“And when a leading Pakistani journalist at a London news conference asked a reasonable question about the security services, Mr. Musharraf implied that he was an enemy of the state. Such intimidation is especially chilling coming from a leader whose chief political rival, Benazir Bhutto, was recently assassinated. In a nation with democratic aspirations, journalists have every right to question leaders. He still doesn’t seem to get that.”
Editorial in New York Times, February 1, 2008
You have to hand it to the New York Times. With so much to write about they can still find time to kick General Musharraf where it doesn’t really hurt. It’s not that the sentiments expressed in the editorial are wrong. Obviously journalists should and must question their leaders without being denounced as traitors. Equally obviously elections shouldn’t be rigged. Thinking a thought unacceptable to the state should never be a furtive occupation.
What a pity that the paper of record did not lead a chorus of disapproval when Musharraf sacked all the independent-minded judges of the Supreme and High Courts in the country, or when lawyers were being bludgeoned into submission by the cops on the streets of every major Pakistani city. Neither the leaders of the US/EU combine or their media were too upset by that development. Ther judges, it was whispered, had become too proactive and were ordering the release of disappeared ‘terrorists’ who had been imprisoned without trial after ascertaining that there was no proof to detain them. This challenged the fundamentals of Guantanamo and the violation of civil liberties, the suspension of habeas corpus in Britain. Just like the Queen Bee and her drones, the politicians ordained and the global media networks and tame journos followed suit,
But values have been shifted around for this was certainly not the case in Pakistan where the prevailing feeling was that something was seriously wrong. Both the print media and the non-State TV channels carried reports after serious investigations and screened daily coverage of the campaign to defend the Judges. In other words they supplied citizens with information that can only enhance democratic accountability. It was for this reason that Musharraf imposed a temporary State of Emergency. He sacked the Judges and imposed new curbs on the media. He wanted Pakistani journalists to be more like their Western counterparts.
In justifying the attacks on the media he would often say that Pakistani journalists were rude, did not respect authority and should learn how to behave. He sometimes cited the US and British press and how well they treated their leaders. How right he was and so he wanted to bring the Pakistani media into line with their US and British counterparts. Surely the NYT should be in favour of all this. How can we forget their courageous stand when Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were preparing to go to war? Or the slavish support for Bush not just from Fox but all the networks. Or the ghastly Tony Blair’s neutering of an already tame BBC and firing of its Chairman and Director-General because it occasionally reflected the views of the majority of citizens (staunchly anti-war)?
And do we need to go back to the atmosphere of fear and intimidation of any critical voice after 9/11? Remember the attacks on Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky? Was the word ‘treachery’ never mentioned on that occasion? Did not journalists at that time have ‘every right to question their leaders’ but didn’t?
And if one looks back at Pakistan’s record number of military rulers should not the NYT editorial writer have looked up the material of history? S/he would have found at least one NYT editorial supportive of Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf.
I end with a modest proposal: let us transplant the current generation of Pakistani journalists (including those sacked on Musharraf’s orders) into the US media (especially the TV networks) and send an equivalent number of US journalists to Pakistan. FoxNews can remain as it is, the US equivalent of Pakistani state TV. It will damage Pakistan but might be beneficial for the United States.
TARIQ ALI is the author of Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. His new book, The Duel: Pakistan In the Flightpath of American Power, will be published by Scribner in July. He can be reached at: email@example.com