Sultan M Hali
THE life of a leader is like living in a fish bowl. People observe every move and gesture. The leaders of men have to be very careful lest they be perceived as indulging in objectionable activities. Having said that, the media should feel free to comment on a leader’s performance as far as governance is concerned. Criticize wrong doings, omissions and commissions and chastise the leader. However, the domestic life of the leader should be private. Moral turpitudes if any should be made public but minor squabbles if any or domestic quarrels between spouses should neither be the subject of scorn or discussion.
Unfortunately, the so-called free and fair media in Pakistan at times takes undue liberties with the so-called unbridled licence for freedom of speech. In an Op-ed titled ‘A single spark’. A renowned columnist and TV anchor has fired broadsides at the PM stating that Prime Minister Imran Khan has formally applied to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to act against TV Channel24HD which hosts the “Najam Sethi Show” for airing a statement that allegedly defames him. PEMRA has promptly fired off a notice to Channel24HD to immediately appear before its Complaints Committee and defend itself, failing which it threatens to take an “ex parte” decision against the Channel as well as the host of the show. Simultaneously, mysterious phone calls from “unknown” numbers have been made to cable operators across the country to block Channel24HD.
PTCL Broadband, the semi-official carrier, has dutifully complied. Indeed, as things stand, Channel24HD is off-air in over 90 percent of Pakistan. The generally eloquent commentator states that the channel’s management is expected to put up a robust defence of its rights. He claims that no public figure, least of all a prime minister, can claim that his or her “private affairs” are out of the scope of public scrutiny and accountability, especially if they impinge on questions of ethics, morality, integrity, character or matters of government and state as covered by Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Indeed, scores of politicians, public figures and celebrities across the world are everyday investigated by the global media for “private” transgressions of the public interest and many have lost their jobs in the bargain.
There should be a fine division between investigating wrong practices and interfering in personal relations with one’s spouse. The commentator sneers that nine months ago, he had been apprehensive, for a host of reasons, that the coming PTI government would make a mess of things. He had predicted that “The PTI would restrict fundamental rights and pave the way for a witch hunt of political and media opponents in order to satisfy the bloodlust of the winners, protect them from any potential buffeting by a disgruntled opposition and detract criticism from unpopular policy decisions or incompetent and corrupt mismanagement. If that happens, we should expect NAB, FIA, FBR and IB to get hyper active after all state institutions are brought on the same page… The constitution may also be targeted for amendment.
The 18th Amendment, for starters, has become irksome because it shaves the federal pool — which is required to pay for increasing defence expenditure and pensions— by devolving financial resources to the provinces. A need may also be felt to reduce the size and strength of Punjab in the scheme of things…Plans remain on the anvil to carve it up into three or more ‘units’ that are politically more ‘manageable’… But the ‘new dream team’ that is lining up to run the ‘new Pakistan’ will not find it easy going. The economy needs more than a shot in the arm. Hard times are upon us and the very middle and rich classes that have catapulted Imran Khan to office will have to pay the price of their convictions. The value of their rupee is going to fall, so their everyday needs will become expensive; they will have to pay more indirect taxes and duties; and IMF structural reforms will dampen infrastructural growth and employment.
This will give grist to the opposition, media and judiciary to stand up and create hurdles in his path.” Now the commentator smirks that much of what he predicted is already evident. But if the Opposition, media and judiciary have not yet banded together to challenge Imran Khan, it is only a matter of time before they do. The more the PTI government falters and takes one U-Turn after another, the more it will be discredited. Popular disenchantment with it is being rapidly converted into outrage. It is no secret that Pakistan is in dire straits as far as the economic situation is concerned. GDP growth is expected to fall to 3%; at least 4 million people will fall below the poverty line; inflation is forecast to rise to 15 per cent; out of the 1.8 million youngsters coming into the job market, at least 1 million will remain jobless.
However, the government had predicted it will need time to clean the Aegean’s Stables and the situation will get worse from bad but will improve. Indeed, the various political leaders are at daggers drawn and should act in a mature fashion however, the opposition is taking potshots at the ruling dispensation not for love of the masses but because they themselves are in the doghouse because of corruption and pilfering national wealth. Some of the government’s personnel are also facing serious charges but the Opposition, instead of defending itself from the charges of loot and plunder, would rather propagate that the government is victimizing them.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.