Regime of ‘hostile’ TV anchors
Daily Times – Saturday, June 21, 2008
Two particular encounters on two TV channels Thursday night revealed the mind of the “misplaced or hostile anchor” in Pakistan. The first was a discussion among a group of TV journalists on the accusation levelled against them that they are no longer impartial in their conduct of talk shows and tend to favour a political stance. The “consensus” was that encroachments on institutions of representative democracy by military rulers could not be viewed with impartiality, and that a show of partiality was dictated by the anchors’ loyalty to the Constitution. One opinion was that this obligatory partiality must be accompanied by “objectivity”; but it was not clear how the state of being “objective” could be reconciled with the state of being “partial”.
The other discussion was an interview with Pakistan’s ambassador Mr Hussain Haqqani by a TV journalist noted for his acerbity of approach and bias. The topic was the attack made by NATO-ISAF forces inside Mohmand Agency which resulted in the death of 13 Pakistani troops, souring Pakistan’s relations between Washington. The ambassador, while acknowledging his duty to bring the umbrage of Pakistan to the notice of the Washington Administration in the most forceful of terms, also charged the TV person with the obligation of looking objectively at the situation in which Pakistan found itself. He asked him if he took account of the ground realities in the Tribal Areas where the war against terrorism was clearly in the national interest of Pakistan. The ambassador argued for “realism” in the handling of such crises as the one resulting from the attack in the Mohmand area. But the TV anchor demanded that Pakistan approach the United Nations for a solution to the problem of the growing breach of Pakistan’s “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity”. The ambassador pointed out that the Security Council was an arena of power play, not a kind of Supreme Court where all plaintiffs were equal. The TV anchor then fell back on the argument of “national pride” and claimed to represent the people of Pakistan, arguing in favour of Pakistan opting out of the international war on terrorism. He had no answer, however, to the question about what Pakistan would do after that, after its various trouble spots are bombed by a combination of forces united inside the US Security Council.
The patriotically “partial” TV anchors began by opposing a military ruler and are now caught in a situation of political bias under democracy because of the dictates of their partiality. The 2008 elections have delivered a political battlefield where elected parties are trying to move together despite their different recipes and solutions. What should the TV anchors do now? Normally, they should have moved back and become neutral, letting the discussions be fairly judged by the viewers, but they continue to pose as arbiters and decide on their own such matters as the “mandate” of the 2008 elections, the “immorality” of the NRO, and the rough dismissal of President Musharraf from his job. But when matters are in dispute between elected parties and in parliament, it is the duty of the media to remain impartial in order to allow the people to make their own judgements.
While highlighting the “complaints” against the TV channels, one must be clear, however, about the over-all role played by our electronic journalism. Despite their early “philosophical” gropings, the TV channels are a sine qua non of our lives and their foibles of “partiality” are dwarfed by their achievement of creating awareness among the people on all other economic and social matters. For example, in Punjab, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is taking action, correctly, after watching TV reports on the malfunction of government institutions.
A sense of pride and sovereignty may take nations into war and humiliate them without making them understand what went wrong. This happened to Germany in the Second World War and in recent times to Serbia whose people, proud and sovereign, hate the world today for not understanding why they were killing Bosnians and Kosovars. But states don’t only feel aroused emotionally. They can also be cold-blooded. They can be motivated only by their self-interest whose pursuit might negate the state’s pride and sovereignty. When Iran and America confront each other, both tend to fly off the handle. In contrast, in Europe, where many nationalist wars were fought in the past, few feel as aroused.
Why shouldn’t a state feel emotional? Because being emotional may be contrary to its national interests. These interests are almost always economic. This is perfectly understandable because as long as a nation is prosperous and not dependent on outside creditors, its pride and sovereignty remain intact. But if a state is neglectful of its economy and pursues other emotional goals either unrelated or hostile to its economy it is bound to impose suffering on its people through the growth of poverty. And nothing removes pride and sovereignty from a nation more cruelly and quickly than poverty. Let us not forget that the organisation which kidnapped and beheaded the American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 called itself National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.