All of a sudden all that talk about how the presence of a strong independent judiciary and media has finally sealed the spectre of military take-overs in Pakistan now seems like wishful thinking.
Of course, there are the usual murmurs about how the fall from grace of civilian politicians, media and judiciary is being orchestrated by the shadowy ones within the country’s security and military agencies, but…
Yes, but. Even though one can never rule out the possibility in Pakistan of these agencies secretly making a meal out of civilian representatives in political parties and the media and preparing the ground for yet another messianic take-over by a oh-so-concerned military man, those bemoaning and groaning about such a possibility have themselves largely undermined the traits and actions that could safeguard them from becoming so easily disposable.
I shall not go into the details of the many events in the media, the judiciary and the parliament that are now threatening the country to capitulate and fall back into the waiting lap of a military dictator.
I will not indulge in the more heavyweight examples in this respect that are already well documented and commented upon. The following ones may be a tad cheeky and light, but are equally relevant and telling of the discussed dilemma.
First one has to do with a TV anchor who, to me, is one of finest we have at the moment. I had the chance to bond with him for a few days at a conference and found him to be an intelligent and passionate man, but a tad too impulsive.
I’m afraid it is such impulsiveness coupled with the amoral cynicism of the dreadful ratings game that has often seen a number of TV anchors make a mockery of the whole idea of the freedom of the media.
On the day Malik Riaz held his infamous press conference in Islamabad, the usual talking heads on TV got down to the business of rambling their loud long nothings.
One channel placed a call to the anchor I was talking about and who works for another TV channel. The said anchor while discussing the fall-out of Malik’s press conference suddenly blew his top by suggesting that Malik was lying while holding a copy of the Quran in his hand.
First of all, how can a journalist give such a damning verdict on mainstream media without any proof or evidence? That’s not all. On that day Islamabad was witnessing stormy weather, with rains, winds and all.
Lo & behold! This is what the angry anchor went on to suggest: ‘Malik Riaz lied while holding the Quran in his hand. And when people start doing this, Allah sends down great catastrophes. When Riaz was lying, outside a great and scary storm was building.
This is Allah’s wrath!’
Of course it’s another thing that a majority of Islamabad’s residents actually found the wrathful weather rather pleasant.
Had the anchor been a hyper-ventilating cleric, one would have moved on with a chuckle. But here was a man who is expected to give us insightful analysis on politics and society, not lectures of divinely ordained doomsday scenarios!
Then there was this other guy, a well-known print journalist who is also a regular (as guest/expert) on TV. Invited to a TV talk show to discuss the repercussions of the unflattering bungling committed by two self-righteous (but now disgraced) TV anchors in that leaked video featuring Malik Riaz, the journalist began talking about media ethics.
Fair enough, but, alas, he all of sudden tripped off to a wholly unrelated tangent and began complaining about how many journalists drink and gamble on the premises of the Karachi Press Club!
Mind you, this gentleman is the same star journalist who was furious when TV channels ran that infamous flogging video two years ago in which a religious fanatic was flogging a woman in public in Swat.
How seriously can one ever take men who are supposed to share insights and information on various political matters if they keep going off and begin to sound like angry clerics bellowing into a loud microphone about divine retribution and sins of men?
Lastly I would like to also mention the footage shown on TV in which the CJP was castigating a member of the PEMRA. What can one say?
Instead I will relate a film I once caught on a local film channel. The film was called ‘Aalami Ghunday’ (International Scoundrels).
It was a sequel of the evergreen, International Gorrilay — a 1991 cinematic farce that sees Salman Rushdie inexplicably giving up writing novels and becoming an international gangster out to destroy Pakistan and Islam through a diabolical combination of blonde-wigged Zionist agents, a series of casinos and some truly terrible dialogue!
In Aalami Ghunday there was one scene that made my day. In it a woman, the heroine, in a red dress that was a grotesque cross between a Wonder Woman costume and a Bedouin desert tent, was arguing with a lawyer in a court room.
I have no idea what the case was about. All I saw was the heroine shouting away and condemning the spread of obscenity in a country made in the name of Islam, and passionately lamenting the practice of dishing out law according to “ghair mulki” (foreign) law books. Incidentally a pile of such infidel books lay neatly stacked in front of the judge.
The heroine ran forward, picked up the books and flung them into the air (all in slow-motion), pleading that the prisoner’s case should be heard according to “Islami qanoon” (Islamic law).
The judge suddenly becomes animated by the lady’s populist hysterics and obliges. Just like that.
Well, the sort of qanoon she was pleading for would have first and foremost booked her for her delicious sense of dressing, but that’s beside the point, no? Even though I didn’t take this piece of cinematic nonsense seriously, I did wonder, were there those who did take it seriously? Or worse, were there even those who actually decided to act upon the message that the film delivered?
These are exactly the questions that come to mind when the media, judiciary and their unabashed fans in political circles decide to go divine. For good moral reasons I’m sure, but, of course, tends to do wonders for the ratings as well.
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com
He tweets @NadeemfParacha
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