Tuesday July 05, 2022

Freedom vs freedom

February 05, 2017

Reproduced below are parts of two much longer articles published in May 2014. The articles were of a series written in the context of the shooting of Hamid Mir in the same year and what happened subsequently.  The main thrust of the arguments retains its relevance even today.

Both in misery and maturity Pakistan may have progressed too far for patriotism on payroll to be anything more than prime-time entertainment. Therefore, the buffoons and the pigmies in the media have had to embrace the gutter like there is no tomorrow. Theirs has turned out to be a field we should not name. They end up exposing their inadequacies the moment they undress themselves to please the ‘patriots’ and rouse the rabble against the ‘traitors’.

Out of our respect for the dignity of the media, we will exclude these ‘sections of the media’ from our definition of the media and call them the opponents of a free media and a free society. For the sake of decency we have still given them a far nobler title than they deserve.

Though they appear to be baying for the blood of one particular section of the media, the actual content of their attack is a hybrid of bigotry and obscurantism that has often been used to arouse the savage in human beings. Once the beast is aroused it seldom dies with what it was meant to kill. It wants to thrive. One should not have to say more on this point in a society that already qualifies as a horrid example of such brutalisation.

But one thing that should strike us in this affair is what the young Marx saw as the rise of the child over man in the media and elsewhere. The child has a remarkable fascination with things seen in isolation from each other.  The child does not know the ‘invisible’ thread that links different parts of a whole. The child does not go beyond sensuous perception.

So here we are, the children of the media. On the misery of the missing we think only of misery and the missing, on the matter of Musharraf we consider only the matter of Musharraf, in a Media house under threat we see only a media house under threat.

Now the child, as we all know, is a sweet little selfish creature, and the instinct of self-preservation is natural to all. So maybe our rush back to childhood has something to do with the fear that a coherent narrative linking the parts and making an analytical chain can be a very costly affair for both media owners and media men and women.

Maybe the owners fear that an already tough competition will come to be seen as a rebel with a brave cause. Maybe some journalists have the same fear of fellow journalists. Competitiveness that does not go beyond one’s nose and non-creative jealousy are also the hallmark of the child.

There is another and very consequential difference between the media under the rule of the child and the opponents of a free media. The opponents have the advantage of what Marx termed a ‘pathological emotion’, a ‘passionate partisanship’ to propel them. Their fight and their cause are real because their passion is real. The opponents are in love with what they are doing and love themselves for doing it. Their narrative has verve because it accords with the true logic of their existence.

The child in the media is unsure and vague. The limitations inherent in seeing things in isolation from each other present the child only with the spectre of on media house under attack and not with the spirit that threatens the media. It has no ‘real relation’ to what sometimes it has to be seen as defending. Its narratives are punctured with ifs and buts.

The media’s reversion to childhood is its escape from its freedom. The problem with media freedom is that it can never be a gift from the state which the media should not look horse in the mouth. Freedom as a gift from above is a Trojan horse out of which – when the time is ripe – emerge lickspittles and town-criers who pave the way for the beast that spares none.

Media freedom is sustained only by being constantly tested against other kinds of freedom that are rampant in a society that is not free yet. To choose only a few: freedom to abduct, torture and kill, freedom not to account for what is happening, freedom not to be named in allegations, freedom to perform political and social puppetry and produce ‘patriots’ out of your pocket, freedom to pose a threat in the national interest and freedom to decide what is that interest, freedom to punish the media if it is seen erring on the side of ‘free’ judgement while struggling to balance the stark truth with the defined national interest etc etc.

This freedom versus freedom in an un-free society is not a ‘professional’ choice but a choice of profession. The freedom of this profession is only as real as the extent to which it is able to address the ‘real’ contradictions behind freedom versus freedom and expose the free interests thriving on the un-freedom of others.

When the media is attacked and court-jesters have a field day without being challenged, it is time for the media and media men and women to see the true content of the conflict, to detect the threatening thread. It is no time to escape into childhood.

Links to the original articles

The writer is editor oped, The News.