I often wonder about the power of ideologies and opinions in our lives. More because of having been born in a country where a belief can matter more than life. We Pakistanis are rigid, uncompromising, unforgiving and fierce when it comes to a shared ideology. And I think, nothing has ever illustrated this attribute of us better than the notorious “Aurat March” organised a few days ago.
However, I found myself unusually calm this year, just seeing and listening to every detail of what was happening in the march. The protestors, the slogans, the artistic expressions, the satirical locutions that could potentially turn controversial, and then the thing that required no effort to be noticed– the reporters shoving their mikes into the faces of every other protestor without their consent, and the juicy Urdu click baits circulating everywhere in our newsfeeds thereafter.
The most glaring and interesting part, however, that attracted my attention was a reporter speaking to a group of boys. He was narrating Quranic verses from a page he held in his hand, to one of those protestors and interrogating him about the words painted on the placard. It went on for a few minutes until the reporter successfully “shut him up”. The scene instantly reminded me of all the courtroom drama movies I had ever watched at once.
Drama apart, something was troubling about that segment. At that moment I couldn’t decide what exactly was disturbing about the situation; a protestor being harassed instead of being asked about his concerns, a reporter completely negating the point of his actual job (the literal reporting), or the impunity he enjoyed while practising that stunt. That moment compelled me to think over the degree of freedom that only a particular group of media enjoys in this country.
Never had I imagined that I would be questioning the validity of freedom of speech. But then, never had anything wrecked the social structure of this state before, on ideological grounds, as Pakistani media did in recent years. Something profound is happening in there. A clear rift can be seen in the body of electronic media, dividing it into an ultra-conservative right and the so called ‘liberal’ left. The left has its pitfalls in terms of finance because the fan base is too narrow to support an apparently deviant ideology, and there is almost always some resistance from the state.
The right has, however, capitalised on the conservative narrative of the majority like the devil, negating all the rules of conduct and dictates of conscience. Not only is it guilty of earning dirty money by blurring the truth but also twisting the facts to create the frenzy required to sustain the numbers. The occurrences of “Aurat March” brought forward the proof of this fact too, in the form of Twitter top trend “#apologisetoAuratMarch” which came on top as a result of blatant propagation of false news of blasphemy from a doctored video, which could have risked reputations of many at the best and their lives at the worst.
The utter indifference of this group of media towards the consequences of their action to me was at first upsetting, but frankly, not at all surprising. I know for a fact that right wing media has been capitalising on controversial issues and problematic narratives since forever. It will tell people what they want to hear. It will poke into everything from the private lives of celebs to the confidential political affairs of anyone it doesn’t like, to craft “the news”. It will lie, counterfeit, manipulate and propagandise everything to exploit the popular support on which it thrives.
Freedom like this can be dangerous. When the obscurity of a concept as perplexing as “freedom” begins to manoeuvre the boundaries of right and wrong, that is an alarm. One question that all of us have pondered upon at some point is that who will keep a check on media when the media is busy keeping a check on everything and everyone? Is there any boundary of freedom when freedom is only for the “right”? Well, in Pakistan, absolutely not!
In Pakistan, there is an intense form of anarchy seen in the media. From any form of fact check or critique on status quo by the left being turned down, discredited or even laughed at because that must be “Indian Funded”– to any form of propaganda unquestionably thought to be the ultimate truth, the chaos of Pakistani media is one of its kind.
I think the question of the hour should not be ‘who is who and what is what’ because that needs no further attestation. It is the time to shift the focus from ‘What’ to ‘Why’ and the time for some legal authorities to inquire the actual subjects about their wrongdoings, rather than us common people doing it on a page, for it to be only buried until something more exciting comes in “the news”.