, the media is required to avoid sensationalism, scandal-mongering and gossip. It is pertinent to point out that freedom of expression and independence of media are invariably linked to the media exhibiting a sense of social responsibility.
Viewed in the backdrop of the foregoing considerations, the media scenario in Pakistan is not as enviable as one would like it to be. Pakistan has a very unwieldy and polarised media. In such a situation, truth and responsibility become a casualty and the focus shifts to non-issues premised solely on partisan and commercial considerations.
The PTI government has been in the saddle for less than two weeks and the media is already awash with inconsequential and non-substantive issues getting out of proportion coverage. The hullaballoo on the use of a helicopter by the prime minister has been unnecessary and with no understanding of the difference between security and protocol. Similarly, other issues too have been projected in a way that makes them seem important for the future of the country. In fact, they are mere hiccups and certainly do not merit as much attention by the media as has been given to them.
I think a fortnight is a very short time to judge the performance of a newly-saddled government, which does deserve realistic focus on the initiatives that it has taken so far to implement its agenda and change the political landscape of the country. In that respect, quite a few positive developments have taken place since the installation of the PTI government.
Prime Minister Imran Khan attended the Senate session and reiterated his pledge to implement his promises, particularly across-the-board accountability and winching the country out of the quagmire it is in. He has also promised to attend question hour in parliament twice a month. These tradition-setting initiatives should have been the focus of media commentaries and discussions. The austerity measures being implemented by the government too need to be commended.
The government has not wasted any time in addressing the structural maladies that hinder economic progress and has already taken the initiative to restructure the Federal Board of Revenue. As per the announced programme, a committee has been formed to implement the construction of five million houses, creation of 10 million jobs and a drive to plant 10 billion trees. Federal ministers have been given 90 days to come up with plans to implement projects in their respective domains of for the next five years.
The ball has also been set rolling for an audit of all the mega projects initiated during the last five years with the ostensible purpose to promote a culture of accountability and transparency in the public sector. In regard to the claims of rigging in the 2018 elections, the government is contemplating to hold an inquiry into the apparent failure of the RTS system. The government is also considering a proposal for a single regulatory authority for the media which it wants to implement after consultation with all the stakeholders. Quran education will reportedly also be made compulsory in schools. In recognition of the respect and consideration that senior citizens deserve, the railways minister has announced free travel for persons above 75 years of age and a 50 percent concession for those above 65 years.
We also saw how, after the intensive diplomatic offensive by the government, the abominable and sacrilegious competition announced by the right-wing Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, was cancelled. It was a very serious issue which had hurt the sentiments of all Muslims. The prime minister has also expressed his desire to take up the issue at the OIC level to prevent episodes in the future.
Such steps taken by the government are encouraging and have really set the direction for the things to come. They indicate that the government means business and is approaching all issues with utmost seriousness and commitment. The initiatives taken by the government pertain to real issues, and the media would be doing a service to the public by giving due attention to these developments.
What is required is that, instead of only focusing on frivolous matters, the media should keep an eye on the positive things done by the government. The media must focus on the national challenges we face, and the measures taken by the government to tackle them. While doing that, it can freely discuss the merits and demerits of proposed strategies. I am sure the government would also not like a captive media engaged in eulogising everything that it does. It would be a great help to the government if the media played its true role by appreciating the good things done by the sitting government and coming up with constructive criticism that helps with corrective measures. That is what freedom of expression and independence of the media actually means.
Prime Minister Imran Khan in his recent interaction with senior journalists and anchorpersons also welcomed the critical role of the media and asked them to give the government 90 days before judging its performance. To my mind, this is a fair and legitimate request.
The writer is a freelance contributor.