This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that elections are being held after the assemblies and elected governments have completed their five-year term. Moreover, the neutral caretaker governments are in place as per provisions of the Constitution duly amended by the previous National Assembly. Yet there is added significance this time round – judiciary and media are independent today.
The question is what sort of role media should play before and during elections. Of course, all the reporting and visual coverage of the political parties should be done in an impartial manner. It means that they should not be preferential treatment to a particular political party. However, the situation on ground is that some print media organizations, while reporting, and TV channels in their visual coverage try to show only a part of a big public meeting to prove that it is an insignificant rally.
On the other hand, using camera tricks they display the size of a small rally as a mammoth meeting, showing utter disregard to journalistic ethics and the fundamental principle i.e. reporting should be factual and without getting emotionally involved. If one is emotionally involved, one would either take side or oppose a political party or a candidate. In other words, reporting should be objective and not subjective. However, rumours abound that some media men and media groups have received huge amounts from the political parties for their projection, and in some cases from individual candidates to portray them somewhat larger than life. In such cases, it becomes difficult for an honest and conscientious journalist or anchorperson to perform his duties honestly. In these circumstances, he has two options; either to resign or disobey the owners to perform duties honestly. And if he goes for the second option, he will be sacked.
There are two sides of reporting an election campaign: covering what the politicians are saying and investigating the issues that are being discussed. Of course, the politicians are entitled to say what they want to, and the voters are entitled to hear them. But journalists have a responsibility to question and examine all that is said. Anchorpersons need to ask tough questions on behalf of the audience but they should not become obstreperous or uncouth. Of course, they should be aware of the public sentiments, and know what questions the audience would like to ask if they are interviewing a political party’s leader or representative.
The politicians indeed would like to talk about what suits them, but the journalist needs to take an independent view of what is important to the voters. He needs to decide what the big issues are and present them, setting out the basic facts while making clear what different parties have to say about them.
But they should tell the truth where facts are involved, and make it clear what a factual story is and what the journalist's or the newspaper's opinion is. If the journalist’s newspaper or TV channel is backing one side, he should keep the comment separate from the news. But it seems to be a Herculean task, because truth is bitter and harsh.
Whether it was the PPP-led government at the centre, in Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or the PML-N led government in Punjab, they all failed to deliver. The PPP is highlighting Benazir Income Support Programme and the PML-N is trying to capitalise on laptops’ distribution and Metro-Bus Project in Lahore. Throughout the country, corruption has become so rampant in the polity that it is now part and parcel of the national life. It cuts across the polity, having enveloped its every segment and sparing not even its private sector. For having a legitimate job done hassles-free palms have to be greased in government offices and state institutions.
If corruption and malfeasance have run wild in the polity, the goddess of wealth and money has blinded its segments after segments that they have lost every touch with the sense of shame. Tax evasion is not being considered an offence or a sin. The landed aristocracy is wallowing in wealth due to windfall earnings from their crops and hugely generous government-support prices. Big businesses and industries fiddle with their books and in collusion with corrupt taxmen evade the tax due from them.
On the other hand, the people of Pakistan are passing through the harrowing experiences they never did before in their lifetimes. Despite the vows about keeping the tax-evaders, bank defaulters and land mafia out of the election process, they have been allowed to participate in the elections, which is a big question mark on the ECP and even the judiciary. With the stories of palmed off media men receiving huge amounts and plots from a property tycoon, the people seem to have lost faith in the elections. How they can restore their image is a million dollar-question.