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Islamabad

March 27, 2016

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Peeping through holes in a shiny fabric

Book Title: Mass Media, The Politics and The Politicians: A Mismatched Troika of Pakistan

Author: Prof Dr Zafar Iqbal

Publishers: Higher Education Commission (First Edition); Romail Publications (2nd Edition)

Price: Rs600

Pages: 290

After Zameer Niazi, no one has ever dared touch upon the subject of press and its relationship with the systems of governance in which it operates, be it a democracy or a dictatorship. Taking on this subject requires passion for press freedom and passion without profound standing in research and literature is not but a diversion. 

In Prof Zafar Iqal’s Mass Media, The Politics and the Politicians: A Mismatched Troika of Pakistan, we find this dilemma fought off fiercely at every page, which is why HEC published first edition of this phenomenal work. It would be wrong trying to assess from the title of the book that it is yet another attempt bashing civilian governments and letting dictatorships off the hook. No. It is not in Prof Iqbal’s genes to spare anyone, however mightier they might be, on the scale of merit. He covered all the dictators, and their abettors, on the 290 pages of his book.

His dedication of the book to what Faiz described as the unsung heroes in his universally famous poem “Ham Jo Tareek Rahoon Me Mary Gaya” (We, who were killed in dark allies) made it explicitly clear to the reader what they are up to.

All through the ten chapters of his book, he balances the argument around the structural-functional approach to society, a concept the babus who took upon themselves the task of forming a national media policy cannot understand. Unlike typical social scientists, he resisted the temptation to adopt a reductionist approach – every social phenomenon is reduced to the discipline they are experts in.

He rubbed the mirage of a society with free media off readers’ minds and put in place a concept of social responsibility set off duly by a tinge of professionalism expected from journalists. When he brings out the vicious ways with which different governments treated media, he lays out his powerful nine points mentioning lack of coordination and purpose among media organisations as something that makes them vulnerable to government controls.

Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a true believer in freedom of press, carrier of a rich legacy of struggle for the oppressed waged by Muslim League. He held this legacy close to his chest till his dying breath but what came after him was chaos. His predecessor Governor General Khawaja Nazimuddin promulgated the Public Safety Act 1948 about which he said “No. I will put my foot on it” when it came before him for approval.

Despite the fact that Prof Iqbal does not take well to the dictators, he did not let his dislike come in the way of objective writing and gave the devil its due. With the help of charts and tables, Prof Iqbal explains to the reader how Musharraf unlocked the electronic media introducing the Pemra Ordinance and went a step further to protect the freedom of press by promulgating Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance 2002.

Unfortunately, media has failed to establish itself as an institution here as modern media minds of the developed countries perceive it to be. Journalists seldom moved courts for their rights and the situation was put perfectly by Justice (R) Dorab Patel commenting on Press and Publication Ordinance: “I have … not been able to understand why the press … did not attempt to challenge orders passed under it for a decade and a half.”

Lack of trust between the press and the civil society defeated all attempts but for a few at joint ventures that could have turned tables. 

After the eventful ride through the history and complexities of the system with the perspective of media freedom in mind, there is no reason to disagree with him stating that it is about time concerned people are engaged in forming a national media policy, which cannot be left at the mercy of a bunch of bureaucrats.

The writer is a PhD candidate in media studies.

Email: [email protected]

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