The recent interview of Dawn Media Group’s CEO Hameed Haroon in Hard Talk has stirred a controversy in Pakistan. In the interview, Hameed talks about the involvement of the deep state in the governance of the country and maneuvering narrative in a manner which only allows a certain viewpoint to go across to the audience. The debate about the civil-military tensions has existed since the independence of Pakistan.
With Hameed Haroon’s interview, we are now witnessing a very important aspect of this tension; the role of media in the politics of the country
Media, according to many, has become a pillar of the state due to the role that it has played over the years. From the time during the government of former President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf, when the media first gained independence in the country, the aim rightfully has been to play a role as the interest aggregators and the interest articulators in the system – a role which is reserved only for the political actors in a polity according to the traditional definition of politics.
With this interview of Hameed Haroon, it’s important to realize the importance of media in the system and how they have the ability to shape narratives of the country especially in a developing country where institutions are still premature and the movement towards democracy is ongoing. Often this claim is made that the media in Pakistan is further polarizing an already polarized audience.
In a country like Pakistan where the lines between democracy, deep state and patriotism are extremely skewed, it is difficult to maintain a narrative without being labeled anti-Pakistan. Most media organizations, being private companies having relationships with various actors in the country’s administration, have their own inclinations especially in light of the upcoming general elections. Many are primarily divided along the lines of the civil-military divide.
We have prominent groups debating whether or not the course that the polity has taken in the last five years was in the best interest of democratic setup
Let’s take a look at the role the media has played in the time leading up to the elections in the country.
People, because of their own frames of references, have personal preferences for the kind of news that they consume and build the same the perception about the politics in the country as a result. This is a phenomenon that exists all around the world and is especially being heavily debated in the US. It would be unfair to not mention former US President Barack Obama’s interview to David Letterman in which he mentions how the masses are divided because of the news that they consume. He mentions how people consuming the right-leaning Fox News seem to be living in another country altogether. Fox News is a right-leaning media company in the US and has allegedly helped Trump in propagating his alternative facts. This paints a very apt picture of what is happening in Pakistan at this time as well.
The masses are polarized because media houses are themselves polarized between their views regarding the deep state being involved in the politics of the country and whether or not this is in the best interest of the country. There is a clear divide because one channel promises that one particular party is the last resort that Pakistan has to survive and the other claims the same about another party.
The masses, in turn, internalize these opinions because that is their preferred source of information that hogs their primary news gathering activity. As the days of the elections are drawing near, the divide is becoming so vast that it is almost inciting people to fight over their dissenting opinions and resort to pathetic actions.
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To add to this, avenues like social media are becoming platforms for inaccurate information and “fake news” that incites further violence
Mark Zuckerberg this year announced that several bots and fake accounts are operating to spread false news and can affect the general elections in Pakistan, like they did for the US. While Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are rigorously trying to fight this increase in fake news – they have also cautioned their users to be mindful and not to fall for fake news so easily.
We have examples of the increasing influence of negative actors from the elections in the US in which the involvement of Cambridge Analytica (CA) revealed how companies collect user data and help candidates, like CA did for Trump’s party, advertise precisely what users on Facebook need to see to influence them to vote for that candidate. It was also later revealed that the partners of Cambridge Analytica also helped maneuver the elections in India. This is a huge breach of privacy and allows several such data companies to collect user information and then help relevant players get their desired results, with such manipulation of users not just being limited to political campaigns.
In Pakistan, two narratives are at each other’s throats and the fight is very close
Legacy media companies with daily newspapers like Dawn, Nawa-i-waqt, and Jang are allegedly facing severe backlash for maintaining relationships with certain political parties under the garb of their interest in maintaining civil supremacy. Dawn recently also alleged that its distribution in the country is being stopped. The Nation also alleges the lack of state-sponsored advertisements which forced huge cuts in the revenues of these dailies. Others are making similar claims of facing hinderances in the smooth functioning in their process.
On the other hand, people like PTI’s chairman Imran Khan allege strong bias against him and his party from the legacy media companies because they’re politically leaning toward Nawaz Sharif and PML N. There are rumors of the legacy media outlets also being financially supported by the party they support.
The blatant bias of Dawn against PTI has now come out in the open. So much for Dawn's neutral and liberal credentials! Complete farce! Full marks to Stevan Sackur for exposing Dawn in his BBC HardTalk interview.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) July 17, 2018
Our job as readers is to be mindful of these developments and understand the evolution of the state, its politics and the growing stake of media in the governance of the state. As for the foreign players ready to cash in on the growing tensions in Pakistan, understand that Pakistan is on its path to democracy and naive takes on the situation in Pakistan (such as one of the interviewer of Hard Talk, Stephen Sackur) represent their lack of understanding for the system and are a reflection of the imperialist thought that the structures which have worked for the western polity can easily be applicable to Pakistan.
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cover image via Twitter