Speaking at a forum in Washington earlier this year, President GEO TV Imran Aslam proudly described his channel’s political activism. He spent most of the time talking about activism against the Hudood ordinances – a great example for an American audience, but hardly the only (or most common) issue. Actually, when the moderator asked if he thinks he has ever gone too far, Imran replied, ‘Zardari think so’ and then burst into laughter. The question of whether media should engage in political activism, though, is no laughing matter.
Imran Aslam may have been the one to publicly admit that his channel sees itself as doing activism and not just journalism, but Geo TV is not the only media organisation that engages in political activism. Political activism masqurading as journalism has also been seen on Samaa TV, the channel that aired Meher Bokhari’s fatwas before she finally crossed the line, only to get picked up at Dunya TV.
Dunya TV has its own notable examples including Meher Bokahri and Zaid Hamid attacking Mian Nawaz Sharif and the recent expose of top anchors Mubashir Lucman and Meher Bokhari (yes, again) planting interviews on political and legal issues.
During the ‘memogate’ saga, Editor The News (like Geo, a part of Jang Group) Mohammad Malick co-authored a column terming the memo ‘treasounous’, despite the lack of any judicial ruling to that effect. Actually, the Supreme Court recently declared that the memo commission did not declare Haqqani a traitor. But this may be a case of ‘too little, too late’ as The News was whipping up public opinion against Haqqani for several months before the commission ever reached its conclusions. The Intenational Commission of Jurists (ICJ) termed the memogate saga a ‘media trial’, an opinion given some credibility by the fact that The News published a lengthy attack against Haqqani by none other than the lawyer for Mansoor Ijaz.
We won’t even bother getting into the political attacks against Asif Zardari – we’re not sure the internet is big enough to catalogue them all. It should be noted, however, that Imran Aslam himself joked about how mercilessly Geo TV hounds the president.
The question we should ask ourselves, dear readers, is not whether any media group is right or wrong in their positions, but whether they should be promoting a position at all. Where we draw the line between journalism and political activism? Whether the issue is Hudood ordinance or corruption, do we need media to give us facts or do we also need them to tell us what to believe? What if its not even their beliefs at all, but beliefs they are paid to promote? Journalists are unelected and unaccountable. Even those who have been disgraced have soon shown up on different channels (sometimes even back on their old channel!). Editorials and op-eds have their place, but there must be a line drawn between journalism and political activism. Today, it’s increasingly hard to see where exactly that line is.