“Journalists should ensure that they are not perceived as trying to influence the outcomes of a political conflict,” writes Professor Julianne Schultz, describing the role and duties of journalists in democratic states. Professor Schultz, founding editor of Griffith Review, an Australian journal for current affairs, describes in her book ‘Reviving the Fourth Estate: Democracy, Accountability and Media’ the professional obligation of newspersons to downplay views of extremists whose ideas threaten democracy.
Perhaps Pakistan’s media, which has a long history of struggle for a democratic system, is still doubtful about the fact that Pakistan is a democracy. Media, deviating from its role of a watchdog, has adopted roles like lobbyist, propagandist, mouthpiece and soldier of fortune.
This is not a minor point. The decaying state of media is decomposing the democratic system of Pakistan too.
During Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s 2008-2013 rule, the people of Pakistan clearly observed extreme ‘media activism’ and ‘judicial activism’ against the elected government. Almost every second day, television anchors on various television news channels would predict that the elected government would be toppled by the military establishment, supported by the judicial establishment (Supreme Court of Pakistan). Supreme Court did disqualify the elected prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani. Somehow, the PPP managed to complete its tenure, which was a historic moment in the history of democracy in Pakistan.
When PML-N formed its elected government in 2013, the media started treating the new elected government in the same way it had treated the PPP’s governments.
Nobody can deny the fact that there has been always been tacit friction between the elected governments and military establishment, but media portrayed both as the conflicting groups, and to some extent, succeeded in strengthening the impression. It is not the media’s job to take sides or presume an outcome.
There are several reasons for the media’s professional and ethical downfall. Mushrooming growth of media is a healthy sign in Pakistan; but poor editorial control, a flood of unprofessional anchors and analysts, recruitment of journalists without merit and compromises by the owners stained the reputation of Pakistan’s media.
Another important point Schultz mentioned was downplaying the extremists. Pakistan’s media might be the only media in any democracy where activists and apologists for the extremist groups hold key positions.
Under National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism, glorification of terrorists and extremists is prohibited—but only on papers. Recently, former Spokesman of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Ihsanullah Ihsan surrendered before the security forces. A couple of TV anchors interviewed him in custody and several columnists and analysts sparked off a debate that he should be given amnesty.
The newspersons supporting amnesty for Ihsan clearly don’t care about the future of democracy. So why should they single him out? They might as well go ahead and demand amnesty for all terrorists, robbers, killers and criminals who are ready to surrender. Why not openly embrace complete societal chaos? That would be more honest than the charade of journalists who claim to stand for the interests of their audience.