Editorial in Daily Times, 27 Nov 2009
President Asif Ali Zardari delivered a hard-hitting speech at the PPP’s foundation day rally in Karachi, albeit from the presidency in Islamabad. Breaking his silence over what he termed were conspiracies being hatched to weaken his presidency and the PPP government, he vowed to fight all the “political actors” out to destabilise the democratic system. One media group in particular, which has for some time now has been waging what some have described as a concerted, motivated, vitriolic (at times bordering on the indecent) campaign against the incumbent in the presidency and the government led by the party of which he is the co-chairperson, came in for some harsh stick in the president’s address. Labelling them “pranksters masquerading as political actors”, he singled out the group’s editor and some TV anchorpersons for his harshest comments. He argued that neither the political parties nor the establishment were involved in trying to derail the system, only some “political jokers” were responsible for what he said was a vicious campaign to destabilise the government. He advised all such aspirants to a role in politics and those parties that had boycotted the last elections to wait their turn at the next elections, since the PPP and he had a mandate for five years and would see it through. Only the masses had the right to decide the fate of the PPP at the next elections, the president asserted.
It should not perhaps come as a surprise that the president has finally responded in like fashion to the heaps of calumny some media persons, and one group in particular, have been throwing at his person and the government for many months now. Pakistani politics is not known for civilised restraint, and the president may be forgiven for being all too human and succumbing to resentment after admirably holding his peace for all this time. Having said that, even if some concession is made to the fact that it was a political rally and the president was speaking in the avatar of the party co-chairperson, perhaps dignifying the visceral campaign against him and the government in mocking terms was not the right way to counter the one-sided tide. The PPP continues to suffer from a dearth of good media managers and spokespeople who can effectively counter criticism in an age of free media. Having vented his spleen, perhaps the co-chairperson should consider this weakness in the ranks of his party and government and take steps to bring forward people who do their homework diligently and are therefore well prepared against any onslaught, no matter from what quarter it emanates.
As to the media group in question, they too need to do some soul searching to establish whether their practices of recent days are in conformity with best practice in journalism. Personalised vitriol may vent anger, but does not meet the test of impartiality, accuracy and restraint in recognition of the respect due to the head of state and high government functionaries. After all, the exchange should not degenerate to the level of a street brawl. None of the parties would come out of such a fracas smelling like roses.
Restraint is advised to all sides in this controversy. The media group should revisit its policies and attitudes. The government and the presidency should also find better ways to counter what they regard as the spin against them in the media, fighting unacceptable arguments with better ones. On no account should the authorities indulge in heavy-handed tactics to try and intimidate the media or any part of it, as that will, in present-day Pakistan, have the opposite effect to that intended. Now that all is in the open, perhaps a truce or cooling off period on all sides should be the order of the day.