LAHORE, December 28, 2011 ― Television screens flashing “Breaking News” in jarring, blood red letters to heart-pounding music were genuinely alarming when Pakistan had a single state-owned TV channel. Now they’re just a regular part of the news.
Long before NATO’s air attack on a Pakistani check post killed 24 soldiers, before the rise in US drone strikes targeting militants in north-west Pakistan, and before the upsurge in suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Pakistanis, Pakistan was bombarded with the output of dozens of news channels created by our new “free media.” Along with proliferating media outlets and freedom came the threat of information-overload. Instead of being better informed by all this information, our not-so-literate citizens became mere consumers of free media in a free market system, where the supply of sensational news quickly met its demand.
There’s a positive side to this. Once only those who could read a newspaper had access to information, but now almost the whole country can know, for instance, what’s cooking in the corridors of power, and anyone with a TV can be as well informed as any political analyst.
Though the current law-and-order situation, along with political and economic turmoil in the country, does not provide for an investment friendly environment, media outlets (both, print and electronic) find no better conditions in which to thrive. The principal objective of gaining higher TRPs than the competitors has brought news channels to a point where sensationalizing the facts is a standard part of their marketing strategy. In an attempt to stand out from others, each channel gathers a group of panelists with varied stances and provides them a platform to unleash their discontent and conflicting views. Anchored by senior journos and analysts, these talk shows occupy the primetime. Masses follow these shows religiously, and their opinions on a matter often copy the various televised versions of the story.
Pakistan as a state, an economy, and a nation has witnessed booms and busts ever since it surfaced on the world’s map. Be it a dwindling democratic government or a prolonged dictatorship, each regime’s farewell followed a public hue and cry. As the method with which mass opinions are formed has evolved, the nature of public outrage has also changed over time. Our core issues have generally remained unchanged, but they have been exploited with a different pretext every time, sometimes by political parties to restore democracy, sometimes by a military-led dictatorship to bring the country out of crisis, and sometimes by lawyers and the media to promote a free judiciary.
Thanks to our nascent electronic media, the process of making and propagating opinions is now on a fast track, and so is the longing for a regime shift. In order to gain maximum viewership, commercial media outlets sometimes do not hesitate to blow things out of all proportion, often fomenting unsupported conclusions such as the likelihood of an uprising against the ills of immature democracy.
How could one forget the restoration of democracy in 2008, followed by independence of the judiciary? Love it or hate it, it was a leap forward, paving the way for a system that has never been given a fair amount of time and once again is in jeopardy of being derailed.
Since the revolutions in the Middle East have recently been very much in the air as well as the airwaves, and because as a local news sensation they’ve outshined our own long standing political struggles, we might infer that as a nation we either suffer from memory loss or don’t fully accept the legitimacy of our own political changes. Revolutions don’t occur every three or four years in healthy societies, so they should not be triggered just because we have run out of exhilarating news stories.
Inciting revolution is not a ritual that every other citizen has to perform. Learning-by-doing does not apply here. Whether or not it’s revolutionary, the ones who have had a privilege must pass the torch forward so that lessons from previous movements can be learnt and the hard-earned change can sustain and make its own way. Had forced regime shift been an indicator of a revolutionary change, Pakistan would have achieved that long ago.
We are being ruled by the people we elected ourselves. We should let them serve out their terms and see how they perform. If they seem to back off their commitments, they should be voted out in the next polls and someone else should be given a chance. For a democracy like ours, this cycle needs to be repeated many a time. In the wake of Pakistan’s chaotic state of affairs, there is no room for a bunch of pseudo-revolutionaries who are nothing but a by-product of thriving media houses.
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