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The media must mend its ways

Published: January 8, 2011

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

One of the most disturbing things about Salmaan Taseer’s tragic death is the manner in which his party, the PPP, has reacted. Whether it is fear, misjudgement or sheer opportunism, I don’t know, but to call this assassination a ‘political conspiracy’, when it is yet another violent act of aggression against a dissenting voice, is a grave disservice to the nation.

There is no doubt that Governor Taseer was targeted for his views on the blasphemy law. Others, including religious scholars like Mufti Sarfraz Naeemi and Dr Muhammad Farooq, have suffered a similarly fatal fate simply because there is a frighteningly large armed population of intolerant extremists in our society who would go to any length to stifle alternative viewpoints.

It is baffling if the PPP thinks that it can ride off this martyrdom and use it for political advantage instead of tackling the biggest problem in our country head on. Equally disappointing is the judiciary’s silence. When threats were made to Salmaan Taseer and Sherry Rehman, why weren’t suo motu actions taken? Why has no action been taken against those who have offered head money to kill Asia Bibi extra-judicially? Could there be more contempt and disregard for the very function of the court? And yet, we have become so accustomed to ceding space to these draconian forces that hardly anyone is willing to take them on. As a result, the few who do pay dearly, most often with their lives.

The question more and more people are asking is: are we doomed? If the devastation caused by the floods took us back a hundred years, allowing armed groups and individuals, misled into narrowly interpreting religion, to dictate policy will take us back 400 years. But how can we reorient society? How can we use religion as a force of good rather than a force of evil? How can we rectify the severe damage that has already been done? For starters, the media, especially the electronic media, must mend its ways.

The talk show, a staple and increasingly static form of discourse, needs to broaden its horizons. It is not advisable to invite bickering politicians or analysts who rely on inflaming emotions. They add nothing to the discussion and it is best to black them out till they can learn to present arguments dispassionately. There is a need, instead, to build up rational discourse.

Religious programmes need to be strictly monitored so that there is no inflaming of emotion, no discriminatory interpretations and, most importantly, no incitement to violence. Running advertisements on tolerance while simultaneously providing a platform to those preaching the contrary is counterproductive. Efforts should also be made to show Pakistani viewers how other Muslim countries run their affairs. We are, after all, not the only Muslims on the planet. For example, Saudi Arabia is mandating veiled women be fingerprinted and have their identities verified by male immigration officers, in light of security concerns, and spending enormous amounts of money on jihad rehabilitation facilities.

The media can also be a tool for adult and child literacy. English, science and math lessons can be offered via television. Television does not need to be a reflection of society. It can be a teaching tool to uplift the masses that have been robbed of a quality education. Ratings may not immediately skyrocket because of this policy but, in the long run, it will reap benefits for society that will positively affect us all. The hypocrisy of feeding readers of the Urdu press one thing and those of the English press another must end. If media owners send their own children to enlightened American schools and universities, then it is not fair to dumb down the average Pakistani viewer with nonsense.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2011.

Reader Comments (10)

  • A B
    Jan 8, 2011 - 3:38AM

    Excellent analysis! The goverment must take a firm stance on this issue and not manipulate it for political advantage.

  • AM
    Jan 8, 2011 - 8:44AM

    Rational discourse is desirable but is it possible?

  • muhammad shanil
    Jan 8, 2011 - 9:08AM

    the following is a tribute to salman taseer in benazir bhutto’s voice:

  • M.Irshad Jan
    Jan 8, 2011 - 11:36AM

    A sane voice, but who will listen?

  • Arifq
    Jan 8, 2011 - 12:01PM

    There is nothing rational about religion.

  • Raja Arsalan Khan
    Jan 8, 2011 - 9:11PM

    Religion and politics cannot never be detached. Religion from the very beginning has been a tool for ensuring hegemony over others. The mullahs have a political agenda. Therefore, calling the assassination as politically motivated is not wrong and in fact the right stance. The tragic incident has many many political ramifications and the whole issue is political in nature with religion being the passive and destructive force.
    And why the media will play positive role? I don’t think the writer is so “ignorant of the ground realities and national interests”. If she is, she can suggest such things.

  • Naveed Tariq
    Jan 9, 2011 - 12:05AM

    I think you are saying right for some points but some times it happens that media can not explain the reality. Despite this media is taking a very important. It helps the people to difference between right and wrong. The Nation can observe that what their leaders are doing for them. So that we can not completely blame media for this. I am very poor & i belongs to a middle class family in Pakistan i know how i am living i can feel the mistakes of our government during his in 3 years rule. As you mentioned you belongs a very first class family so that you can not feel the problems of poor Pakistani peoples. In short words i want to say that media is not completely involve for these type matters.

  • AM
    Jan 9, 2011 - 2:28AM

    ‘nothing rational about religion’
    It is the singer we have problem with not the song.

  • Malik
    Jan 9, 2011 - 10:07AM

    Pakistan: The moral collapse of a nation

    A month before the governor of the Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was lowered into an early grave, an imam at a mosque in Peshawar asked the Taliban to kill a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, if the Pakistani state did not carry out the death sentence. Nawa-e-Waqt, the second most read Urdu-language newspaper in the country, wholeheartedly approved of the 500,000 rupee bounty that the cleric Maulana Yousuf Qureshi put on Asia Bibi’s head. Its lead editorial went on to threaten anyone, like Taseer, who supported the woman’s cause and campaigned for a repeal of the infamous blasphemy law. “The punishment handed down to Asia Bibi will be carried out in one manner or the other, and who knows whose position and rank will be terminated as a result of the debate on the repeal of the blasphemy laws,” the newspaper wrote. That was on 5 December. A month later Taseer was killed by his bodyguard, a 26-year-old policeman, Mumtaz Qadri. Neither the cleric nor the editors of the newspaper are being charged with incitement.