Information technology is playing a momentous role in the genesis of movements for good governance and regime change throughout the world. The Syrian and Egyptian revolutions and Greek protests have been triggered and accelerated by information technology (in all of its various channels) where it has taken on the role of a productive tool for prompting opposition, critiques, and revolution against dictators. In Tunisia the self-immolation of the young man who was asked to shut down his fruit stand also triggered a wave of protests in the social media against military rule which made Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali finally flee the country. And recently, the riots in England were largely influenced and shaped by electronic media. Information technology has become a very powerful tool in in modern times; its effects can be seen in Pakistan as well.
Past and Present Role of Electronic Media in Pakistan
In Pakistan the media were not granted freedom until the turn of 21st century but they made massive strides in that direction in the years following 2001. Live coverage of incidents, political happenings, meetings, demonstrations, and talk shows discussing the role of government and opposition parties have all been very much on the agenda. In 2007, the media was instrumental in restoring the Supreme Court of Pakistan by exposing the leaders responsible for the illegal detention of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, and by repeatedly broadcasting film showing his mistreatment during his arrest. This coverage awoke the consciousness of the masses who participated in nationwide demonstrations calling for his release . It is interesting to note that these protests never turned violent or shed blood. They were the biggest milestone in the history of Pakistan and the role played by the media in the protests has turned it into the fourth pillar of the state (the other three being the legislature, executive and judiciary). Restoration of the judiciary was the first step in the overthrow of the dictatorship which was finally accomplished in 2008 with much support from the electronic media. And now with the help of media reporting, the Supreme Court (SC) has issued suo motu notices of corruption and criminal cases both at the individual and political level. Recently,the Supreme Court acting on its own initiative directed the government to issue a report on the Karachi target killings and the failure of the Sindh government to handle the law and order situation. There has been such wide coverage of these killings on TV that the Supreme Court is now demanding the records of the people killed and their killers. The media has also exposed many target killers who have confessed their crimes in video reports posted on youtube. In all its moves the Supreme Court has the full support of the media.
The media also exposes and sheds much light on corruption and injustice in all sectors of society. Naseem Zahra, a senior journalist and TV anchor appreciates the role played by the electronic media in bringing to people’s attention the various concealed mechanisms at work behind a wide range of issues from foreign policy, state institutions managing and regulating the economy, law enforcement policies, and educational policies to the political scene with its constitutional players and unconstitutional power managers. A wide range of programs including news reports, talk shows, editorials, and interviews are especially designed to present the “reality” behind the scenes.
The media also plays a positive role in strengthening the public voice against injustice, poor policy planning, and the lack of checks and balances in government. Whenever the state has attempted to curtail its freedom, the media has responded fiercly with demonstrations and strikes. The case of of several journalists courageously braving the threats received from prominent leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party shows the power media people have now gained. Nevertheless, often enough some people in the state still resort to the muder of journalists and reporters. The murders of Saleem Shahzad and Babar Wali are only the most recent in a long line of such deaths. Yet even the murder of journalists will not make the media abandon its struggle against corruption.
The role of the electronic media is highly esteemed by the whole nation which fully supports its campaigns for good governance, transparency and immediate delivery of justice whose constant criticisms are a thorn in the flesh of the state authorities. The recent disclosures by Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, senior minister of Sindh, have sparked much debate in the world media and raised many serious questions which demand answers not only from the custodians living in Pakistan but from those living abroad mainly in America as well. As the broad swathe of people becomes more aware and self confident, it does not accept the oppressive measures adopted by so-called democratic regimes so easily. Rapid dissemination of information keeps the activities of government bodies in check and makes it more difficult for governments to continue with oppressive practices. The media war against the theocratic/aristocratic approach of pseudo-democratic states continues with the support of the people. But we will have to wait for the answer to one vital and very topical question – will the media play an important part in destabilizing the current government?