The various explanations floated to explain the smog in Lahore are just a small reminder of how our understanding of the world is being clouded by distractions in the mass media. From military war-zones blighting the world to the war against the poor waged by the IMF, from corruption in our corridors of power to environmental degradation in our cities, reality on the ground is being obfuscated by diversions invented for the purpose. Spin is the name of the game in the age of information.

After all, the evidence about the crimes of those ruling the world with various hues of violence, and those moving and shaking it in their big and small ways, is piling up with every passing day and there’s nothing they can do to stop this flow of information. Unable to control what people know, the best they can do is to create distractions and obfuscate reality by fabricating far-fetched fairy-tales.

So, we were told that the hazardous smog in Lahore was caused by everything but what is obvious to anyone with a bit of common sense; from the Diwali fireworks in Delhi to the coal-powered electricity-generating plants in Indian Punjab. Even NASA chipped in by blaming the farmers for the environmental disaster. As Lahorites fretted and fumed about distant villains for their woes, the hideous elephants crowding their urban room were pushed in the background.

What about the non-stop violence of misguided urban development that our governments have inflicted upon the city with no regard for the environment? What about the 27 kilometres of roads which have been dug up for the Orange Train for months and the 27 kilometres of similar shoddy development of the metro-bus before that, the numerous underpasses and flyovers and various road-widening projects? What about the fraudulent Environmental Impact Assessments and the thousands of trees chopped down?

What about the millions of vehicles and hundreds of thousand generators spilling fumes, the traffic jams and dengue sprays? What about unregulated industrial concerns eating up farmland for miles around the city and all the hazardous smoke they throw up in the air? Lahore, which was like one big public park, has been turned into a concrete jungle. Wide green-belts have given way to additional lanes of roads where trucks and mini-buses, cars and motorbikes, rickshaws and chingchis ply with no control over their emissions.

I could go on and on with how mindlessly this city of 10 million people has developed. But let’s not focus on these big fat elephants in the room. Let’s talk about pollution from across the border and the activities of farmers instead, lest we understand what’s going wrong with our city, lest we understand the violence inherent in the elitist model of development pursued so aggressively by those calling the shots. Let’s point fingers in other directions, spin stories to cloud-up the discussion, to distract and obfuscate, lest we do what needs to be done to set things right. Let’s spin stories.

Spin stories about Syria so that peace never returns to the country. Spread funded fabrications by the White Helmets and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to blame the Syrian government and Russia for killing civilians in order to obfuscate the death and destruction engineered by the US-led coalition and the mercenary militants armed, trained and unleashed on a peaceful society by it. Spin stories to obfuscate the Saudi war of aggression against Yemen.

Highlight stories floated by the IMF and World Bank about the laudable economic performance of the Nawaz government to obfuscate the mountain of debt it has accumulated, to turn our attention from how its policies are enriching the rich and making the poor poorer. Obfuscate the plight of farmers by uncritically publicising packages for agriculture worth hundreds of billion rupees that are used to subsidise the agro-industry and patronise party-men posing as farmers.

Carry stories about how the USAID and other donors are working to ‘modernise’ our agriculture to obfuscate the insidious infiltration of agri-corporations and their poisonous pesticides and engineered seeds without regulation. Don’t talk about how our political leaders and bureaucrats, academics and institutes of agricultural research are being bribed to peddle the GMOs. Spin stories about how the GMOs ensure food security to obfuscate the threat they pose to it.

Spin stories about the military protecting the terrorists to obfuscate the ties of our political leadership with militant sectarian organisations. Obfuscate the deficit of democratic governance by talking incessantly about saving the system. Distract people from the corruption of those in power by pointing fingers in direction of the opposition. Spin stories that deflect our attention from reality and things that really matter. Spin stories that confuse the issues rather than bringing clarity.

The bulk of our mass media has given up its duty as the watchdog for public interest and become a tool in the hands of vested interests. Journalists have been cultivated and co-opted by a plethora of local and international lobbies and mafias, corporations and NGOs, think tanks and foundations. Editorial independence has been replaced by an unthinking parroting of funded narratives.

Rather than keeping their distance from power-players and holding them to account, many private media groups have joined their club and become power-players themselves. Any good work they do is lost in the noise of stories, analyses and opinions with a spin that are allowed space and time in their newspapers and on their channels. There’s no check on the din of distractions craftily introduced by powerful and moneyed interests through pliant journalists. They generate a kind of smog that blurs the distinction between spin and reality.

There’s not much we can do with this smog around our minds. Understanding our sordid reality is the first step towards changing it for the better and, clearly, those at the top of the heap are not interested in changing it; not in a way that would empower those being trampled under their elitist feet. The mass media could play its role only if it distances itself from the self-serving elite and stands by the public.