Breaking down news: Who will bell the bully?

Pakistan’s press has united in a show of solidarity as the government and military are losing face and muscle

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: October 20, 2016 1:21 pm

Accustomed as we are to harangues from the likes of Arnab Goswami, who has proposed state action against journalists who, by jingo, fail to be unfailing loyal, it is reassuring to see that elsewhere, the eternal verities remain in force. Across the border, where the political climate is much worse than ours, the nature and purpose of the press are not in doubt. Pakistan’s The Nation has risen to the defence of the embattled Dawn with a blistering editorial titled ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’: “How dare the government and military top brass lecture the press on how to do their job. How dare they treat a feted reporter like a criminal. And how dare they imply that they have either the right or the ability to or the monopoly to declare what Pakistan’s ‘national interest’ is? Or even more laughably, what ‘universally acknowledged principles of reporting’ are?”

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Cyril Almeida’s exclusive, about an unusual meeting between the civilian and military leadership, appeared in Dawn on October 6 with the brutally clear headline, ‘Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military’. The very same people met again to put him on the Exit Control List, which means that he can leave Pakistan only at the government’s pleasure. The Nation’s cutting editorial ends with: ‘For … the government’s actions, there can be no feeling, save of contempt. And for Mr Almeida, nothing but solidarity. More power to you, and to your pen. The press stands with you.’ Now, the Express Tribune has opened fire, too, writing in an editorial that ‘the government is incompetent even in its bullying’. We should be following the foreign press more closely. It’s far more uplifting than the domestic mud-pie wars.

But while we in the media find our profession to be deeply fractured, here’s a tweet that should cheer us up: ‘Nationalists are divided. Enemies are united – media, NGOs, judges, corrupts (sic), imams, churches, bureaucrats, all political parties, JNU types, old BJP.’ That’s most of the known world. Talk about a persecution complex. But it’s ironic that, precisely when the media was fit to develop a persecution complex itself, it is numbered among the majority by some incomprehensible majoritarian calculus.

Returning to the foreign news, Iceland makes headlines when it plays footie. The country has just put nine leading bankers behind bars for their role in the Kaupthing scandal, which bankrupted Iceland and made it the basket case of the 2008 global crisis. Sickness in Indian banking is in our face, and desperate measures like sequestering all that festers in a ‘bad bank’ is being talked about on the business channels. But there isn’t much enthusiasm for going to the root of the disease. That is how it works globally. The governments of the US and the UK actually rewarded the villains of the 2008 crisis with bailouts. It was a bit like the police handing out bottles of booze to drunk drivers. Iceland, which was brought to the edge of destitution, is the only country which has penalised leading bankers, stating clearly that they are subject to the same laws as everyone else.

Meanwhile, with one third of the popular vote, Iceland’s Pirate Party seems to be on the way to winning the election due at the end of October, on a manifesto which includes free access to soft drugs, technology-mediated direct democracy and safe haven for Edward Snowden.

The debate over Aadhaar and the rise and eclipse of Anna Hazare exposed India to the questions of data privacy and direct democracy. Indeed, apart from the right to get high, whose need is not critically felt in India, there’s a lot of overlap here. And yet, Iceland is news to us only when they play footie.

Not saying that we should be deeply interested in Iceland, but that if we were somewhat interested in the world, we could get a grip on what’s happening in our backyard. Prannoy Roy’s The World This Week was the first big hit of private sector television in India. How strange it is that now, we are obsessed with domestic affairs, and the trumped-up debates it generates.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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