Hurting national interest By Malik Muhammad Ashraf

76

While the media and opposition parties in a democratic dispensation are supposed to act as watchdogs against the incumbent government—requiring an honest and objective evaluation of the government’s policies and constructive criticism aimed at path-correcting, it is an irrefutable reality that both of them relish the prospect of having incessant digs at the government, sometimes even descending into the realm of cynicism. This phenomenon called the disadvantage of incumbency is more pronounced and well-entrenched in developing countries like Pakistan which lack a healthy political culture stemming from the internationally recognised norms of democratic behaviour. The opposition is for the sake of opposition. Similarly, a bulk of the media enjoys focusing on negativity rather than presenting a balanced view of the ground realities immersed in objectivity. The situation becomes even more worrying when the media is also highly polarised.

The media, in its role as the fourth pillar of the state actually represents society and is under obligation to be pluralist in its approach, which means representing all segments of the society and shades of opinion, disseminating truthful information to the people and educating them with regards to the issues of national importance and supporting nothing but the truth. A pluralist media is acknowledged as a catalyst to the promotion and strengthening of democracy; pivotal to peace and progress. But unfortunately our media lacks these traits.

Currently it is highly polarised. This polarisation is more pronounced in electronic channels. In the evening shows, it is really painful to see truth becoming a casualty to the propagation of partisan views and even malicious swipes at the sitting government focusing on peripheral and frivolous issues which have no relevance to the challenges confronting the country and the way forward to winch it out of them.

Granted that under no circumstances can media be denied the right to criticise the government for its wrong policies and helping it to stay on course, but that criticism needs to be wedded to national interests instead of endorsing politics of self-aggrandisement, promotion of interests of particular political entities or vested interests. It is also incumbent upon the media to acknowledge the good work done by the government in handling national affairs and the measures put in place to help poor masses in spite of the difficult economic situation inherited, further devastated by the onset of coronavirus.

A pluralist and unbiased media would have lent unqualified support to the foregoing steps of the government and given a true perspective to the people with regard to how politicians and political parties played with their destiny and deprived them of the resources which could have been spent on their well-being. But what we see on the part of the partisan media is a deliberate effort to belittle the government initiatives in this regard and attributing them to political vendetta. More space and prominence is being given to the views of the opponents of the government who are desperately trying to defend their corruption through overt and covert means. The media should have taken a non-partisan view of the situation. Not doing so amounts to professional dishonesty and digression from pluralism and internationally recognised media ethics.

Now coming to the performance of the government with regard to handling the economy and protecting the masses from the adverse effects of permeating conditions, there is no doubt that the masses are feeling the heat of the hydra-headed inflation which is attributable to a host of internal and external factors and the government also acknowledges it. However, the fact is that the government has not only taken myriad measures to stem the rot in the economy but has also given top priority to mitigating the sufferings of the people through financial assistance and welfare-oriented initiatives under the umbrella of the Ehsaas programme.

The government has successfully handled the onslaught of the first and second wave of coronavirus and the effort has won the acclaim of the international community. It is also grappling with the third wave with determination and unswerving commitment. It has shown remarkable dedication with regard to dealing with the climate change phenomenon. Its initiative with respect to planting 10 billion trees has received universal acclaim.

On the external front, the government has fared well. As a result of the diplomatic offensive of the government India failed to sell her narrative of the developments in Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir as her internal affair. The way Prime Minister Imran Khan has advocated the cause of the people of Kashmir and highlighted the issue at the global level knows no parallel. Under his stewardship Pakistan has also played a sterling role in promoting peace in Afghanistan. All these issues deserve to be highlighted without any bias. The media needs to revert to the drawing board to understand its desired role and the limits of freedom of expression.