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Pakistan: The media’s left-wing bias?

Monday 9 May 2016, by siawi3


May 03, 2015

Hassan Javid

Apparently, a spectre is haunting Pakistan – the spectre of the left-wing media.

In newspaper columns and television programmes, on Twitter and Facebook, the public discourse is being shaped, if not monopolized, by a cabal of Liberals and Marxists motivated by a burning desire to corrupt society with their poisonous thoughts.

These ‘pseudo-intellectuals’ use the language of rights, freedom, and tolerance to promote their treasonous, anti-state agenda, raising subversive questions about the Pakistani state and the established social order.

Undoubtedly funded and promoted by a nexus of international agencies, possibly including RAW, Mossad, the CIA, MI6 and others, these people are the Empire’s useful idiots, acting as the instruments through which plans to destroy and destabilize Pakistan are being put in motion.

The only way to stop them is to tirelessly work towards articulating a truly patriotic alternative to their hegemonic discourse, exposing the shadowy forces backing these left-wing provocateurs while fearlessly standing up for the traditional values and beliefs that have made Pakistan so great.

Indeed, were it not for the indefatigable courage and bravery of a few rogue television anchors and writers, Pakistan would have already been carved up and dismembered, with its remnants sinking into a pit of Western-style depravity and iniquity.

Almost three decades ago, Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann wrote a seminal account of the workings of the mass media in the United States.

In ‘Manufacturing Consent’, they pointed out how the imperatives of profit-making, coupled with the close linkages between the government and the capitalist entities dominating the media (through their ownership of major newspapers and channels), ensured that much of the information filtering through to the public served to entrench dominant, state-led narratives about national identity, ideology, and war.

Echoing Marx’s famous dictum about how, ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas’, Chomsky and Hermann demonstrated how the mechanisms through which the propaganda disseminated through the media in the guise of ‘news’ and ‘commentary’ serves to reinforce the power of the elite while simultaneously discrediting and marginalizing progressive voices opposed to the status quo.

In contemporary Pakistan, it is not difficult to see how similar structural imperatives are governing the conduct of the media.

Even a cursory glance at the content being churned out by the electronic and print media should demonstrate an obvious fact; conservative values, of both the religious and secular variety, remain dominant, buttressing mainstream notions about Pakistani nationalism, state-citizen relations, and public morality.

Even in the English language press, long considered to be operating in a small, parallel universe typified by a preponderance of ‘liberal’ thought, it would be difficult to identify any one newspaper that has maintained a consistently centre-left orientation (although some try harder than others), and the few voices that do represent alternative ideas and ways of thinking are overwhelmingly outnumbered by reporters, columnists, and editors who reflect the conservatism that defines the rest of the media.

Despite this, there has been an increasing tendency for elements within the media to cry foul about left-wing bias on television and in newspapers.

This has been amply demonstrated over the past three weeks, when debate surrounding the troubles in Balochistan and the murder of Sabeen Mahmud has led to accusations that those diverging from the official orthodoxy are engaged in an ideological struggle against Pakistan at the behest of internal and external actors committed to the destruction of this country.

Across Pakistan, concerned academics, activists, and citizens rightly troubled by the rising tide of violence, bigotry, and authoritarianism in the country have been vilified by television anchors and journalists who continue to question their motives and patriotism.

It is ironic that those complaining about left-wing bias and the erosion of mainstream narratives seem to have far more reach, volume, and support than the small number of people who they continue to target.

The reasons why this is happening should be obvious.

For one, the profit-driven nature of the media business means that different channels and papers must constantly strive to provide content that attracts the largest possible audience.
This often entails recourse to regurgitating the ‘facts’ and opinions that are most widely held, providing consumers with material that is both familiar and accessible, and manufacturing controversy where none might actually exist.

People rarely complain about bias when what they are told aligns with their own viewpoints, and telling people what they want to hear (or have been taught to hear) is good for business.

Secondly, it is no secret that many media houses and professionals in Pakistan enjoy close relationships with the state and its various institutions, trading their support for access to information and sources.

That proximity to power might compromise journalistic integrity is something that is conveniently ignored.

The state in Pakistan, like many others around the world, uses the various means at its disposal to cultivate particular opinions and attitudes in the interests of producing a broader national narrative.

Through schools, universities, and the media, the state in Pakistan has constantly and consistently attempted to propagate an idea of nationalism defined by a narrow interpretation of religion, a deep-rooted suspicion of foreign actors, and an unquestioning acceptance of the doctrines promoted by the powers-that-be.

The small minority of people who question all of this in the ever-shrinking spaces that are available to them are constantly maligned, and accused of saying what they do not out of principle, but because of alleged links they have to anti-state forces.

The amplification of this line of attack in the mainstream media only serves to strengthen the state at a time when it is increasingly important to question the role it itself has played in fomenting Pakistan’s troubles.

While it would be hopelessly naïve to believe that external actors have no interests or agendas in Pakistan, it would be equally ludicrous to suggest that the government and its different organs have done nothing to produce and exacerbate the many sources of conflict in this country.

When listening to the frothy denunciations of ‘liberals’ that routinely erupt from the mouths of the self-appointed custodians of the national project in the media, it would be a good idea to pause and reflect on why these individuals are saying what they do; like many of the liberals who they oppose, it might just be the case that they genuinely believe in what they are saying.
However, it could also be that they are susceptible to the same blandishments that they associate with their antagonists, and that pro-government elements in the media, far from being voices of truth and reason, are simply pawns in the hands of the elite.

Ultimately, it is necessary to understand that while no one may have a monopoly on the truth, slavishly regurgitating official doctrines and refusing to question those in power is ultimately counter-productive.

Promoting a single, state-sponsored viewpoint, suppressing pluralism, and ruthlessly policing what can or cannot be said, are all hallmarks of a totalitarian society.
The state and its narratives, and those of its allies, must always be challenged in the interests of combatting tyranny.

The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS