Essay No. 183:
Newspapers: Newspapers are the mirror of national and international problems. They keep the readers abreast of the latest trends in domestic and international politics. They are the sources of information relating to economy, money, finance, sports, and other allied activities. They furnish first-hand information to readers in respect of the aforesaid areas and create awareness among the people of their socio-economic environments.
That creates an urge among the public to seek a betterment in their living conditions. It was the Nawa-i-Waqt and Dawn (later the Pakistan times) that played a major role in creating consciousness among the Muslims of undivided India to demand a separate homeland in form of Pakistan for themselves. The aforesaid newspapers championed the cause of the Pakistan Muslim League.
The Pakistan movement received a great stimulus at the hands of the newspapers espousing the cause of the Muslim League. That is how newspapers champion the cause of freedom movements that are launched in countries, still under foreign domination. Countries having attained independence have to make sacrifices for the preservation of hard won freedom.
Newspapers assume a crucial role in this regard. They stand for the consolidation of freedom. The role of newspapers can hardly be underestimated on this score. Newspapers criticize the different policies of a running government, if they find them running counter to the national interests. They catch governments by their neck if they are found indulging in means repugnant to national interests.
They boldly point out the flaws in foreign, economic, commerce, agriculture policies and make the alternative suggestions to pull countries out of national crises. Newspapers build public opinion, which is a sort of restraint on the pursuit of policies inimical to the interests of the people. Newspapers play an exceedingly important role in arousing national consciousness on issues of critical import.
The comments of newspapers appear in the form of editorials on current national issues. Editorials are like a piece of white chalk written on a black-board. The idea is to arouse the blackness of the board. Issues cutting at the root of national interests are black ones. They need to be changed into white ones and newspaper’s ire proves, effective in this regard.
Editorials are splashed in Urdu as well in English, pointing there in the need of overcoming the syndrome of dependence, which in the larger analysis negates the concept of self-hood or sovereignty. It is emphasized to break the vicious circle of dependence by relying more on self-reliance, cutting down profligacy to the minimum etc. in the present scenario, newspapers have conveyed the message to the government to adopt austerity as a national creed to overcome the menacing nuisance of dependence.
Newspapers equally have offered their comments on the war against terrorism, though compulsion of the government runs contrary to the suggestions and expectations of the press. Newspapers launch a crusade against antinational forces under a democratic dispensation. They throw search light on ugly national areas and make an impassioned plea to remove the ugliness to restore beauty in every walk of life.
Newspapers have certain distinguished columnists who through their views analyse national issues in the context of international developments. They indeed wield a facile pen. Their bold exposition of national issues brings home to the readers the need for pursing practical, pragmatic policies to promote the welfare of the people. Ayaz Amir, Shamshad Ahmad, Javaid Hussain, Sammad bashir, Inayat Ullah and a host of other English columnists, present a very realistic assessment of national issues.
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They offer good suggestions to deal with the practicality of problems. There are a number of Urdu columnists, whose columns are relished by readers, like Irshad Haqqani, Dr. Safdar Maahmood, Ataul Haq Qasimi, hamid Mir, Abdur Rauf Kiasara. They write in a realistic-cum-emotional vein to arouse the sentiments of readers.
The English and Urdu columnists wrote in a biting tone against the dictatorial rule of Prevaiz Musharraf, but Musharraf under the umbrella of American promotion continued his repressive policies, caring a little about the criticism of the press. A dictator like him can do incalculable harm to the basic institutions of a country by trampling upon them under boots of dictatorship.
Thanks to the US that supports dictators for its own fishy interests to play havoc with the interests of the poor people by decimating democratic institutions including the judiciary. Newspapers which hold the welfare of the people above everything else, highlight, the social, economic, political problems rather objectively. They educate people about the pressing problems confronting their country.
In a way they perform a great social function of building public opinion, which is necessary for the successful working of democracy. Someone has rightly remarked that ‘a good newspaper I suppose is a nation talking to itself.’ This shows the importance of newspapers which reflect the problems of nations.
For newspapers to play a healthy role in the upkeep of a society, it is necessary for them to enjoy a high level of freedom. There should be no artificial restrictions on their freedom. Governments especially in the Third World countries are ill at ease in digesting criticism against their anti-people policies. They develop hostility against newspapers, which try to maintain independence in their thought and action.
Advertisements relating to government departments are released through the Ministry to information at the Central and Provincial levels. Independent newspapers are punished when advertisements are not released to them. Advertisements are the main source of income of newspapers and when these are withheld by governments, it amounts to applying a pressure on newspapers to strangulate them financially.
Governments through the lever of advertisements put pressure on newspapers to play dance to their tunes. This is against the spirit of democracy which demands to grant freedom to newspapers to play their healthy role. Opposition newspapers thus have to wage a great struggle to maintain their independence. If newspapers carry on their activities within the prescribed bounds of law, they should have no fear form governments.
However, there are many a slip between the cup and the lip in a country like Pakistan, where both the dictatorial and democratic governments dread the independence of judiciary and that of newspapers. Democracy comes under eclipse when independence of newspapers is at stake. Hence if Pakistan wishes for the stabilization of democracy, it must reconcile itself to the independence of the press.
Let the press call shots insofar as the lapses of the government are concerned. Some papers indulge in sensationalism to push their sale. It is bad to unduly over sensationalize things. We may end up by saying in words of Lippmann, ‘At its best the press is servant and guardian of institutions, at its worst it is a means by which a few exploit social disorganization to their own ends.’