Media and Zardari

Dec 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Daily Times

Asif ZardariWhen Asif Zardari was whisked away to Dubai last week, rumours of a coup began to swirl in the tail winds of the president’s helicopter. As usual, this was the same show by the same old media circus with countless ‘journalists’ filing reports based on drawing room gossip and overactive imaginations. As the truth began to seep through, the story turned out to be (also as usual) pretty bland. The president, who has long suffered from medial troubles, was going abroad to receive specialized treatment. The media stories then took on the new question of what exactly he was being treated for: Did he have a heart attack? A mini-stroke? Indigestion? Questions that seemed almost as interesting as how much sugar he prefers in his tea, or whether he likes light or medium starch in his shalwar kazmeez. In other words, nobody really cared. Discussing the ridiculousness of the whole thing at General Headquarters PMW (aka a local dhaaba), one person was overheard to remark that, whatever the president’s condition, those praying the hardest for his health and his safe return were not his party jiyalas or even his family, but the media.

This statement brought the expected silent glances followed by deep laughs and uncontrolled coughing from our chain smoking friends. But the more we discussed it, the less it seemed like a joke. After all, if Zardari goes, what will all these private cable channels talk about? Ansar Abbasi and Shaheen Sehbai will be completely out of material. Even the media’s fawning over Imran Khan only makes sense as long as he is the under dog foil to the mastermind of Asif Zardari.

Abbas Zaidi, author of Two and a Half Words and Other Stories, explained the phenomenon beautifully in a column for Daily Times earlier this week.

The point is: what will happen if Zardari quits politics and goes into retirement? What will happen to hundreds of journalists, thousands of politicians and their various flunkies, and millions of Pakistanis? Zardari has spawned an entire genre of yellow journalism. He has never sued, jailed, or harmed anyone for levelling the basest and meanest allegations at him. Thus, in a way, he has encouraged the journalistic industry, which lives off his ‘misdeeds’.

Once Zardari is out of office, he will be sorely missed, I can assure you. Where in the world will you find a president who is incessantly and viciously demonised, but never says a thing? One media house has been publishing one shameless lie after another, but Zardari has never said a thing. Our corps commanders hold a meeting and reject the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, but Zardari does not have them sacked for their insubordination. The Americans finish off Osama, but no general is sacked for complicity or incompetence (or both). There is not a single political prisoner in Pakistan today. But no one will give Zardari the benefit. People like Zaid Hamid openly invite the army to take over because Zardari is bad, but nothing happens to them. Can anyone cite just one example from Pakistan’s history where people got away with insulting the head of the state and the largest political party?

Zaidi sahib makes an especially noteworthy point there at the end – it may have been Musharraf who opened up the media flood gates as part of the efforts to hold onto power, but it has been Asif Zardari who has weathered such unprecedented attacks without threatening to pull the plug. Actually, the private channels themselves have done more censoring than the embattled president. It was All Pakistan Cable Operators Association that censored the broadcast of foreign channels. And even when Geo Super was running their anti-censorship campaign, it was Geo itself that was censoring the transmission, not the government.

As the oppositions ‘Go Zardari Go’ campaign is being gleefully projected from every corner of the media, we can’t help but imagine that these same journalists are carefully updating their CV for presentation to PTV. After all, the next guy in president’s house might not be as patient as this one and that might be the only channel left.

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