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July 5, 2018

A partisan media


July 5, 2018

The role of the media in Pakistani politics has been crucial. Like other instruments of power and war, the media is the most effective political tool in the hands of powerful groups to design the direction of the national debate in the run-up to an election.

The character of our media has witnessed a change every since television witnessed a boom in early 2002. We are not only producing more programming and content, but are also consequently consuming more forms of media. This undermines society’s productivity and reflects that we have less diversified interests.

Intellectuals believe that we have become a depoliticised society. But a quick glance at the number of news channels that appear on our television screens points towards a different reality. Pakistan has close to 100 or more channels for 200 million people. Of these channels, 40 percent are dedicated to news and current affairs.

The media has, to a large extent, lost its ability to be non-partisan. If we review the content of these channels and assess the ways in which stories are angled, it is clear that the media takes sides. Viewers often watch specific channels, which they believe report and discuss issues they enjoying hearing about. Moreover, parties have confronted and, in extreme cases, banned media organisations, and their workers have even attacked their offices.

Since the pre-Partition days, the media was seen as a profession for torchbearers. It drew those who wanted to educate the people on various issues that were suppressed and concealed from the public eye. Later, it emerged as a profession that was geared towards uncovering the truth in light of our chequered political history. The media was kept in chains because of its bold reporting and unwavering team of editors and writers who refused to either succumb to pressure or accept bribes. Those were the times when owners and editors did not work to further their commercial interests. The media wasn’t a money-making industry. It chased ideals and many of its owners lived through trying times.

But when the floodgates of private television channels were opened in the country, money flowed into this sector. Interest groups jumped in without any training and commitment. The media now serves as an industry that is struggling to access its market share, no matter what it takes.

This is where we stand today. There is no timeframe in sight in which we will see a change in the direction, content, nature and character of the media – a media that is governed by ideas of reporting and uncovering the truth, not weakening and distorting it. This is something that we have to live with and improve.

In Pakistan, we do not have a trend of endorsing candidates or parties during elections. This is quite unlike what happens in the US where large newspapers – such as The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post – take sides, announce their open support for candidates and guide people as to who they should support and on what grounds.

If the media in the country cannot be non-partisan, free and unbiased, why can’t we allow it to openly take sides and specify which party it stands with? Most media outlets are already viewed as somewhat partisan. A free and independent media constitutes less than five percent of Pakistan’s media landscape. Politics is a war by means of the media and it has worked well for powerful interest groups and state apparatuses.

Unlike those in the 2002 and 2008 polls, campaigns for the upcoming elections are not violent. In the past, Karachi has bled with every election and the city has also witnessed the killing of candidates and politicians. The 2018 polls will hopefully be the first peaceful elections in decades when voters can exercise their right to vote without any fear of consequences.

On an entirely different note, 42 percent of top positions in the country’s top civil service exam, which were held in 2017, were grabbed by female candidates in Sindh. Around 12 women out of 28 from the province secured top positions. Among them is a woman from my village who had the opportunity to live in the city and study there. Aleena Aijaz, a graduate of a private university in Hyderabad, has been allotted a position in the police service. For many of us, this is a big story.

Educated women are defining new roles for themselves. While many people who belong to middle-class families look down on those serving in the public sector, some consider it to be a worthy prospect. It is inspiring to see that women are opting for public service – and that too in the police, which has often been viewed as the domain of men.

Change is happening around us and young women like Aleena who dare to dream are making it happen. Patriarchy can no longer keep our women confined in compound walls. The world is opening up and women are the ones who are tearing these walls down. How long will it take us to understand that our freedom also lies in the freedom of women?

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @mushrajpar

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