Journalists play an important role in influencing public opinion all over the world. Quite often many colleagues claim that there job is to inform the public, who are free to form opinion on the basis of their information. That may be the job of a reporter or rather it was many years back. Today even incidents are written with an interpretation, and selected choice and sequencing of the facts. This is called interpretive reporting. At the same time much of the time and space is taken by opinion columns in newspapers and programmes on electronic media.
As the elections are coming close and political debate is getting heated up, most of us have chosen sides whether we accept it or not. News reports, captions, opinion columns (such as this column) all are written with political, social ad economic positions taken by the journalists. Majority of the talk show hosts find it hard to hide their biases. It is not a new trend in journalism. Newspapers and television channels are known for their policy tilts in all democracies and are often described according to their leanings.
Having said that let me now talk about the concerns and views of some local and foreign journalists I interacted with last week. The foreign journalists major concerns were: Will Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto alliance work? Will BB be able to contain growing terrorism, a job in which Musharraf has failed so far? Will she win enough seats to form the government? Will BB be able to dampen the anti-American feelings in Pakistan – the country which has been labeled as most dangerous country of the world by the Newsweek?
Interestingly almost all questions asked by them were futuristic. They wanted to assess the political situation and then forecast the near future. So let’s examine the questions raised to me by British and the German journalists. To the question will BB-Musharraf alliance work? I think nobody is expecting this alliance to last long, if Ms Bhutto manages to form the government.
The reason being that both have strong personalities and want to run the show. There would be tussle for more power between the two. Musharraf has so far enjoyed the powers of the chief executive, which are constitutionally supposed to be with the prime minister. It would be hard for him to be the figure head president and leave the decisions to the parliament. On the other hand Ms Bhutto was twice over-thrown not because of her government’s corruption, but because she had a power tussle with the president and military. Even Nawaz Sharif was also toppled because of similar reasons. Corruption has been always been there but here it was used as a justification to hide the real reasons. Inclusion of corrupt politicians who are submissive to the establishment proves this point adequately. Interestingly those who are opposing NRO forget this finer point.
Would BB be able to contain growing terrorism, a job in which Musharraf has failed so far? The menace of terrorism has now grown into a dragon that can only be curbed collectively by all the democratic forces and nobody can be successful single handedly. Ideally this should be one point alliance of the democratic forces. Daniel Gordon of BBC World Service asked me “would that be possible realistically?” I can only say we should try for the ideal and then work with what is realistically available.
Will she win enough seats to form the government?
She may not get the majority, but there is strong possibility PPP may emerge as the largest party in the next elections. Her chances in Punjab, senior journalists, Nusrat Javed and Afzal Khan, think would increase if Nawaz Sharif is back. Nawaz will divide the PML (Q) votes. Even a cursory look at the previous elections voting pattern in Punjab confirms their analysis.
Will BB be able to dampen the anti-west feelings in Pakistan – the country which has been labeled as most dangerous country by the Newsweek? This perhaps is the main concern of the visiting foreign journalists. Given the stupid American policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and open interference in our affairs, it is too much to expect from BB. On the contrary her closeness with the American is going hurt her party in the forthcoming elections. The only benefit she might get from all the reports in her favour from the US administration, media and think-tanks is that the establishment might switch loyalties to her. But the taste of this pudding would be in the impartiality of the establishment in the forthcoming elections.
My take after meeting some of journalist friends in Islamabad is that the present government has lost these opinion makers for number of reasons. Islamabad journalists, who were considered tamed by the Karachi non-conformist journalists in the past, are now roaring in anger and disgust. Most of the independent journalists, whose opinion is valued by the public, are agitated from the pressure exerted on them through agencies. Intolerance, using brutal police force against the journalist community and unconstitutional politicking by the government has generated equal reaction.
Anti-Musharrafism and Anti-Americanism has also distanced them from PPP, which was considered as better alternative Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s admirers. One leading talk show host confided that he was asked to tone down his criticism of BB, by some high ups in the presidency. If BB is using these channels she is asking for serious PR disaster.
What is completely missing in the reaction to Musharraf’s doings in the last seven years and BB’s accord with him is the cool and realistic analysis of the present internal and geo-political situation. Most of the views are not based on comprehensive social, political, economic and international situation logical analysis. Each issue is dealt by these analysts in isolation, where at times they are also right, but integrated approach is lacking.
All said and done, I tend to agree with them that unfortunately that we are in for chilling violent winters. It is too difficult to forecast the spring of 2008 and say how it will rise after the bloodbath. Alas! The realist in me is overshadowing my optimist self. (firstname.lastname@example.org)