What Electronic Media can learn from the Lawyer’s Movement

In the award wining journal article, Miscarriage of Chief Justice: Judicial Power and the Legal Complex in Pakistan under Musharraf, author Shoaib A. Ghias explores the expansion of judicial power of pro-Musharraf judges that ironically led to their confrontation with the regime. The author argues that instead of blindly supporting economic liberalisation in a period of economic growth, the Supreme Court expanded power by scrutinising certain questionable urban development, privatisation and deregulation measures in a virtuous cycle of public interest litigation. The premise of that article is poignant given the ruckus that has recently engulfed Pakistan’s electronic media industry. 

Two lessons are of utmost significance; first, the author contends that the basic political function of the bench in Pakistan’s military regimes had been legal legitimation of regime conduct. However, the pro-regime Chaudhry Court found a space to legitimize its independence in the form of public interest litigations in urban development, deregulation and privatization vis-a-vis the liberal economic policies of the regime. Actions such as suo motu against Capital Development Authority (CDA) and construction companies in the aftermath of the collapse of a high-rise residential tower in Islamabad in 2005 earthquake, the investigation of Oil Companies Advisory Committee (OCAC) and sugar price hike by NAB under the directive of Chaudhry in 2006, annulment of Pakistan Steel Mill privatization by the court, all sought to question certain adverse effects of rapid de-regulation and target high level corruption. Such cases caught the nations attention through the media when Chaudhry Court used its clout to defy perceived expectations about judicial function in Pakistan. It was the investigation of missing persons in 2007 that finally led to the inchoate conflict of interest with the establishment and Chaudhry’s suspension, which morphed in to the Lawyer’s movement.

The reason for the success of this movement was not just Chaudhry’s astute political maneuvering but more significantly, his initiative to investigate specious policies that were against public interest. In fact it must be noted that suo motu powers were not new to Pakistan at the time but his court took the onus to utilize it for the common good.

The media of Pakistan must not only be ‘seen’ working for the common good, they must take concrete measures for it. Issues such as chronic water and electricity shortage, corruption, internal security, high population growth and intolerance are far more poignant for Pakistan’s future survival than settling petty scores within the status quo. The electronic media in its infancy can take the onus to utilize legally a journalistic code of conduct to work for the common good before it can earn the public trust to fight political adventurism.

Second, the author contends in that paper that patterns in research on the legal complex show that the autonomy of the bench and the bar, and their interdependence are not only a distinguishing feature of political liberalism but also a condition in the fight for it. Based on this theoretical framework the author concludes that the Pakistani case (Lawyer’s movement) shows how the bench influenced the legal complex by not only protecting the autonomy of lawyers and the legal complex but also by intervening in bar politics to consolidate pro-bench and politically liberal factions. In a nutshell, the ‘united’ legal complex under the banner of astute leadership and strong public and civic support, upheld an important tenant of democratization i.e. judicial independence.

The key emphasis here is unity. The divisions among Pakistan’s press regarding ideology, subordination, allegiances, policy on freedom of expression or otherwise and etcetera are quite well known in the industry. Now with the Hamid Mir stint they have regurgitated in the public sphere. Indeed, media systems of any nation are inextricably linked with, and thus aptly represented by her politics. But it is up to the collective wisdom of the electronic and print media to work together under a common code of ethics and a strategic intent to form a 4th state that is not a farce.

As for the political economy of the intensely saturated electronic news market of Pakistan, it is inevitable that some players may succumb to financial woes; if experiences of our rather mature advertising houses are taken as an analogy. There are countless players who initially started off as ad creatives for instance, but ventured in to commercial production, digital entrepreneurship, real estate marketing and public advocacy. There are many opportunities in the emerging Pakistani public sphere notwithstanding the introduction of 3G/4G technologies. It’s high time media barons and the establishment realize that the trust bestowed on them by the public cannot be held hostage over squabbles and personal vendettas.

Media as a Catalyst for Structural Change in Pakistan – Thesis Abstract

I quite literally stumbled upon the prospects of doing a PhD when halfway through my official editorial internship at the Eastern Eye newspaper I was informed by my MA coordinator that I will still have to write a dissertation as partial fulfillment of my MA program as well. Normally a student is given a choice to do either of the two but as it turned out I ended up with a lot of extra work. However, what started of as a mere accident turned out to be a blessing as the learning, networking, contact building and field experience I acquired in the process made my masters experience truly grand besides opening a whole new career opportunity in academia.

I secured a first class on my dissertation supervised by the very able Dr. Brilliant Mhlanga who is a mentor and a great friend. Here is an abstract of my dissertation. Please feel free to post a critique in the comments section. Cheers!

Thesis title: MEDIA AS A CATALYST FOR STRUCTURAL CHANGE IN PAKISTAN

ABSTRACT

This study is an investigation of the rise of the public sphere in Pakistan after the liberalization of media at the end of the Kargil conflict 1999, its implication for public participation in policy making and the potential for structural change of Pakistani institutions as a result. The basic notion of media theory is that politics and ideology of a country have direct consequences on the media power models in a society. If that is the case then does it logically follows that the reverse may also hold true? This is the premise of this investigation. To this effect problems of a colonial past unique to Pakistan and indeed South Asia are juxtaposed with the nature and development of Journalism in Pakistan before and after Independence in 1947 with particular emphasis on the political economy of newspaper and television media after promulgation of PEMRA Ordinance 2002. The study follows a qualitative research paradigm with an interpretive and constructivist epistemology by utilizing a combination of stakeholder mapping technique with a case study paradigm. The findings indicate that the paradigm shift in the mobilization of public opinion after 2001 has caused a significant amplification of public voices, that there is no doubt that private media has emerged as a vanguard for the publics especially under the lens of the Lawyers Movement in 2007 and that there is strong evidence to suggest that public policy is not as ambiguous and arbitrary as Pakistanis are led to believe. The assertions surmise that sorting the right balance in the nexus of power between a socially responsible and authoritative media can theoretically effect a similar healthy change in other institutions of the Pakistani State.

I will upload the link to the entire thesis very soon but if you have any specific queries you can email me directly at siddiqui.aayaz@gmail.com.