Reporting or Campaigning?

Dec 26th, 2010 | By | Category: The News

Shaheen SehbaiIt is being reported that consensus mode is working well in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has agreed that PML-Q will support the government, and even Mian Nawaz Sharif has pledged PML-N support for the government. If politicians can mature beyond petty bickering and backstabbing, why can’t our media?

Consider the column by Shaheen Sehbai featured on the front page of The News today which basically amounts to an anti-Zardari campaign sheet rather than an actual news report. While the editors clearly labeled the piece “Commentary”, one is left to wonder why this could not be placed on the Opinion page and whether the commentary is honest analysis or simply Sehabi continuing his predictions of a failed government now going into three years after elections.

For example, this is Shaheen Sehbai’s ‘Commentary’ on the Altaf Hussain-Zardari relationship:

The levels of playing fields for both these leaders, sitting as part of a coalition which is sinking, or doomed to sink no matter how long it is artificially stretched, are noteworthy. Altaf Bhai appears to have acquired a much higher moral ground because Zulfiqar Mirza and company have pulled Zardari and the PPP down to below ground level.

But the level Zardari has set for sticking to some morals in politics is pathetically sub-surface and almost non-existent. An important columnist and writer recently remarked that he had never heard the word “corruption” in any of Zardari’s speeches and addresses. Anti-corruption and accountability for the present rulers means how to escape and kill both these dragons.

Despite the defection of Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman, there is little evidence to support the claim that the coalition government is ‘doomed’. To the contrary, recent reports linked to in the first paragraph of this post demonstrate quite the opposite – coalition and opposition parties dedicated to seeing the democratically elected government complete its full term.

But Shaheen Sehbai takes the political rhetoric of some opposition leaders and makes a warning against Nawaz that he should “stop the Zardari train”.

The opposition, led by Nawaz Sharif, is the most confused lot as they share power and fear the Army but by ignoring the rapid collapse of every institution, they are proving that the political system is unable to correct itself. If the politicians cannot stop the rot, someone will have to do so. By not doing anything, Nawaz Sharif is inviting others to intervene. This is what he fears but this he probably does not understand.

Again, this is not commentary or analysis of the day’s news, it is the campaigning rhetoric one expects to hear from a rally loudspeaker. Shaheen Sehbai has started with his conclusion – that Zardari is doomed – and has built his commentary around this rather than looking at the facts and determining a conclusion based on those.

Obviously, Sehbai is entitled to his own opinion. But as consumers of news, we are also entitled to ask whether it is useful for our understanding of events. Cafe Pyala reports today that Jang Group is making some interestng personnell changes that appear to be a sincere effort to temper the over-the-top anti-Western rhetoric that has crept into its organization’s reporting on foreign policy and provide a more balanced, reasoned reporting and analysis. Perhaps it would be worth considering to do something similar related to domestic politics as well.

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