In a society where one's identity is often judged by political party loyalty and rewarded or punished accordingly, it's only natural that one will influence the other. However, the problem begins when media sees itself as an extension of politics to help serve party interest. At no time has media been so extensive in reach but also so partisan. That means that media identity is itself under threat. The problem is, it's not a question of what it can be. It's more about what it wants to be. Do media want to be free from political party influence?
Historical factors have influenced our media which continues to be similar in intent over time. Media as an agent of political change concept emerged in the post 1947 era when political movements and media joined hands against Pakistan. In one of the most effective partnerships mounted by the middle class, the politicians and media workers formed a common cause. They together withstood the attack and counter attacked. It's not an accident that so many media workers were killed in 1971. However, the legacy of the 50s and the 60s was more about its nationalist activism than objective professionalism. But the tradition was established.
From the 70s to the 90s
This didn't change at all in the 70s as media continue to serve as a handmaiden of politics both government and the opposition. Inflammatory headlines demanding the overthrowing of the state was there to compete with equally aggressive headlines of the ruling government networks.
When Dainik Bangla published a special edition condemning the killing of 2 demonstrating students in fierce language, the editor and senior journalists responsible were removed. They forgot that this was no longer Pakistan where the language of protest couldn't be translated into nationalist slogans. The fact that the paper in question was also government owned appears to have been missed in the translation by the media workers. Observer's legendary Editor Abdus Salam was also removed after publishing an editorial which was also found offensive by the owners, which in this case was also the Government.
So the fact of ownership change was significant. The workers and the authorities belonged to the same camp, if you will. It's also seems senior media leaders hadn't made the mental transition to a new set of circumstances in a post-Pakistan world. The end of the phase came in 1975 when one-party rule was established and all but four papers were banned. Following the killing of Sk. Mujib, came a new era where media began to be a vehicle for gaining social capital using the monetary variety gained in business. That trend continues till date.
Post 1990 media
Media was relatively free during the immediate post martial law era of Ershad as the moneyed class grew and new entrants into media brought energy, enthusiasm and style. However, as agitation increased grew so did "media activism" which basically meant that for politics which was sanctified as "struggle against autocracy", the editorial lee way was high. As all parties at one time banded were together barring the party in power, there was no problem but once a new set of people came to power -- AL/BNP- new equations emerged.
The contest between AL and BNP grew with the wealth available for extra-economic investment. Just as rural areas experienced poverty decline through the 90s, wealth making intensified as did connections to make more in a growing economy. A generally cautious people by trade, the wealthy class continued to make money, invest in media to increase visibility and gain access.
However, as the political groups also corralled and controlled their own networks, the divisions began to increase. This trend increased even more as old print media began to be challenged by electronic media or TV. It took political hostility to new levels.
The watershed 2001-6 era of hostility
The 2001 election is the most significant election in many ways as one saw the alliance making of BNP- Jamaat a major factor in defeating AL. Till 2001, JI was disliked by the anti-BNP cluster but 2001 showed the power of the small but dedicated worker filled party to make a difference. It meant the need to cut down JI was not just a principled but a political need. It was during this regime that Al-BNP conflict took to extreme heights from which it never came down.
By 2004, the grenade attack occurred and in 2006 for which AL blamed the BNP and BNP didn't do enough to dispel involvement, direct or indirect. As elections drew close BNP also tried to manipulate the Caretaker system, more a manager of hostility than electoral politics. AL responded by taking to the streets with full scale clashes between both and soon the military had walked in.
Along with political hostility and party loyalty has come technological advancement through online media, both word and visual. The result is an incessant barrage of hate on media almost totally. It doesn't matter if the conflict is on talk shows, FB posts, online teasers or YouTube videos. The next result is the same, an invitation to participate in hate play. It's so intense that each outlet now consumes the other.
As the national media is supervised by DSA and other laws and of course law enforcers, much of the AL critical media is beamed down from abroad making them more reckless and hateful which triggers more of the same. Without hate, our media can't survive.
Just as politics is propped up by conflict, our media too has fallen into that habit. Unless politics changes and the chances of that is rather low, media can continue to lose quality content and focus on what serves party politics most.
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