Coronavirus has had a strange effect on Indian media. Pakistan has vanished off the radar. Well, not entirely but substantially.
A sudden intimation of mortality has distracted desktop dvesh bhakts from their core group activity, of protecting India’s borders—by building walls in the minds of Indians; by spitting hatred at their neighbour so that it rebounds.
But Pakistan is every bit as affected as India by the pandemic, as is their media.
Like here, Pakistani media are suffering from a severe revenue shortfall due to the collapse of the economy. Like here, there are layoffs and shutdowns. Like here, there are salary cuts and delayed salaries.
The respected magazine Newsline magazine perished just as Corona was getting set.
Two TV channels, Aap News and Indus News, have closed shop since it arrived.
And like here, there is pressure from the government and “non-state actors”. The screws are being loudly tightened in other very Indian ways.
# The editor-in-chief of the Jang Media Group Shakilur Rahman, which also owns the news channel Geo TV, has been arrested in a 30-year-old land purchase case.
# The other top Pakistan daily Dawn has had its own distribution problems, and its CEO Hameed Haroon has been accused of rape in a 13-year-old case.
For Imran Khan who rode to power promising tabdeeli (change) and a #NayaPakistan, it is very old wine in a Rooh Afza bottle. And the glamorous cricketer who entered the political consciousness of Pakistanis using the media no longer has any use for it.
Pakistan is now a lowly 145th on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Paris-based advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders. (India is no higher at No. 142.)
Senior journalists say this is one of the darkest periods in decades.
In this episode of J-POD, a podcast on journalism, Mehmal Sarfraz, the former op-ed editor of Daily Times, who is also the deputy secretary-general of South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), and writes for The Hindu and The Telegraph in India, discusses how Pakistani media has fared during the time of Coronavirus.
Though Imran Khan has turned away from the media which put him in office, he has addressed the country three times, held live press conferences four times, taken tough questions from journalists, and even chaired a live “telethon” to raise funds
2.30: Imran Khan does not believe in media freedom, and says he has stopped reading newspapers and watching TV debates
5.00: Media freedom in Pakistan in 2020 is far worse than in previous years
11.10: Why Imran Khan, a darling of TV talk shows, turned against Geo and Jung after coming to power
18.25: “Narendra Modi is a certified bigot. Imran Khan is not. He believes in minority rights. His human rights minister is a very liberal woman. He does not have a anti-minority policy.”
20.30: Pakistani media was already suffering for the last two-and-a-half years. Pakistan media will go through an even worse in coming months due to Coronavirus.
24.05: Media in Pakistan has played the most important role in the Coronavirus saga, especially electronic media.
29.30: The toughest question Pakistani journalists asked Imran Khan: “Why are you not taking the Opposition on board?”
32.30: Unlike Modi, Imran Khan is very open to live press conferences, taking questions from anchors and meeting journalists. Imran is better in handling media, and better at handling the Corona situation looking at Pakistan numbers.
36.00: Pakistan media has not tried to find a scapegoat like Indian media. Media has not targeted China or Chinese or called it Chinese Virus. I have not seen any anti-China sentiment in the media or among the people.
41.30: It is unfortunate to see the decline of India’s secularism, society and the media. It is tragic. I see it with concern. To see the Tabhligi issue and the way Muslims were targeted is heartbreaking.
47.30: Once you start toeing the government line, for commercial purposes or any other, if you cede that space, you will never regain that. Once you cede that, it will keep shrinking.
Screenshot: courtesy The Telegraph