It isn’t easy to forget the day Yousuf Raza Gilani first appeared in the apex court to defend Asif Ali Zardari. More exciting than a usual day of one hearing after another in a what has been called a rather active Supreme Court, the newsroom’s attention on Jan 19, 2012 was quite fixed, if not fixated, on what the then Prime Minister was going to tell the honourable judges. Days like that have still been rare for my generation of newsmongers and a sometimes-paranoid sub-editor’s bated breath over what might happen can only be fought with humour — a bit of a verbal jostle around the characters that dominate the better part of our working days.
Coming back to that day, it was still obvious to a number of us that it was the first of a number of such. Jokes, some of them slightly inappropriate, were cracked at the expense of the country’s political leadership and some other leadership I’d rather leave unspecified. Cowardice, you may call it, dear reader, but in some instances, it remains the only legal course of action.
Following the proceedings nearly obsessively and pestering the reporter every few minutes during those, the newsroom would periodically ponder over the chances for the elected prime minister to manage a save. National media travailed over Gilani’s fate, starting from the first appearance to a symbolic sentencing followed by a disqualification reference and then all ending for the previously incumbent on June 19. Gilani was sent packing, and with him the government.
It’s an ongoing squabble of sorts as to whether what should or should not have been done — a debate that really livened up the newsroom on a dull Saturday afternoon with a rookie’s occasional, aloud wonderment over the wisdom behind the inclusion of bits of poetry to conclude the arguments in a ruling. Of course, the answers to most such innocent queries have been: Watch and learn, nothing should surprise you.
But surprise has always been in store, even for the most jaded of us. Determining the way out of the NRO quagmire must have left the concerned parties, to quote a colleague, feeling almost svelte. Of course, the fact remains that in the process, we have had to bid adieu to at least two attorney generals and one prime minister. Looking at the final outcome, one cannot help but wonder if some of these moves were entirely vital.
That was, of course, one out of a long list of cases we have followed. Believe me, there’s a list! And keeping track of adjournments, interim orders, verdicts and pwoh, most importantly, avoiding committing contempt of court ourselves, has been, to say the least, quite the ride. This is apart from the newsroom’s commitment to cover national and regional politics and the continual attacks within Pakistan, as well as in the region that seem to form the landscape of the so-called ‘war on terror’.
Of course, one does get shafted at in the process of a day that involves quite a lot of either legwork or the constant not-so-merry-go-rounds in the head, but that’s mostly just everyday office banter without which the online newsroom would fail to fight the stress of covering Pakistan in real time.
Has it gotten easier over the years? I wouldn’t be so sure. From the 2008 elections to questions over the legitimacy of a provincial government and countless dying in attacks all through, sometimes the air in the online newsroom can get too heavy to breathe. But perhaps we do have strong hearts, and some of us, stronger lungs.
Qurat ul ain Siddiqui is the Desk Editor at Dawn.com