The Oxford Dictionary defines the word hyperbole as “a way of speaking or writing that makes something sound better, more exciting or dangerous than it really is”. In one word, it is exaggeration which, in this land of ours, is practised with unmitigated exuberance by the weavers of the written and the spoken word.
Upon close enquiry, one realises that the reality quotient in any of their posts is either totally absent, or it constitutes a miniscule portion of the content. And this comes from an institution that lays a claim to being the fourth pillar of the state. That, of course, should not be mistaken as an endorsement of the working of any of the three established pillars of the state.
A few days ago, I watched a senior TV anchor/analyst enquire angrily why the government had not allowed Shahbaz Sharif to leave the country, while also demanding that cases against the politicians (read: Sharifs) should be quashed immediately, equating these with political vendetta. In yet another programme, some anchors-cum-analysts were seen pronouncing that Imran Khan did not stand a chance to win a second term. They even named the leader they thought was most likely to become the next prime minister of the country. There are innumerable other similar instances where journalists act as the fly on the wall, pronouncing judgements about the fate of the government, even quantifying the period it would last. When that does not happen, they quickly and unashamedly move on to giving another deadline for it to pack up.
It may sound rather unusual, but this has become the most favourite pastime of writers and TV analysts or presenters. They refuse to undertake any substantive evaluation of an issue by furnishing facts and figures in favour and against their take. Instead, they make use of intense rhetoric to promote their individual brand of narrative and expect people to believe it simply because it is ‘them’ saying it.
They seem to be smitten by the spice of the hyperbole, not the rationale of the argument. They are addicted to the command of the pontiff, not the reason substantiating their narrative. They are enamoured by an artificially-created perception, not the need for advancing the cause of a pragmatic debate. They are playing to the gallery of sponsors and stooges, not driven by the cardinal journalistic mission to inform and enhance awareness about the existent issues. So, what we have ended up with is mostly an agenda- and interest-driven narrative, not an objective and dispassionate discourse.
Rather than dealing with people with their mix of strengths and flaws, they are crafted into angels and demons depending upon who a particular writer or TV host may be interested in promoting or downgrading. That is hardly the right approach in communicating news of value to the people and building trust in the profession of journalism.
There is a moral paradox underpinning the current paradigm. Have these people who are currently advocating the release of corrupt politicians, in contravention of the law of the land, ever tried to evaluate the insurmountable damage these practices have accrued to the country and the manner in which their indulgences have set trends for others to follow? Have they ever gauged the effect it has had in generating a perception that, in Pakistan, there are two justice systems: one for the rich (read: politicians and the sundry beneficiary elite) and the other for the poor? Have they also tried to ascertain the damage this has inflicted upon the state institutions which have been rendered dysfunctional, thus adversely impacting the working of the government?
Have they noticed that, because of these practices, there is a virtual collapse of the national moral fibre and, following in the footsteps of the corrupt political elite, everyone has started believing that they are free to do as may be their wont?
Societies are regulated by law which is rooted in a sustainable justice system. It is also tailored after the noble values and traditions of national role models. If the country has to progress, if societies have to evolve, if people have to be empowered, there has to be a credible system in place. This cannot come from leaders who are corrupt and who have defrauded the state exchequer for their personal advantage. How can they be allowed to run riot to escape beyond the scope of the law, more so when they take refuge in foreign lands to unleash venomous propaganda against the state and its institutions?
Here is the paradox. While these people are quick to plead for the initiation of proceedings against functionaries from the government, they are also seen advocating the freedom of convicts, alleged criminals and POs. If there is to be justice in society, it has to be for all without the slightest discrimination. I wonder whether it is their unworthy experience which prompts them to make these conflicting suggestions, or the sheer arrogance of the profession that gives them the licence to charter into the yet-unknown alleys of the future.
The lords of the written and the spoken word have to garner the courage and character to espouse the laudatory traditions of the profession. They have to rise above the debilitating constraints blocking their path. The gospel of truth spoken for one set of people must hold for all. This is an extremely daunting challenge and practising it is paramount for creating the fabric of a just and equitable state and society.
Those endowed with weaving magic of the written and spoken word must renounce the spice of hyperbole. It is the laudatory tradition of speaking the truth, irrespective of the consequences, that they need to embrace.
The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a
political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.