Looking through the usual new sites on Pakistan over the weekend, I came across the ominous headline proclaiming “A day of thrilling developments likely,” which outlined that Sunday had been full of “feverish political activities which showed no sign of slowing down.” The article went on to talk about the “fireworks… predicted to start in the courtroom” with “part of the tense drama, however… played out at a meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the army chief” and added further fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories that continue to singe our political institutions.
The article is not an isolated example however, and to me is indicative of a larger problem within our burgeoning mediascape. It is important that the article in question appeared not in an upstart tabloid but in Dawn – Pakistan’s most respected and sober newspaper which is respected for its restraint and high-quality reporting. Unfortunately even Dawn appears to also be succumbing to the wave of sensationalism like so many other media outlets in Pakistan, and indeed the world. But my concern is not about what is happening to one newspaper; rather it is what is happening to the media at large at a time when every news is “breaking news” and every story is presented in the most dramatic and sensational way possible, whether justified or not.
No matter how much we may all wish for political stability, as long as we continue to act irresponsibly – pedaling rumors, preaching on the imminent end of the government and finding conspiracies behind every one of Islamabad’s numerous checkpoints – we’re eroding the very political institutions we so sorely want in place. If we’re always bemoaning that our government is paranoid and defensive and insensitive to public outcries, perhaps the first step would be to stop putting them on the defensive and stop raising a public outcry over every little issue that goes wrong.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good gup shup session as much as the next guy and I’ll be amongst the first to stand up in favor of honest, critical media coverage, but there is a fine line separating hysteria and hyperbole from reasoned reporting – this is a line crossed all too often in our national conversations.
Indeed, the following day’s headline piece in Dawn read – “Back from the brink” – spoke of how “having braced itself for fireworks on Monday, the nation was greeted by a quiet and undramatic denouement by the afternoon”. As grateful as I was for this crisis averted, I couldn’t help but wonder – in the midst of the greatest humanitarian crisis the United Nations (and by extension the world community) have ever dealt with, some perspective would be nice.
Of course the stakes are high for democracy in Pakistan, but they’re even higher for the single mother living under a tree in Thatta – with her belongings and home washed away. Does she or the millions of others like her care who inhabits the plush halls of Aiwan-e-Sadr or the Prime Minister’s Residence?
Yes, we need a government that is attentive to the needs of the people. Yes, we need a watchdog media to keep them accountable, but most importantly we need to chill out. Or, as we often say here at ATP: “Dekho! is ko ‘Take It Easy’ lo!”
Let us please give everyone a chance to do their job and be just a little less trigger-happy in assigning blame and declaring it the end of the world. If we vilify our government, jump down their throat and denounce them, it’s either delusional or disingenuous not to understand why donors are reluctant to cough up cash. If nothing else, don’t we owe our country and all those affected the unity of purpose that will be so sorely needed to overcome the crises we now face?