Home Opinion Op-Ed Who watches‚ the watchers‘?

Who watches‚ the watchers‘?

watchers‘?
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Imran Jan |

One of the most common misconceptions about democracy is that the ballot ensures its advent. The truth, however, can be deciphered by simply inverting the positions of the two; the ballot comes after democracy. Democracy is a culture, an understanding, a realization, a struggle, a quest for equal rights, freedom, power, justice, and so forth. Democracy is ensured and strengthened with the existence of strong and functional institutions.

The ballot is merely a means to get there. Had it been the other way around, then Libya under Gaddafi could be classified as the best democracy in the world since he was once elected with 101 % votes. There is no parallel in history that I know of that can claim to even come close to that level of perfection. That being said, the ballot is still an important part of democracy because without practically knowing where people stand, whose claim to be the eventual leader would be legitimized?

No newspaper should get a free pass after playing its vital role in fooling people and causing them the loss of money, time, energy, and most importantly faith in Pakistani journalism.

More importantly, democracy is healthy when there is an informed citizenry in society. An informed citizenry is created with a vibrant and free culture of journalism. There was an interesting news report in Dawn on September 26, 2018. The report was titled “APNS sees govt ‘ad body’ as attack on press freedom, devolution of power”. There are laments over Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry’s decision to create a ‘content committee’ in order to monitor and approve the “release of advertisements by the provincial and federal governments”.

Read more: Social Democracy: The Middle Way for Pakistan

They call the creation of the ‘content committee’ a “surgical strike” on the freedom of the press in the country. I am instantly reminded of a private ad in the same newspaper sometime around 2006-07. It was advertising an education scholarship by a company called O.I. Nation, which stood for Our Intelligent Nation. Its website, if memory serves me well, had the same domain name. I applied and some weeks later received an email congratulating me about winning a scholarship.

The email had instructions about sending 2 thousand rupees for application processing after which I was to receive a 30 thousand rupee scholarship for my education. My friends congratulated yet envied me. I must mention that 30 thousand rupees at the time were a significant sum for a financially challenged student like me. Anyway, I sent the 2 thousand and then I never heard back from them. Their listed number was always received by a lady who claimed to be running the office.

That being said, the ballot is still an important part of democracy because without practically knowing where people stand, whose claim to be the eventual leader would be legitimized?

Every-time I called, I’d hear a baby crying in the background, which solidified my doubts that there was no office and there was no such thing as O.I Nation. While I was young, eager, and stupid, what made Dawn forget its job description? So much talk about press freedom and curbing the press freedom, what about the journalistic responsibility of vetting the ad and its source before publishing? It was Dawn’s credible name that never made me question the authenticity of the ad.

Dawn shares the guilt with the fraudster who advertised an ad with the ulterior motive of stealing people’s money. The greed for money and reckless disregard for true journalism blinded the paper into publishing the ad without first vetting it. The most important part of the APNS statement is this: “The APNS is of the considered view that only a financially and vibrant media can perform the role of a free and objective watchdog of the interests of the people and safeguard democratic norms in the country.” Watchdog of the interests of the people?

Read more: Pakistan’s democracy test: An Indian view

Did I read that right? What about my interest of not to be defrauded? How about stopping fraudsters from stealing money by not publishing their ad? And since there is all the talk about press freedom and journalistic norms, how about manning up and confessing to the guilt that Dawn shares with the fraudster who took God knows how many people’s money? Journalism has a duty to inform people, but it also has a responsibility to vet the source before publishing a story or ad.

No newspaper should get a free pass after playing its vital role in fooling people and causing them the loss of money, time, energy, and most importantly faith in Pakistani journalism. I wonder if I should take Dawn to court with this. Would the Chief Justice consider this? Would APNS? Journalism watches the criminal and immoral actions of the government and of the society at large. But who watches the watchers?

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at imran.jan@gmail.com. Twitter @Imran_Jan. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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