Weapons of mass levity

To say that President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Britain was controversial would be putting it mildly. He was vilified by both the national and international media and to add insult to injury, the shoe-throwing incident in Birmingham served as the icing on the cake. Despite reports to the contrary, it seems likely that a shoe (or two) was thrown at Mr Zardari while he addressed the PPP supporters in Birmingham. There are speculations that the president’s adversaries may have been behind this humiliating incident.

Whether or not these charges are true, the accusations against the PML-N should not be taken lightly. The PPP has claimed that the PML-N is playing politics on the floods issue. If looked at from an objective angle, there is no smoke without fire. The PML-N has trained its guns on the PPP, particularly President Zardari. The gloves are finally off as far as the Nawaz League is concerned and the PPP in response has also jumped into the fray. This in turn has led to an embittered atmosphere politically. Enter the war of the flying shoes, with Federal Minister for Law and Justice Babar Awan’s ‘warning’ that the jiyalas (PPP supporters) “also wear shoes”, and the situation looks grim. It was expected that there would be protests in Britain against Mr Zardari’s visit; the protests were small but voluble. Speculating about who is behind the ‘shoe attack’ is pointless; so is denying that the incident ever took place. The real issue to focus on is that it is not a good trend and should not be emulated in future. Comparing former US President George W Bush and President Zardari is asinine. Shoes thrown at Bush by Muntadar al-Zaidi were in a different context altogether. The US is an occupying force and Mr Zaidi’s symbolic attack was a protest against the death and destruction the Iraqis have had to face since the US invaded Iraq. But attacking one’s own president physically when he is visiting a foreign land is not in conformity with the dignity of a country represented by its head of state. Whatever one’s views about Mr Zardari – whether you like him, hate him, or are indifferent to him – there is a line that should not be crossed. An increasingly bitter political atmosphere will have severe consequences back home if the cadres are not restrained by their respective parties. It is hoped that no shoes would be used against any leader in the future in a tit-for-tat response because this has the potential of turning into an ugly war.

As far as the PPP’s media management is concerned, it is in complete disarray. PPP spokespersons have been at pains to deny the shoe incident. No news can be suppressed in a technologically advanced age and there are all sorts of rivulets and channels from where people can get any information they want. Instead of frothing at the mouth and knee-jerk denials, a wiser course would have been to admit that such an incident took place but explain how it is not just Mr Zardari’s insult, but also a blot on Pakistan’s image. On top of that, a private television channel’s transmission has been blocked in some cities and its newspapers have been burnt at various places after it reported extensively on the shoe attack. The PPP claims that it has nothing to do with this and some cable operators may have blacked out the channel on their own while some individuals are responsible for burning the newspapers. This is possible, but there should be a proper investigation into these events because there must be no attempts whatsoever to silence the media, no matter how provocative. On the other hand, the media too needs to exercise restraint and realise that provocation eventually gives diminishing returns, especially when the public starts questioning the media’s impartiality.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

Comments

Mehmal, sometimes "biased" or "partisan" media too helps in making people understand the things just the other way round, so I would disagree that all media should be unbiased. For example, in India, Indian Express and Hindu are two blatantly biased newspapers vis-a-vis economic policies: Express wants us to forget and leave behind Bhopal tragedy as it suits the corporates while Hindu won't let us ever know that Marxism is an orphaned child of autocratic socialism but it is not that they always convince the people of what they want but it also happens that after reading them you form just the reverse opinion. As long as the reportage is not based on lies and rumors, it should be ok to go gaga and full on with whatever suits one's intellectual agenda or even partisan interest.

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