Pakistan's Media Out of Touch

Pakistani journalist Nadeem Paracha, in a superbly referenced post on The Dawn Blog, takes his colleagues in the Pakistani media to task for their self-serving coddling of Islamic extremists.

It is a rather stunning experience watching certain TV talk show hosts, journalists and assorted ‘experts’ continuing to find newer and more bizarre ways to stick to an obviously reactionary and, if I may, paranoid line in this respect, especially at a time when a majority of Pakistanis, including well known religious scholars, have started to freely exhibit anger and bitterness towards phenomenon like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The question arises, is this a matter of defending an ideology for which these TV and press men are ready to face ridicule? Or is this peculiar attitude about something else?

The danger comes not from a brainwashing of the lower classes – those people who feel the brunt of the Taliban’s ways quickly turn against their form of Islamism – but the more educated middle classes who are still insulated from the punishing reality of the Taliban’s regime.

It can be safely assumed that since a bulk of the classes that make up the ‘common people’ are the ones who are directly facing and being bludgeoned by the frightening terrorist attacks in the cities, most of them are now rapidly changing their perceptions about the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

The above may also suggest that the ideological divide between Pakistan’s middle-classes and the classes bellow them may have grown – even though, by largely responding affirmably to TV shows based on conspiracy theories and reactionary populist rhetoric, sections of the country’s middle class actually believe they are sympathising with the common people.

Thus, these televangelists are achieving what the conventional mullah failed to. That is, to make the notion of looking and sounding Islamic acceptable among the so-called educated elite. These evangelists – from Aamir Liaquat to Farhat Hashmi, Zakir Naik, and even Juniad Jamshed – with their brand of dressed-up evangelism are actually the softened versions of the scary, ferocious mullah.

The message remains the same, though: One needs the services of a wise, holy agent to reach the wise, Divine Saviour. Of course, this is something your neighbourhood mullah has also been insisting for years but only looking and sounding a lot cruder.

All hope is not lost with the Pakistani media. There are some who are starting to see the light and speaking out against the extremist forces.

Recently, especially after the fallout of the Swat peace deal, some Urdu columnists and TV hosts have decided to drop out of the closet and take the extremists and their ‘pro-jihad’ colleagues head-on. Two journalists immediately come to mind in this respect: Imtiaz Alam and Hassan Nisar.

Out of the two, Nisar has been a lot more aggressive, becoming an iconoclast of sorts in the spheres of the largely rightist Urdu media.

This is an important development because since the language they are communicating in is Urdu, the much-needed alternative to the largely convoluted quasi-Islamist narrative their colleagues have constructed will now have a better chance of being heard on a much larger scale.

These journalists must be supported. The stakes are too high for us to sit back and let the airwaves be controlled by cynical opportunists who play at mullah at the expense of freedom and Pakistani culture.