Shooting the messenger

Journalists all over Pakistan took to the streets yesterday to protest against the anti-media resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly on Friday. PML-N MPA Sanaullah Mastikhel tabled a resolution in the assembly condemning “some parts of the media” for “irresponsible propaganda being hatched against democratic institutions, political leaders and elected members”, which the parliamentarians believe “may prove consequential for the future of democracy as well as the supremacy of the constitution and the law”. The resolution was unanimously passed. Journalists covering the Punjab Assembly staged a walkout and protested outside the assembly.

No sooner had the resolution been passed that we saw a change in the attitude of all political parties, who started backtracking on this issue. In the past few days there was a spate of anti-media speeches made by the members of the Punjab Assembly, criticising the media for giving too much airtime to the fake degrees issue. Tempers were high, thus a resolution of this nature was finally tabled and unanimously passed. But when the parliamentarians saw the anger in the media community, even the apologists had difficulty defending their point of view. The PML-Q was the first to jump into the fray and moved a resolution against Mastikhel’s resolution. The PPP and PML-N also went into a damage control mode later on in the day, with the PPP leadership asking for the withdrawal of the resolution and the PML-N leadership denying any role in tabling the resolution. PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif held a press conference in London yesterday where he condemned the resolution and said that Mastikhel should be thrown out of the party for tabling it. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif also expressed his displeasure at the resolution and said it was against the PML-N’s policy line. It is quite strange that the PML-N leadership is acting as if it was totally unaware of what was going on in the House when the chief minister was inside his chamber. It boggles the mind that the politicians think they can take the public for a ride by shifting the blame onto an individual party member, thus making Mr Mastikhel a scapegoat.

What is disconcerting in all this episode is that some of these ‘public’s representatives’ who have wilfully committed fraud to insert themselves into the assemblies – a precedent set in the Musharraf era – do not want to be questioned about their integrity. The parliamentarians actually took umbrage on the issue of fake degrees but cited other reasons for condemning the media. Those who argue that the bachelor’s degree law to contest an election was unjust to begin with are right, but this does not justify a politician entering the power corridors through fraudulent means. Politicians have to set an example for society but if they themselves throw all principles to the winds, who will stop this tide of infamy? There is no reason to shoot the messenger, i.e. the media, for reporting the fake degree cases. On the other hand it would not be wrong to question the judiciary on why it did not address this issue when General Musharraf was in power. Most of his coterie of parliamentarians had fake degrees but none were taken to task back then.

Pakistani media has waged a long struggle to achieve its freedom. Rolling back this freedom has become difficult now. There are some sections of media who have not behaved responsibly, but we are in the learning process and will mature when the audience forces us to. The government should not restrict the media but should let the natural process take its course. When the audience turns away, the media will either take note or lose the battle for credibility and competition.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

Comments

Rehman said…
I agree with you! But what about those white elephants among the journalistss, especially the big names. Did you read THE TERRORLAND blog and allegations against Dawn's Zaffar Abbas and some of his colleagues, plus the attack on working journalist Habib R. Sulemani? Eye opener!

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