By Wahab Tariq Butt
Pakistan may perhaps be one of the most politically aware countries in the world today. From the drawing rooms of the rich to the dhabas of the poor, from the sweltering Karachi to the cold north, politics is the favorite discussion. Like any democracy, there are groups of people supporting different causes. Whether its economics, politics or foreign affairs we have self proclaimed experts on every matter. These experts are often not on the same page and so we have tones of people giving tones of opinions on tones of television channels. This is again normal in any democracy and shall be promoted rather than be discouraged.
But if all is going well and according to democratic norms, and if we are on our peak of political awareness as a nation, why are we not developing the ability to recognize right from wrong? Why our people after watching thousands of hours of political talk shows still prone to emotional rhetorics, hollow slogans, tampered history and cooked up emotions towards other nations?
There are a number of reasons. First, those with the responsibility to ask questions haven’t been asking the right questions. They haven’t been inviting the right guests either. The reason is not that our media is on some Zionist agenda and here to fool people. Infact, most anchors are patriotic and atleast by their perspectives are serving the nation. The problem is of capability. Newscasters are quick to call themselves anchors, reporters are keen to host a news program if given a chance and news directors are chosen by their ability to get the ratings. Those who have some knowledge and are capable to host the programs, now feel comfortable being invited as experts on their own shows and ranting about all topics infront of interviewers solely in the show to nod in affirmative. Degree in journalism, experts in law, science, engineering, economics and foreign affairs- definition of many senior anchors today. So apart from young newscasters who were chosen because of a pretty face and clarity of voice, hosting news programs and asking stupid questions to irrelevant guests on television, we now also have “all rounder” journalists on television giving their views on sensitive matters such as foreign policy, engineering, economics etc.
Second, almost all television channels have aligned themselves with one political party or the other, establishment being the most powerful party and journalists are forced to toe the line set by the “seths”. PTI and PAT dharna and its one sided coverage by some channels seemed the lowest point when it came to media ethics, but we saw worse when Axact scandal came into limelight. Journalists fought for ratings as their peers drowned in the scandal and the most heard logic was: “they would have done the same.”
When the questions are not right, the answers don’t matter. When the people asking the questions make a joke out of themselves, those responsible to answer don’t care. With incapable people flashing on screens day and night and spitting venom against democracy instead of experts teaching the nation how to handle a crisis, the rise of media and the political awareness of middle class will remain fruitless.
We all talk about changing the status quo when it comes to politics in this country, but can we discuss the status quo condition of the media and how we can improve it? It’s time to ask the right questions.