TV accused of fanning Pakistan political instability

Dec 4th, 2009 | By | Category: Uncategorized

Mr. Hasan Mansoor has a very interesting article for AFP about the effects of TV news on political instability. I would note that the article refers to the Gallup Poll data that was corrected from 57% to 31%, but they also discuss government pressure on media so I think they are trying to be fair in the article. For this reason, I am posting it here in the hope that it will foster some discussion. Specifically, I am thinking that it shows that when one side engages in uncivil fighting – TV anchors for example – it results in a reaction from the other side that would not normally happen – like government pressue. Most importantly, though, it is a good example of a properly reported article. It is fair and objective and not trying to promote an agenda. Rather, it is discussing a very timely issue and showing the different sides of opinion.

 

KARACHI — Pakistan’s television networks are heaping political pressure on an increasingly unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari with critical and influential programming that offers a voice to the poor.

In the decade since military ruler Pervez Musharraf issued licences and softened state control on media after seizing power, more than 50 channels have mushroomed in the country, with around half dedicated to news broadcasts.

The channels have become campaigners against the leadership, have whipped up fervour for and against the Taliban, have embarrassed the security services and sown fear with 24-seven coverage of attacks beamed into living rooms.

“The government is under constant pressure from the media,” Mutahir Sheikh, head of international relations at Karachi University, told AFP.

A recent Gallup survey claimed that more than half of Pakistanis — 57 percent of those polled — blame the media for stirring up political instability in the country, which has known regular periods of military rule.

There are dozens of private satellite channels based in Pakistan and abroad that present every possible political opinion, pumping out news and debate in Urdu, English and regional languages to the country’s 167 million people.

Owned by newspaper groups, wealthy businessmen and private individuals, critics accuse them of sensationalism and peddling conspiracy theories, particularly about perceived interference from India and the United States.

Renowned author Ahmed Rashid accuses talk show hosts of “demonising the elected government, trying to convince viewers of global conspiracies against Pakistan led by India and the United States or insisting that the recent campaign of suicide bomb blasts… is being orchestrated by foreigners.

“The campaign waged by some politicians and parts of the media — with underlying pressure from the army — is all about trying to build public opinion to make Mr Zardari’s tenure untenable,” he wrote on the BBC website.

This week, authorities banned a Dubai-based show presented by an outspoken critic of the government on Pakistan’s most influential private channel, Geo.

“Apparently the Pakistani government, President Zardari to be specific, used his position to get the authorities in Dubai to impose a ban on the airing of the programme,” Azhar Abbas, Geo’s managing director, told AFP.

“The government is unnerved and uneasy over the independent criticism it faces in our unbiased programmes. But instead of countering argument with argument it goes for tactics which bring more embarrassment.”

Last month the authorities cut live footage broadcast by some TV channels of a deeply embarrassing 20-hour siege on the Pakistani army’s headquarters.

Television channels were also seen as having influenced a government decision to publish a list of officials, including Zardari, who have benefited from an amnesty on graft accusations that expires Saturday. The move has raised fears that heads may roll.

“The government had to expose its own allies, party officials and politicians who benefitted…. There are no sacred cows now,” said Sheikh.

Many say the media play a vital role in shaping public opinion in a country where nearly half the population are illiterate.

“Independent media has empowered the underprivileged people to express themselves, which is itself a revolutionary change,” said Fateh Muhammad Burfat, a sociology professor at Karachi University.

The channels supported a movement to restore ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, siding with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif until Zardari’s government caved in, reinstating him in March to avert violence in the capital.

Television executives believe their news helps inculcate democracy and gives a voice to the disenfranchised, who get little assistance from the state.

“We adopt very democratic methods. Here you find people from both sides,” said Talat Hussain, executive director of news and current affairs at Aaj News.

“The impression that we create chaos in society is not true,” said Hussain.

In fact, he says, poor and underprivileged people with problems — looking for employment or outraged by an issue — descend on TV stations hoping for answers.

“In Pakistan people have utmost faith in two institutions — judiciary and media. Our people pin their hopes on us and we do whatever we can to make ours a better society,” said Hussain.

 

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