News rating is the clear winner here


Rayan Waheed

The recent episode involving the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) showed once again that if you are a party to the political confusion that exists in Pakistan you can do whatever it is that you do without really fearing for its consequences. It is how the people of Pakistan have come to live with the version of democracy that they have created themselves.
Ever since the proliferation of televised journalism, we have had so many of these dramatic interventions that all we expect now from our primetime news is a farce that should keep us entertained. Somehow, we have come to believe that every few days something more interesting would emerge, and the media houses would make sure that we are kept entertained for the benefit of those who sponsor their act.
We all have lived through the days and months of the ‘famous’ dharna (sit-in). It seemed as if the world as we knew it was about to change once and for all. But nothing happened.
And before the dharna there were rallies, long marches, historic elections, mass movements, countless earth-shattering news conferences, memogates, terrorist attacks, NACTAs, insurgency, counter-insurgency, combing operations and what not. We even had Osama bin Laden taken out by our friends deep within our territory, and we continued with business as usual. Nothing whatsoever happened.
So with this recent episode as well we can rest assured that the story would run its course, claims and blames would be exchanged, many long hours of breaking news coverage would be aired, and at an appropriate time, when the ratings for this particular spectacle are past their prime, and the media houses have made sufficient money, we would be served something new.
Something as captivating as everything that came before it.
But this is not the real problem. Journalism and news industry works everywhere in the same manner. The problem is that our leaders have come to take advantage of this state of affairs. They know that all they need to do to duck crises is to delay their response, and in time, something else would emerge to divert the attention of the people. They employed this trick to their great advantage against the allegations of rigging in the previous elections, and the consequent dharna; they played similar tactics while taking decision of launching military operations in the North Waziristan Agency; and now they have been doing the same thing with the issue of the Panama leaks for the past many months.
We, as an audience, should realise that all of this is happening at a cost. The fact that we can change the set of actors after five years should not be considered as consolation. In a country where lethargy is part and parcel of our national worldview this habit of our leaders can be seriously detrimental to the future of democracy in the country. We are living through times when the chances and fears of military takeover are as real as ever.
While we all hope and pray that this would not happen, all of us also realise that the political leadership have, on more than one occasion, lost the grip on things and ceded space that was theirs. The mandate given to them could have been used as a source of power, but their own inaction and delaying tactics have rendered a great part of that mandate meaningless now. The government has already outsourced much of the governance and policy-making roles because it could not decide how best to deal with the political challenges that their opponents, or just one opponent to be exact, were throwing its way.
Good or bad, decisions must be taken at the right time. A government cannot always give excuses and hide behind procedural delays. It has to take responsibility and govern.
The media would keep on working the way it is working. MQM, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and other political actors would keep coming up with interesting news bites, but the government must not resort to similar shenanigans when it is presented with difficult situations.
The present team in power has spent more than half of its term playing the delaying time. They have survived, and to some that is an achievement in its own right, but for how long would we be telling our people that democracy, no matter how ineffective a form of government it is in its current form, is the best possible solution to the problems of our country. Peaceful transition of power, supremacy of the constitution and continuation of democracy are just meaningless concepts if at the end of the day, people are fed the story of incompetence over and over again.
In an ideal democracy the MQM would not have survived the anti-Pakistan tirade; Panama leaks, if they are true, would have resulted in the resignation of the prime minister; Imran Khan would be focused on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to prove the workability of the manifesto of his party, and all tweets would have civilian oversight.
Ours is, sadly, not an ideal democracy. Should it remain as it is, is a question that begs our attention before we are sucked again into another cycle of utterly ridiculous yet captivating cycle of breaking news.