Pakistani media’s somersaults on air – By Nadeem Paracha

Somersaults on air

Talking to DawnNews, veteran journalist Agha Murtaza Poya called America, India, and Israel an ‘axis of evil out to destroy Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.’

There is absolutely nothing new or original about Poya’s grand ‘geopolitical’ assessment, but when such unsubstantiated claptrap comes from a respected journalist, what common sense or responsibility can one expect from the hoards of TV anchors and print journalists whose figurative 15 minutes of fame have already overstayed their cacophonic welcome.

It is a ‘fame’ gathered from cheap fist-clenching demonstrations of populist nonsense and so-called political discourses that are thoroughly anti-intellectual in nature and akin to deal more in sardonic barbs and thrilling sound bytes for an audience that seems not to have the patience, or for that matter, the capability to enjoy a more rational discourse.

TV screens and the pages of some newspapers are choked with hosts, journalists, and ‘experts’ dishing out the most worn out clichés that can be wonderful fodder for fast food spy fiction, consequently announcing the demise of any semblance left in this society to actually understand international and local politics as a dynamic science instead of reading it as a rapid-fire script of a racy James Bond film.

Accusations are conveniently floated about ‘corruption’ and ‘foreign hands,’ and not even once have they been proven as something more concrete than drawing room gossip or obsessive finger-wagging.

Thankfully, those sickened by such baloney have gotten down to systematically dismantling the many myths and conspiracy dribble that are smugly rolled out as ‘facts.’

Take the books written on the subject of Islamists and terrorism in the region by well known author Ahmed Rashid. In Decent into Chao (2008), Rashid uses reliable sources to turn the already known narrative of Pakistan being its own worst enemy into an elaborate and convincing intellectual and journalistic exercise.

But myth-busters – including Rashid, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr. Mubarak Ali and others – may seem ‘too dry’ in their style compared to the many compelling babblers, journalists, and columnists who have turned spouting populist twaddle and worn-out conspiracies into an industry. Now, however, the myth-breaking brigade have found their own shock troopers.

This is a vital development in which sanity in this respect seems to be evolving a muscular side to challenge the sheer brawn of gaseous drawing room jocks such as Zaid Hamid, Aamir Liaquat, Mubashhir Luqman, Shahid Masood, Ansar Abbasi, et al.

Urdu columnist and TV host Hassan Nisar and investigative journalist Aamir Mir have been the frontline shock troopers. They have continued to dent the jocks’ numerous theories not only with arguments rooted in facts, but also with a punch.

In his book, Talibanisation of Pakistan, Mir, like Rashid, uses the most convincing investigative tools, smartly gathering on-ground facts from various competing intelligence agencies in Pakistan to lay out a harrowing narrative that puts Pakistan’s many schizophrenic intelligence agencies smack-dab in the middle of all that has gone so terribly wrong with Pakistan in matters of extremism and terrorism.

Mir’s book is a warning, but without the holier-than-thou approach that many of his detractors usually take.

The more we remain in denial about our own agencies’ historical dabbling in civilian political matters, and the many deadly games that these agencies played moulding armies of fanatical and violent Frankenstein Monsters, the deeper we shall tumble into the bottomless pit we have managed to dig for ourselves.

Interestingly, every time certain awkward truths about our own political and societal failures start to become a hot topic among the amoral chattering classes, there are always those who suddenly up the ante of their respective TV shows and their newspaper ‘scoops’ and columns, diverting the attention of the people either back to the wrecking and scheming ways of ‘foreign hands,’ or, of course, the Kerry-Lugar Bill and the NRO.

I’ve been associated with both investigative and desk journalism for more than 15 years now, and I know how vulnerable to exploitation journalists can get; quite like the politicians we so self-righteously bash. And even though I have very little experience with electronic journalism, one can quite easily point out the cynicism that cuts across it.

In 2007, the army (for the TV news channels) became the villain and the lawyers our saviours; terrorists were dealt with velvet gloves, even glorified as men who were creatures of circumstance instead of the cold-blooded murderers that they really are.
The same year, when late Benazir Bhutto met with Pervez Musharraf, she was mocked and put down as a ‘puppet of America.’ Soon after her tragic death, she suddenly became a heroine, and whole documentaries were dedicated to her.

In 2008, the army was still the villain and democrats became supermen. Terrorists were still seen to be fighting a noble war against America, and those who were blowing themselves up in mosques and schools were ‘Indian agents.’

In 2009, after the government and the army finally took decisive action against the terrorists, the army returned to the TV screens as heroes. Terrorists, meanwhile, became an elusive cross between barbarians and men funded by foreign powers. Last year’s supermen, the elected democrats, on the other hand, become ‘corrupt,’ ‘incompetent,’ and a laughing stock.

Suddenly, for TV news channels in Pakistan, it seems democracy isn’t all that cool anymore. They’re back indulging in Pakistani journalism’s all-time favourite pastime: looking for those ‘dark clouds’ of army intervention to ‘control corrupt politicians.’ They just never tire of this hollow, reactive exercise. It’s been going on ever since 1958.

The electronic media claims these somersaults are undertaken in the fine name of ‘democracy,’ and ‘freedom of speech.’ But the truth is, much of our electronic media is simply driven by what is better described as a mobocracy! Even a casual glance at any ‘talk show’ should suffice as proof.

nadeem_80x802 Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and