By Talat Farooq
"When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty attained, that wise men look for."-- Milton
The representatives of the eight channels of Pakistani electronic media have demonstrated how democracy can work. Whether or not the government finds the code of conduct, devised and self-imposed by the electronic media, which is comprehensive and satisfactory, remains to be seen. There are bound to be hitches and glitches as the code is put into practice and one sincerely hopes that the media will continue to refine the rough edges through the process of discourse and cooperation. However, none of the aforementioned aspects is the topic of this particular article. The point being raised here is that by rising above their competitive commercial drives, the media personnel came together for the greater good and those in the parliament could do well to learn a thing or two from them. The media reps have demonstrated maturity by holding a two-week-long discussion among them to question their own weaknesses and reach a joint decision through introspection and understanding. They came together to
find a solution to the government's concerns pertaining to the limits of press freedom and they managed to reach a consensus through consultation and dialogue.
This has made the anti-media squabbling in the parliament look childish, petty and self-serving in comparison. The media's act of maturity in an environment of rampant self-interests symbolises the inherent power of the civil society in effecting positive change peacefully. The truth is that the significance of the media as a medium of interconnectedness of human affairs cannot be undermined in an age of rapid globalisation.
Traditionally, large-scale use of advanced technology for the purpose of war-making has been the prerogative of the military all over the world. Modern-day electronic media, on the other hand, has employed advanced technology to wage a bloodless war in the form of investigative reporting and live debates. The Pakistani media is an enthusiastic member of the new warrior clan of the 21st century and despite belonging to an underdeveloped and war-torn country, is already playing a more active role than its predecessors, in keeping with the demands of the modern times. This has facilitated public access to the hitherto unseen workings of the political and bureaucratic set-up while simultaneously highlighting the injustices suffered by the common man as a result of the shady practices of the elite. Moreover, the role of the journalists has become crucial and often dangerous as they continue to investigate and report from war zones. Danger also catches up with them outside formal conflict zones; the horrific images flashed on Pakistani channels on May 12, 2007 are a testimony to this.
Such media efforts can effect fundamental changes in the world-view of their viewers and can precipitate momentous paradigm shifts in social, cultural and political milieu of the nation. The combined usage of auditory and visual sensory perceptions by the electronic media can succeed in stimulating deep emotions and sensations. Investigative reporting and live discussions can undermine tales of the spin doctors and break the spell of many a magician. By airing divergent views and engaging in cross questioning on significant national and social issues the media reflects and informs public opinion and practically shares the task of the parliament.
It is usually claimed that the job of the media is the dispassionate presentation of facts. The fact is that the job of the media person is not to serve as a post office but more importantly to educate the public through informed reporting so as to facilitate as objective an opinion formation as possible. A free media that works conscientiously can serve as the collective conscience at the national and international level. This, however, is often easier said than done. The reporter or journalist is after all human and endowed with biases and in some cases prejudices and as with all power bases the media too is vulnerable to the corruption of the absolute power. There will always be those in their ranks who can be bought with cash or perks or promises of paradise. But then there will always be those who are not purchasable because they know that their reporting can make or break individuals, communities and nations -- a heavy burden indeed.
The freedom of the press anywhere in the world is a victory for the liberal forces that uphold the freedom of expression and limited role of the government. However, even as the process of globalisation progresses, the state endeavours to reassert itself with renewed strength. It is easier for the state to do so in a country like Pakistan where democratic traditions have not taken root.
The ruling elite in Pakistan would do well to remember what Musharraf learnt much to his chagrin, that forcing the genie back into the bottle is a messy business.
By resorting to self-censure and consensus-building, the media managers of the eight Pakistani channels have taught a lesson to the political elite that differences can be resolved peacefully and with dignity without resorting to confrontation and blame games. And that the media, as an important pillar of the civil society, has the courage to tackle moral and ethical issues even in the time of war. In the prevailing global environment, the media has assumed a significant role in human affairs as an accepted opinion maker, trend setter, negotiator and intermediary. Would the political elite learn from this ground reality remains to be seen; but it would be worth their while to study the trends of the process of modern globalisation in which the speed of change has multiplied manifold, and to accept the central position that the media occupies within this paradigm along with political players. The sooner they understand the complexities of the modern age the easier would it become for them to forge a smoother relationship with the Pakistani media.