Tuesday July 05, 2022

The Media’s escape from freedom

The human condition
Freedom of the media was a gift from the warrior clan to the shudras scavengi

May 25, 2014
The human condition
Freedom of the media was a gift from the warrior clan to the shudras scavenging for information. But the ever-greedy fools abused this magnanimity and developed a nasty habit of biting the hand that had fed them freedom.
The above tale has been told so often and so much without consideration of time and space that its desperation to become an urban legend is clear. A complete critique of this myth in the making is not intended here but a part of any such critique would certainly be that such a view grossly misunderstands the meaning and content of ‘freedom’. It treats freedom not as a process but as a royal gift that the chosen virgin should cherish and be grateful for.
Very often – if not always – in such statements the word ‘media’ has stood specially for one particular group. To make things easy for the reader in what follows, we have used the word media using small-case ‘m’ when it denotes that group and ‘Media’ with a capital M has been used to convey the Media in general.
We are expected to understand that, lost for a very long time in a deep forest of dark deeds, the media has now been struck by a bolt of lightning. Though the bolt is not from the blue but from the khaki, its making is the media’s own doing. Whether it becomes the media’s undoing or uplifting depends on the media passing from the present inferno of being shut down and threatened with extinction to the purgatorio of recantation and self-flagellation to, finally, the paradiso of responsible self-censorship.
Paradise, we all know, is a place without contradictions and conflict. It is the reign of harmony. I wonder why Iqbal found the idea a tad bit boring.
Whatever the outcome of the crisis – whether the media proves to be a version of Dante that the military can heartily approve of or whether it keeps playing a modern Prometheus in love with fire or whether the golden mean is found to the satisfaction of all involved or whether a

wedding takes place in paradise where everyone is invited and where the military is the bridegroom and the media’s soul is the bride – the crisis has already given us a lot to reflect on with certainty.
One thing that strikes us in this affair is what the liberal Marx saw as the rise of the child over man in much of 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, in Hamid Mir we have only a headstrong and emotional journalist who named names after he was shot. (Of course his plight has moved us and we pray for his long life – with a few ‘professional’ and ‘ideological’ ifs and buts).
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 the owners of the Media and the 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 a fellow journalist whose near-death and its aftermath sparked the whole crisis. Competitiveness that does not go beyond one’s nose and non-creative jealousy are also the hallmark of the child.
But all this still remains within the realm of the professionally explicable. And that is why it does nothing to explain those sections of the ‘Media’ that have, in this affair, embraced the gutter like there is no tomorrow. Theirs has turned out to be a field we should not name.
Out of our respect for the innocence of the child, and out of our respect for the dignity of the Media, we will exclude these sections 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, xenophobia 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.
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 the media 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 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, freedom to decide what is that interest, freedom to shut the Media down 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 shut down to let court-jesters have a field day without being challenged, it is time for the Media and the Media men and women to see the true content of the conflict, to detect the threatening thread. It is no time for escape into childhood.
The writer is editor oped, The News. Email: