Sunday, November 18, 2007

Popular Independent Media Stifled in Pakistan

Popular TV channels GeoTV and ARY Digital have been forced off the airwaves. It is a very sad period indeed. It seems that the glimmer of hope for a civil Pakistan created by independent TV channels has been extinguished at least for the moment. Looking back at what has transpired in the last few days, we all need to learn a lot about the exercise of freedom, responsibility and the spirit of compromise necessary to nurture and sustain any hope for democracy. Sadly, the spirit of compromise so essential for democracy has been missing in the behavior of the judiciary, the media and the politicians in Pakistan.
In addition to displaying graphic images of violence and mayhem on the streets, GEO and its various commentators ( Hamid Mir, Shahid Masood, others) went out of their way to take strong anti-government positions and failed to play the proverbial "devil's advocate" role in panels consisting entirely of anti-Musharraf panelists. Since the imposition of emergency by Musharraf, Geo abandoned any semblance of objectivity in their reporting. I know I am sad about the closure of my favorite channel and I can understand Geo TV commentators anger at being shut-down but they also need to reflect on their own behavior.
When I see Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and their various allies being presented by our "esteemed" journalists as pro-democracy leaders spouting their support for media freedom, it reminds me that most people in Pakistan have very short memories, and even shorter-term horizons. It seems that all the sins of Bhutto and Sharif in their previous two terms as prime ministers never happened. There is not even a pretense of the two "stalwarts" as being "born-again", acknowledging their prior sins. Recycling these failed leaders will not bring democracy, just more of the corruption and incompetence we have seen from them in the past. The elections will simply become a means to legitimize their governments as elected and democratic.
The real democracy, with all of its institutions properly working, is a goal that requires a lot more patience, tolerance and longer term thinking and sustained effort to succeed. The propensity in Pakistan to become instant "heroes" and "martyrs" by refusal to compromise as shown by our judges, lawyers, media, politicians and Musharraf is not in the best long term interest of our nation. We can do with fewer heroes and martyrs and seriously need wiser, more pragmatic and sincere leaders to move toward a durable democracy that serves our people. Unless we reflect on the mess that currently exists and change our ways, we will be condemned to permanent chaos and ultimately self-destruct. As Churchill described it once: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried". Let's choose a path to democracy because the alternatives are far worse.
As far as the independent media are concerned, they have a very significant role to play in this march toward democracy. I do hope to see GEO and ARY back on the air very very soon.

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