Role of media in a democratic dispensation

  • The government means business

Independent media and democracy are sine quo non for each other. The media as a watch-dog against the government and as a fourth pillar of the state is supposed to promote democratic values and focus essentially on dissemination of authentic and truthful information to the public in regards to the policies and initiatives of the government, to enable them to make informed choices. In carrying out its obligations towards the society and the state it is required to avoid sensationalism, scandal mongering, gossip and laying unnecessary stress on non-issues. It is pertinent to point out that nowhere in the world the media enjoys unbridled independence. The freedom of expression and independence of media are invariably linked to media exhibiting sense of social responsibility.

Viewed in the backdrop of the foregoing considerations, the media scenario in Pakistan is not as enviable as one would like it to be. Pakistan has a very unwieldy and polarised media. In such a scenario truth and responsibility become a casualty and the focus shifts to non-issues and scandal-mongering premised solely on partisan, commercial and rating considerations.

The PTI government has been in the saddle for less than two weeks and the media is already awash with its attention riveted on inconsequential and non-substantive issues giving them out of proportion coverage and time which is quite untenable. The hullaballoo on the use of helicopter by the prime minister has been unnecessarily hyped and scandalised without understanding the difference between security and protocol. Similarly the transfer of DPO Pakpattan issue, Amir Liaqat’s complaints about PTI leadership, Saleem Saifi’s claims and alleged use of public resources by CM Punjab are being projected in a manner as if they were the real issues of the country and mattered a lot in shaping the destiny of the country. One can term them small hiccups rather than the challenges that the country needs to tackle on priority basis. These issues certainly did not merit as much attention by the media as has been given to them.

My considered an honest opinion is that two weeks are a very short time to judge the performance of a newly saddled government and it does deserve realistic focus on the initiatives that it has taken so far to set the direction for implementing its agenda and changing the political landscape of the country. Many positive and worth mentioning developments have taken place since the installation of PTI government.

What is required is that instead of only focusing on frivolous and attention-diverting antics the media should keep an eye on the positive things done by the government and disseminate correct and truthful information

Prime Minister Imran Khan last week attended the Senate session and availing the opportunity reiterated his pledges to implement his promises, particularly across the board accountability and winching the country out of the quagmire that it was stuck into. He has also promised to attend question hour in the parliament twice in the month. These tradition-setting initiatives should have been the focus of the media commentaries and discussions. The austerity measures announced and being implemented by the government need to be commended.

The government has not wasted any time in addressing the structural maladies that hinder economic progress and it has already taken initiative to restructure the Federal Bard of Revenue. As per the announced programme a committee has been formed to implement the construction of five million houses and creation of 10 million jobs and plantation of 10 billion trees. The federal ministers have been given 90 days to come up with plans to implement projects in their respective domains of responsibility for the next five years.

The ball has also been set rolling for audit of all the mega projects initiated during the last five years with an ostensible purpose to promote the culture of accountability and transparency in the public sector. In regards to claims of rigging in the elections, the government is contemplating to hold an inquiry into the failure of the RTS system to unravel the truth about the whole exercise. The government is also considering a proposal for a single regulatory authority for the media which it wants to implement after consultation with all the stakeholders. Quran education has been made compulsory in the schools. In recognition of the respect and consideration that the senior citizens deserve the railway minister has announced free travel for persons above 75 years of age and fifty per cent concession for those who are above 65 years.

It is an irrefutable fact that as a result of the intensive diplomatic offensive by the government the abominable and sacrilegious competition for the sketches of the Holy Prophet announced by the Party of Freedom Leader Greet Wilders of Holland has been cancelled, which can be rightly claimed as the first diplomatic triumph of the PTI government. It was a very serious issue which had hurt the sentiments of the Muslims. The prime minister has also expressed his desire to take up the issue at the OIC level to prevent such episodes in the future which cause interfaith disharmony.

The foregoing developments and steps taken by the government surely are encouraging positives that have really set the direction for the things to come in the future. They indicate that the government means business and is approaching all the issue with utmost seriousness and commitment. The initiatives taken by the government pertain to real issues and the media would be doing a service to the society and the state by giving due attention to those developments.

What is required is that instead of only focusing on frivolous and attention-diverting antics the media should keep an eye on the positive things done by the government and disseminate correct and truthful information to the public. The point that I am trying to make is that it is incumbent upon the media to focus on the national challenges and the measures taken by the government to tackle them. While doing that it can freely discuss merits and demerits of the proposed strategies. I am sure the government would also not like a captive media engaged in eulogising everything that it does. It would be a great help to the government if the media plays its true role by appreciating the good things done by it and coming up with a constructive criticism that helps in taking corrective measures. That is what freedom of expression and independence of media means.

Prime Minister Imran Khan in his interaction with senior journalists and anchor persons also welcomed the critical role of the media and asked them to give the government 90 days before judging its performance, which is a fair and legitimate request.