Will they learn? Dawn Editorial Sunday, 19 Sep, 2010


Strange are the ways of politics and the media in this country. Tune in to a primetime political talk show on any day and the discussion is about some vague ‘change’ being in the air, everything from the wrapping up of the transition to democracy to mid-term elections to some unspecified internal house-cleaning exercise by the political government at the behest of the extra-constitutional forces that lurk in the wings of power.

All of this talk then seemingly jolts the government into some kind of ‘action’ — an extraordinary, emergency meeting in Islamabad jointly chaired by the president and the prime minister with over 40 ministers and advisers in attendance has fuelled yet more talk that the government is ‘under pressure’ and may be panicking.

Step back from the conspiratorial whispers and dark rantings for a minute, however, and several things become apparent.

One, the media is playing, to put it mildly in some cases, an unhelpful role in the democratic project. Some television programmes and news ‘reports’ do not even bother to hide their desire to see the back of the present government, whatever the consequences.

For a country that has flirted with and embraced military interventions so many times in the past, only for these to inevitably lead to disastrous consequences, the media’s sometimes barely concealed cheerleading for extra-constitutional measures is astonishing.

An institution ostensibly meant to keep the public informed, and thereby indirectly hold the government to account, seems to suffer from the shortest of memories.

Whatever the sins of the government, and let there be no doubt there are many sins of commission and omission, the media needs to reflect on what it is that sets apart a democracy from a dictatorship and remind itself why only a few years ago it was calling for the end of a military-run political dispensation.

Two, the political government in Islamabad has run out of excuses for its incompetence and political tone-deafness. The meeting held in Islamabad on Friday has revved up talk of ‘change’ rather than dispelled it.

In any case, what exactly did Friday’s meeting achieve? The government’s popularity has plummeted not due to a poor PR job but because of its poor, nay terrible, performance on the governance side.

Action is what’s required, on the economy, on the recovery effort from the floods, on the fight against militancy, on the delivery of basic services, not mere words.

At another level, it is hoped that the Supreme Court delivers its verdict on the 18th Amendment soon as a clear decision will help clear up the air of uncertainty.

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