Media Watch: Time to Chill Out

Posted on September 30, 2010
Filed Under >Faris Islam, Media Matters, Politics, Society
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Faris Islam

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?

19 responses to “Media Watch: Time to Chill Out”

  1. wsd says:

    I am not sure if this news was on a back page what difference that will make. “Media Hype”, “sensationalism” are the terms used when a trivial issue is focused upon and discussed out of proportion. A govt. change is never a trivial issue anywhere and in Pakistan this is more of a life and death issue. Dawn , in my opinion, gave due importance and by no means we can “Chill out” in this situation.
    Lets reserve our media bashing for some other time.

  2. Pak Lawyer says:

    I am sorry but I think this is what the role of the media should be. It is the government that should perform better so that this type of stuff is not needed. The fault lies there, not in media.

  3. Naan Haleem says:

    Pakistani Media is doing just the same as their fellows elsewhere around the world. The only difference is the irresponsible, careless, corrupt and selfish practices of the politicians. The people living in Pakistan may or may not call it a media hype, depending upon their own political opinion, mindset and/or affiliation.

    We dont find any politics in Middle east so no question of criticism or flaming issues. But when we go to west, we see that even slightest of mistakes by politicians even in their very personal lives are highlighted to the extent of scandal, so much so that concerned person mostly prefers to quit from the scene rather than being torched everyday everywhere.

    You can find numerous examples in the west where politics was pushed by media. on political issues, take recent example of Australian PM’s re-election. On financial issues, govt. officials have been criticised over taking their spouse on tours with them excessively and hence demanded a refund of tax-payers’ money for such expenses. This has led to purification of politics and politicians in these countries.

    But it has been made possible only due to one thing: strong, independent, impartial and authoritative judicial system. Even if politician decides to counter the media war, he/she knows, court is unavoidable. So it is either truth or death.

    Pakistan is also going through this embryonic phase of media power. If our judicial system becomes independent of feudal aristocracy and police is allowed to concentrate on law and order (rather than VIP security and protocol duties), this media can eliminate the filth from politics within few years with the help of impartial public opinion making and evolution of sense of ‘Qoumi khazana = awam ka paisa = mera paisa’.

    Once the politics is cleared of filth and little scandals are, these media peopl will be on the defensive side. Because honest and true politicians (not dependent on unfair means or non political powers to remain in position) will not allow media groups to evade taxes (which they frequently do today) or to attempt yellow journalism.

    So i think let all the stakeholders decide the rules of the game once and for all and determine who is eligible to play and who is not.

    Bottom line: Judiciary and police independent of politics, abolition of feudal & mafia culture and public opinion making (rather than brainwashing) make up the road map of a successful future.

  4. ZAFAR says:

    Nice piece, but difficult message.
    I understand that we have to support Pakistan. But this government keeps giving us less and less of an excuse to do so.

  5. Yahya says:

    Frankly, I trust the Pakistan media even less than the Pakistan politicians. And I do not trust the Pakistan politicians at all.

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