Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam looks at the evolutionary process of Evolving Pakistani media
Though many people believe that the media in Pakistan is crossing limits they do not seem to realize that it is reclaiming and securing its rightful place in the country. Like in most countries, the media in Pakistan is freeing itself from the clutches of state control and becoming independent by the day and this aspect is not to the liking of the powerful elements of the country who have evolving Pakistani media long exercised decisive control over media organs.
It is quite obvious to observe that in its efforts to become a credible and independent disseminator of information to the people along with offering its opinion on all events is resisted on many levels. At the moment, however, it may be conceded that Pakistani media is relatively free though its activities are impeded wherever possible. It must be noted that in Pakistan erosion of the state owing to asymmetrical war against terrorism through non-state actors has, to a degree, sapped the capacity of the media, to tell the truth as it really is.
The history of media in Pakistan is full of dramatic events as it gradually emerged out of the strict official controls that consisted of tremendous restrictions. Media control and even restrictions were strongly formalized b the Ayub Khan regime promulgated the Press and Publications Ordinance in order to control the freedom of the press, a policy pursued by the succeeding governments.
This extremely obnoxious set of laws was scrapped in 1988 and from then on the freedom efforts of the media assumed fresh impetus and started to emerge as a force in itself. Moreover, the print media was reinforced by television transforming the information environment in the country from the written word to the more sensational heard-and-seen communication.
The paradigm change in the capacity and scope of media caused an impact on the viewing public, belonging to all strata of the population. From the condition of literacy imposed by the written word, the freedom to consume information by watching TV has spread to the entire population, with Urdu dominating the field as no English channel was able to make headway in the vernacular-dominated market.
Though official restrictions were considerably relaxed the electronic media provided the state apparatus to propagate its ideology and nationalism that created more problems than solving the already existing ones. In this state of affairs TV dominated the information market and the medium of communication was predominantly Urdu although the peripheral channels used regional languages.
The gradual proliferation of media channels started to build a climate of confidence within the media fraternity and slowly they served as a spokesman for civil society. With the passage of time Pakistani media is currently playing a positive role in respect of Pakistan’s civil society when it publishes revelations about the conduct of the national political parties.
It is however observed that its role becomes rather negative when it avoids holding the religious parties and their leaders to account to the same extent. And it is widely acknowledged that in certain cases religious parties take a line that is not always conducive to the aspirations of civil society and by airing their views the media abets such a challenge to civil society’s ability to respond.
It is however conceded that the media takes these lines with deference to the state governance. Ideology curtails freedom of expression and suppresses the variant point of view. It is also accepted that Pakistani nationalism is more effectively expressed in Urdu than in English.
Urdu journalism holds firmly to the ideology of Pakistan and its foundational doctrine chastising those who are seen to abandon it in favor of secular moral yardsticks. While it is true that languages are molded by national experience but once they attain an orientation they begin to command a discourse of their own.
Emotive topics under the rubric of nationalism are most appropriately expressed in Urdu and most media operators seem to agree with this specific orientation. This particular tilt is not witnessed in English which does have clout in Pakistani society but lacks the vast following enjoyed by Urdu.
The media is currently also fighting on multiple fronts as its idiom appears to be hollow with no concrete message coming out of its efforts. It is struggling against complexities of expression that threaten the reader with odd scenarios and at times it includes a specialized discussion of many issues.
The problem is mainly due to a lack of trained personnel and this is the obvious outcome of the absence of training institutions. There is also a wide gap between the perceptions of TV performers and the prevailing global trends. They are just confined to the limited scenario they live in and hardly make any effort to get out of it and diversify their perspectives.
It is now getting apparent that the media is slowly becoming rather liberal in its outlook though it still adheres to conservative notions. It is now known for criticizing quite openly the ideological excesses of the state, the lack of humanism in the state’s application of its self-designed rules, and sides with the rest of the world in criticizing laws curtailing the rights of women in the country.
Evolving Pakistani Media In Big Cities
Keeping in view the nature of current media its focus is on big cities in terms of coverage. Owing to the lack of reporters the smaller cities receive little coverage with far-off rural areas virtually receiving no coverage. Owing to the fact that its coverage is restricted to the big cities it is unable to establish links with civil society and respond to the requirements of the masses.
This is the main difficulty encountered by the media though it is slowly coming to grips with the situation and increasing its coverage. It is trying to increase its access too remote areas of the country and such coverage currently is in its rudimentary stage.
Pakistan’s media is in thrall to two dominant identity markers of the state’s tightening grip on religious extremist groups and highly inflated sense of nationalism, particularly anti-India attitude. However, the expansion of media contours and its changing attitudes have pinched many toes and recently many journalists have suffered about their reporting and commenting and have been incarcerated by state authorities.
The evolving Pakistani media is simply responding to the public opinion that is deeply disenchanted with the foreign policy pursued by the state apparatus and desperately wants a re-orientation of it aimed at reflecting the true public sentiments. The changes taking place within the region have also impacted the Pakistani media and the alteration in media perspective is expected to continue.
Media is the new catalyst in the annals of social change and its direction appears to be in the right spot. There is hardly any doubt that the self-correcting nature of media will ensure that it provides a potent outlet for the inspiration of the people. This is where it is heading currently with the steadfastness of purpose. The Weekender