Containing the hyper halal media

Originally appeared as my weekly column BAAGHI in Daily Times on Monday August 22, 2011

Last week marked the death anniversary of General Ziaul Haq whose martial law rule is known to be the most brutal and ruthless in Pakistan. It was during his black period that any non-compliance meant death, prison or lashes. The defiant media elements were specifically eliminated from professional space through either jails or forced asylums. General Pervez Musharraf, however, did it much more creatively. Through his media scheme, he made sure that the establishment he was leading was able to influence the public’s thinking pattern effectively. He furthered his agenda through unleashing numerous media houses on the urban middle classes. The numeracy of media was usually attributed to his ‘freeing the media’, but it brought more mayhem and confusion than any positive enlightenment.

It was in the same devastating phase that untrained, ungroomed, quasi-educated, non-professional young victims of unemployment, were annointed with the role of leading public opinion. Most of these youngsters succumbed to the newfound aerodrome of lucrative power, for want of professional and quality education to land in the more competitive and professional corporate sector. Discovering the power of the microphone and the camera in front of them, they also discovered the pointlessness of acquiring knowledge about the profession, history, politics and democratic institutional development of the country.

If you are ignorant, stupidity takes care of your faculties quite well and the sky is the limit for your progress where your swagger can move mountains and suck up oceans. This is what has happened with many of today’s anchor-mafia, including this girl introduced by none other than the red-capped Zaid Zaman Hamid, a maestro and most competent nincompoop continuously chattering in Pakistani media since the last few years. This girl, rural in mannerism, simple in demeanour and quite economical in the usage of the brain, used to sit on Zaid’s side as his co-host in a TV talk show. Meher Bokhari, very soon, was ‘approved’ for hosting a talk show of her own to become a branded puppet.

Trumpeting hawkish propaganda on just everything happening in Pakistan — politics, social issues, religion, foreign policy, terrorists, defence and security policies — she joined the bandwagon of the establishment’s media marionettes. It was 2009 when she and a few other female media persons fell victim to a dirty slanderous campaign targeting their reported party life. It was Salmaan Taseer who openly came forward and gave a shut-up call to the propagandists.

A year later, we saw Ms Bokhari hurling baseless accusations against the same man, Taseer, repeating endlessly her personal indictment of blasphemy against him in her programme that ended with her reading out a fatwa (religious edict) against Taseer — putting a seal on his murder as a blasphemer. Upon the protest of some who matter in the advertisement industry after Taseer’s assassination, she was thrown out of Samaa TV where she held this murderous programme. To the utter shock of every sensitive mind, Dunya TV gladly accepted her and there she was once again, poisoning the minds of young Pakistanis during prime time.

Human rights activists have been screaming since that day for appropriate action against her and her ilk in the Pakistani media by the state or at least by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). No action by the relevant authorities and not enough noise from the consumer side has emboldened the Meher-Zaid shades of media to the extent that they now feel free to shower lies in the truest possible hooliganism that can take human life and scratch any semblance of truth.

Her programme on August 16, 2011, was one such vicious pack of lies and overly hyped xenophobic ‘patriotism’ anchored on India-hatred — more so, Hindu hatred. The programme came in response to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s speech that he made on the Independence Day event organised by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) on August 13. In a magnanimous show of sanity, Sharif came up with some relevant and noteworthy points regarding India-Pakistan relations. While smartly setting aside the proverbial Two Nation Theory, Sharif went on to describe the cultural similarities between the two countries that could be made a strong base for cordial relations between them.

The speech attracted an expected reactionary hullabaloo from the hyper halal media, crossing all limits of professional journalism — a field Ms Bokhari knows of as much as Noah knew of computer graphics. Her pack of lies she calls ‘Crossfire’ started with a couplet from Iqbal: Mullah ko jo hai Hind mein sajday ki ijaazat; naadaan samajhta hai ke Islam hai azaad (If the mullah has the freedom to prostate before God in Hind/India; He is a fool to think that Islam is free). Only if Ms Bokhari knew that India is one of those few countries in the world where all Muslim sects are free to follow their religious injunctions — freer than Pakistan for sure.

Subsequent slides carried the images of migrants in 1947 and then came an unreferenced statement with Jinnah’s picture, saying that the kalima was the only unifying factor for all the Muslims beyond creed and colour and that the demand for a separate country for Muslims was made due to the narrow-mindedness of Hindus. The claim is quite debatable, which many historians from India and Pakistan alongside others have frequently discussed. The whole programme shows Meher and Zaid taking turns in irritatingly shouting out nauseating anti-Hindu statements and mocking everyone who stood for peace between the two countries, including those statements made by President Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif.

During the programme, vicious allegations were made against Mian Nawaz Sharif for building his argument on similarity of our cultures (and thus, as she deduces, rubbishing the Two Nation Theory, which holds little ground in today’s reality anyway). Not only that, the Meher-Zaid duo displayed a unique shamelessness by attacking SAFMA as an organisation that they think has been compromising Pakistan’s ‘national interest’, completely forgetting that SAFMA represents South Asia’s most respected and credible journalists with a lifetime of professional work.

What they also forget is the fact that even today Pakistan is inhabited by more than 700,000 wonderful Hindus who contribute to Pakistan’s social and economic development. Their love for Pakistan cannot be measured by the faith they follow. Similarly, India has a Muslim population more than the entire population of Pakistan. By still regurgitating such divisive puffery, whose agenda this yellow journalistic duo is trying to propel, should not be rocket science. Understandable that many from the mother-of-all-agencies are found swearing in the chirping drawing rooms of Islamabad these days that the duo (or at least the red-capped nuisance) has nothing to do with ‘them’. But unfortunately, all circumstantial indications suggest otherwise.

Who are the ‘forces’ that do not want sustainable peace between India and Pakistan? Who does not want Pakistanis to come out of the hatred that has generated money and resources for ‘them’? Who is scared of politicians wielding popular support for the resolution of the ages old self-created animosity with its neighbours? Who fears public consciousness for non-violence and peace? Who would not like the people to stand up for their own basic rights rather than sticking to irrelevant and unintelligible theories that have sucked the national psyche to a point of no return? The answers to all these questions point to a very uncomfortable direction. Those sponsoring this murderous madness must know the emerging realities and stop their ugly tactics that have proved to be counterproductive for the country’s mental health.

SAFMA and indeed all professional journalists must not leave this vicious pair scot-free this time. Ms Bokhari has contributed to the murder of Salmaan Taseer; she is capable of much more devastation with the patronage of her underwriters. Not only that the TV channel should immediately get rid of the insanity it has allowed in the shape of Ms Bokhari, this woman needs to be tried for inciting violence, libel and in fact, murder. Let’s not cede our space to ‘them’.