War Against Media

The concept of human security was given by the veteran Mahbub-al Haq. It entails seven factors like food security, health security, personal security, political security, et al; the latter needs some highlighting here. Where political security concerns free and fair elections, people’s right to democracy, it also has an important relation with people’s right to information and ideas, and to express their opinion. Hence, freedom of press and freedom of expression are part and parcel to political security. The extent of freedom of expression is undoubtedly characteristic and symbolic of how democratic and progressive a country is and can be observed by the response a voice of dissent is meted either from the government or the society: whether it is crushed, tolerated or embraced?

The Press Freedom Index 2009 by Reporters without Borders evaluated Pakistan at the lower end of the scale 159 out of 180 countries. This may not surprise many of us, considering the present gagging of Jang group and ARY News in parts of Pakistan after the shoe-throwing incident at His Highness Asif Ali Zardari.

Kudos to PM Yousuf Raza Gillani when he stated, in one of his preliminary speech in the Assembly, that his government stands for free press. However, the current coercion on media is the blatant contradiction of his very words. Yet, this is not the first time happening in Pakistan. This is the oft-repeated episode in this country which is not limited only to dictator rule. Every successive government has toyed with the press freedom. Be it the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif who gagged Jang Group in 1999 leading to a long standby between the two or the Islamization era of Zia-ul-Haq who had the audacity to flog journalists in public or Enlightened Moderation period of Gen. Musharraf who imposed martial law in the country, after which followed a blackout in all media.

Interestingly, two points are common in all these episodes to curb the power of media. Firstly, governments impose restrictions on press always to conceal their own shenanigans, and to strengthen and prolong their rule. The restriction on media always prove to be another faux pas by them leading to the second point in common that the effort to curb is usually the last nail hammered on the coffin to oust the government which the latter perform itself obliviously.

It is distressing that our culture and our governments give little value to the tradition of freedom of expression. What more can be shameful that a ruling democratic government hampers press freedom and that too so daringly and openly?

If PPP claims to bring democracy to the country, then mishandling with press freedom should not be their virtue. Somebody should tell them that democracy and freedom of expression are intertwined notions. Freedom of press is fundamental for the sustenance of democracy and is even more important than free and fair elections because press keeps the electorate informed of the performance of government which is more crucial for democracy than a mere earnest process of elections. But it’s sad to notice that in our country, the freedom of media has been time and again challenged and most of our people seldom fathom its consequences. Whether it’s an in international issue of Draw Muhammad Day, national crises involving government and judiciary at loggerheads, or comic incident of shoe-throwing, our press suffers both from the Machiavellian laws of government and the draconian attitude of society.

However, it is time our leaders take the lesson home that days of repression for media are over now. And that any attempt to control media would backfire. Media is now a power to reckon with and has a considerable and well-recognized niche. Moreover, with the opening of satellite channels, nothing can go inconspicuous and the ruling elite would be living in a fool’s Paradise if they think they can mask their deeds by controlling media.

The recent assail to media in parts of Sindh where PPP has its large vote-bank may have obstructed the news from the masses but it surely has marred the credibility of the government further on the national level. A humble suggestion for the government could be that instead of endeavoring to control the media, rather they should concentrate their efforts to improve the functioning of political administration.

Antagonistically, Free press and government can work in collaboration with each other to enhance each other’s performance and boost the repute of each other. Free press will lend credibility to government’s efforts and initiatives and can create a general goodwill for the government.

However, this should not deter us to say that we still need to work to achieve media that is well-regulated, with its principles and ethics well defined and followed. Media, that work in the best interest of its viewers and the society at large. Media, that follow code of conduct, and exhibit decorum and decency.

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The Reality of Hunger!

                                 

 Hunger is exclusion- exclusion from the land, from income, jobs, wages, life and citizenship. When a person gets to the point of not having anything to eat, it is because all the rest has been denied. This is modern form of exile. It is death in life…   Josue de Castro

 For most of us, the urban denizens, defining hunger is tedious. The picture that comes to our mind is of an African child dying of starvation and a hawk waiting by him to take the life of its prey. It is quintessence of hunger!

 However, if we look round around, we see that hunger is on the rise in Pakistan too. According to the World Food Program statistics of last year, around seventy-seven million people, nearly half the country’s total population is living below the subsistence level meaning they are deprived of basic facilities of life of which food is the foremost, then shelter, health and education. Predictably, this figure will burgeon given the present political condition, economic or both; hence, addressing this chronic issue of hunger is more imperative now than it ever was.

 Pakistan is an agrarian country, yet sadly, it faces acute food shortage. The Global Hunger Index 2009, which ranks countries on a hundred-point scale, with 0 being the best score and 100 being the worst, evaluated Pakistan at the lower end of the scale, fifty-eighth position among eighty-four countries. This calls for a serious consideration of this crisis both at governmental as well as community level.

 The causes for rise in hunger can be viewed from varied angle because, from whichever aspect it is taken, it forms a “lifecycle approach”. Namely, the roots for this problem are inadequate land reforms, conflicts, natural disasters, rise in the prices of mundane goods, inefficient farming technique, over-exploitation of environment, global economic recession et al.

 For the past two or three years, Pak military is fighting the war on terrorism. The repercussion of which is the internal displacement of three million people who live in camp villages, are prone to diseases and live under constant food insecurity. They are mostly at the blessing of humanitarian aid while government fails to provide adequate arrangement for their food. Not just that, war on terrorism is causing a massive burden on our budget. It has not only made the financial markets to flee abroad and hampered local investment, but also reduced the government spending in private sector. Already sixty-percent of our budget was used to be consumed by defence expenditure, however, the new military adventures as well as internal security threat by Taliban, have led to increase in the latter. Previously, only one-percent of our GDP used to go in health and education sector, but the new budget announces this meagre allocation a further slimming down.

 Secondly, inflation has become a nightmare of every economically down trodden person of our society. Open the first page of newspaper and the first news our sight catches is at price hike in petroleum or some figure showing increase in the price of per unit electricity. Currently, while India has historic lows in inflation, Pakistan is showing quite antagonistically historic highs in inflation in double digits. Pakistan is faced by galloping inflation meaning prices increase by double or triple digit percent in a year. This is characteristic of countries suffering from wartime, revolution and/or weak government. In just the last two years, Pakistan’s economy has witnessed at least 200 percent rise in prices of daily goods. For the past whole decade the average household income in Pakistan remains not more than Rs. 2000-3000 but inflation has increased manifold.  Hence, Inflation comes hardest on poor than affluent class as it becomes increasingly difficult for them to meet their ends. According to the World Food Programme, consumption of wheat in Pakistan fell 10 percent last year, because people lost the purchasing power to buy even that most basic of food staples. “Normally there is more than 20 million tonnes of (wheat) consumption in Pakistan, but last year only 18 million tonnes were consumed.”

 Like other countries, global economic recession has come hard on Pakistan and it effects are still reverberating. It decreased investment, increased unemployment, slowed down GDP growth. How it helped increase hunger can be understood like this: when inflation increases, people stop investing money, rather, prefer to keep it in safe. In turn, employment decreases in the country, and poverty and hunger rise.

 Other than that, land reforms (1959 and 1972) in Pakistan, though were introduced with fair intention, has latently served the large landowners and benefited only very few small farmers. The large landowners happen to be shading our political arena too who have time and again used their power to make laws that profit them. Although these two land reforms fixed land ceiling but it was on individual than family basis. This rather worked well for large landowners who were able to keep their land in extended family network and moreover, gave up the unproductive barren land. Land reforms can be hallmark in poverty reduction in our rural areas. Small farmers should be facilitated with easy loan procurement, marketing opportunities, and irrigation system. This can help productivity increase drastically and would empower the poor in rural area.

 Beside all these reasons, one most significant is the status of women in our society. Women constitute fifty-one percent of our population, yet their social standing and their literacy is much lower than men. Women’s education is necessary for the healthy upbringing of children and their proper nourishment.

 Gandhi wrote “to a man with empty stomach, food is God”. And for God, one can perform the ultimate. Shortage of food has led to many social evils. It is gradually deteriorating our social fabric, with social crimes on the rise. Only recently, the whole country was shocked at the news of suicide by a rickshaw driver family because the breadwinner of the family was tired of all the expenses and poisoned his family and himself.

 Hunger inhibits people’s sense of self-respect and their sense of morality. People lose their dignity and resort to begging, which is ever-rising in Pakistan. It increases rate of crime in the society like murder, theft and robbery. One of the reasons for the suicide attacks is poverty which forces people to sell their soul and body.

 Health issues associated with hunger are several. Undernourished children do not grow as quickly as healthy children. Mentally, they develop more slowly.  Constant under nourishment weakens immune system and makes people susceptible to infection and plethora of diseases. Also, mother living with constant hunger often give birth to underweight and weak babies and face increased risk of death.

 It gives pain to see those emaciated faces, dried hands, and parched mouths begging for money to fill their stomach at least with one time meal. Hands that should have book in their hands, are forced to sell balloons to earn the trivial amount they can to arrange their food.

 But, the point of utter anguish and shock is that its not that hunger is caused by less food production but largely by wrong strategies in food distribution. Many Third World countries that face this problem not only produce sufficient food but are also its exporters.  

The need is to bring innovative research based solution to mitigate hunger in the country.    Quality of research institutions should be improved. Policies and research should emphasize on ways of increasing productivity and making food accessible to all. Government has lately initiated Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) to alleviate the predicament of lower class. A good step but its success depends on its implementation.  Food security and good governance is said to be inextricably linked. Countries ruled by corrupt and parochial rulers often have their major population suffering from food shortage.

 One of the ways to increase yield is by using the currently uncultivable but copiously available land of Balochistan. This major step would also ameliorate unemployment in the region and of course, will lessen scarcity of food.

 Further, we need land reforms that at the end of the day facilitate small landowners. Although, in 2002, the erstwhile Prime Minister said that land reforms are over. Yet, bringing land reforms is one of the great solutions to this problem.  With that, we also need proper education of farmers to effectively use land to maintain its fertility.

 Pakistan has insufficient program to combat natural disasters and to assist those affected by it. The land sliding occurred earlier this year in the North western region of the country which made million homeless was mainly caused by over-exploitation of environment. Most of the people living in the mountainous region have wood-cutting as their profession which lead to deforestation and increase the potential of calamities like land sliding, desertification etc. Water logging and salination are also diminishing our cultivable land.

 At individual capacity, we can start community work to feed those around us. Perween Saeed is one person that needs recognition. Almost fifty, she has opened a Khana Ghar (Food House) in the suburbs of Karachi to feed the people of Liyari. She offers food at much subsidised price, giving a bowl of curry and two ‘roti’ for only three Rupees. She feeds around sixteen hundred people everyday. These examples not only inspire but also become pilot programs for those who want to embark on such support set ups.

 Article 38 of Pakistan’s Constitution declares that state shall provide basic facilities like food, clothing, housing, education, and other. Food is a basic right to which every human is entitled and when rights are not granted, injustice prevails. We all have responsibility to see that every person irrespective of their gender, creed, and religion gets their share of justice.