Friday, 29 August 2014

Economic costs of the crisis

Courtesy:-  MALIK MUHAMMAD ASHRAF

The management of an economy is the most arduous task due to its connectivity with a myriad of economic and political variables, more so in developing countries where continued political instability has played a predominant role in decelerating economic progress. The result is that nearly 45.7 per cent of the population in Pakistan still lives below the poverty line, as per a survey conducted under the BISP programme during the last regime. And regrettably, our politicians continue to indulge in the politics of self-aggrandisement with criminal indifference to its likely impact on the economy and the lives of people.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The mask of anarchy

Courtesy:-  Babar Sattar

Shelley is believed to have introduced the idea of nonviolent resistance in his poem The Mask of Anarchy, which celebrated the power of ordinary people to defeat violence with pacifism. Thoreau in his essay Civil Disobedience advocated listening to one’s conscience and rising up against injustice and slavery. Gandhi’s doctrine of Satyagraha, inspired in part by Shelley, aimed at freeing India from colonial shackles and seeking self-rule. Nelson Mandela suffered penalties of law to fight apartheid.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Civil disobedience

Courtesy:- Malik Muhammad Ashraf

Civil disobedience is a non-violent movement which is resorted to by the people of a country to resist unfair laws and measures adopted by their own governments and against the colonial powers to achieve independence. Gandhi’s non-violent resistance movement against British Empire for independence, Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia, movement in East Germany to oust communist government in late eighties, fight against apartheid in South Africa, Civil Rights Movement in USA, Boston Tea Party, The 1919 Revolution in Egypt against British Occupation, Singing Revolution that brought independence to Baltic states from Soviet Union, Rose Revolution in Georgia and Orange Revolution in Ukraine and various other movements worldwide are categorized as Civil Disobedience Movements.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Let law, and not politics, have the final word

Courtesy:- Malik Muhammad Ashraf   

The Lahore High Court decision declaring the demands of the PTI and the PAT unconstitutional and restraining them from launching their march(es) in an unconstitutional manner, added another dimension to the controversy regarding the rationale, motives and justification for the ‘Azadi’ and ‘Revolution’ marches; this could have repercussions of its own. 

The PTI and the PAT ignored the decision and headed towards Islamabad contending that the court only barred an unconstitutional march and that their marches were within constitutional parameters. Some circles are of the view that the court orders are ambiguous and needed clarification from the court itself as to what it meant by unconstitutional march. A number of legal and constitutional experts view the decision as interference by the court in the country’s political affairs, contending that no demands were unconstitutional unless the party demanding them took steps that violated the law and the constitution.

Climate communication

Courtesy:-   Syed Muhammad Abubakar

The ever increasing impacts of climate change have made the world sit up and discuss ways to tackle it. Increased carbon emissions are causing global temperatures to rise, leading to the melting of glaciers and rise in sea levels –becoming a threat for low-lying island nations.

Many countries are still unaware that climate change is real and happening right now. A recent report, ‘Communicating Climate Science’, by the UK’s House of Commons suggested that effective information methods need to be devised so that information regarding climate change reaches a mass audience. 

Sensitising the unaware regarding the deadly impacts of climate change is much needed in Pakistan. During the past few years our plains have been flooded, our valleys overrun by Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), which have displaced millions of people and forced them to migrate to safer places. We have also witnessed extensive damage to infrastructure and property. Communities could have been saved from this devastation if disaster management authorities had, through the media, warned vulnerable communities regarding the possible threat of floods and enabled timely evacuation.

Any possible environmental catastrophe can be communicated through front-page headlines in local, regional and national newspapers, and on TV channels and the radio. The increasing impacts of climate change can partially be mitigated through greater media coverage, which can instil awareness among the vulnerable.

Unfortunately, this is not happening even though we face losses worth billions of dollars due to floods, droughts, sea intrusion and damage to agriculture. The 2012 flood alone cost the government six billion dollars but the reasons behind such devastation were not effectively communicated to the public. This is mostly because the media hasn’t realised its own potential vis-a-vis creating awareness helping reduce damage from environmental hazards. 

The general opinion is that the media in Pakistan focuses on socio-political and defence-related issues but ignores environmental ones, as political issues are more newsworthy. Environmental issues, no matter how serious, get pushed to the back pages. This is mainly to a failure in understanding the seriousness of the issue and the huge cost of damage related to climate catastrophes.

Sometimes business interests don’t let the media do its job in planning more environment-related stories and programming; sponsors and advertisers are not interested. Corporations, brands, and fashion apparels find it hard to consider the environment their priority. However, all across the globe big corporations allocate budgets to curb carbon emissions and promote the concept of a green economy. People in our country prefer political and terrorism related news and tend to ignore and neglect the significance of environmental stories. They don’t realise the damage environmental degradation can lead to.

This neglect fuels global environmental issues such as climate change and global warming. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2014 released by the German Watch Institute, Pakistan is ranked number three after Haiti and the Philippines as countries most affected by climate change. This should set off alarm bells for our government and require it to take stringent measures for climate change mitigation as well as mobilise the media to work towards climate change awareness among the citizens of Pakistan. Despite all this, nothing concrete has been done till now. 

After the damage is done – by cyclones or floods – houses lost and families displaced, the media will likely cover the issue by airing stories of disaster affectees, highlighting their misery. However, the media but will fail to highlight the root cause of the problem – climate change.

If we wish to sensitise people we need to sensitise the media first. Capacity building of journalists is urgently required so that they understand the threats our country faces as far as climate change impacts are concerned. 

Ignorance of this issue has taken many lives and millions of people have been affected in the recent past, as climate change has flooded our plains again and again – in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Glacial melt is increasing and is also on an all-time high in Pakistan, which means that there’s a strong probability of another great flood. This means the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) needs to take effective climate change adaptation and mitigation measures by mobilising the media to create awareness amongst the public to move to safer places for shelter. 

It is the government’s responsibility to communicate these disastrous impacts using whatever means possible. It is time that the media also gave due importance to this significant issue. Effectively portraying it will help in dealing with the issue and the government can push the media to do so by giving government ads to those groups and outlets that widely report on the environment. The media must play a greater role in communicating climate change impacts to the public. 

More funds also need to be allocated for the Climate Change Division so that increases in carbon emissions can be curtailed. Unfortunately, this division has witnessed a huge reduction in funds having dropped down to Rs25 million in the 2014-15 budget with no specific allocation for climate change awareness through the media. 

Our leaders need a wakeup call; they have failed to understand the gravity of the situation. The issue is ignored and makes any reasonable individual question the government’s policies. Isn’t Rs25 million just about enough to buy an imported luxury car? Sufficient funds need to be allocated to create climate change awareness among the public so that vulnerable communities, especially those living along the coastal and northern areas of Pakistan, who stand on the frontline of climate change, take necessary steps to mitigate it.

The media is the fourth pillar of the state and it has to portray and report on all that affects and matters to the people. A great responsibility lies on its shoulders to inform people, with truth and honesty, about the current state of affairs of the country, including climate change impacts. 

There is no doubt that human-led activities have worsened the issue but there’s a lot we can do to overcome it. Tree plantation is one simple option, as trees act as carbon sinks and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) which have increased manifold due to the high deforestation rate in Pakistan (2.1 percent per annum according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation).

It’s high time we used an integrated approach to mitigate this deadly climate change we are facing, and will continue to face. Otherwise, floods will devastate our country, and our economy will be affected due to natural calamities. Sea intrusion will eat our lands and livelihoods will be destroyed. There won’t be anything left to do but watch news stories about it on every TV channel.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The ultimate bestiality

Courtesy:-  MALIK MUHAMMAD ASHRAF


Persecution of minorities in a country that was created for a minority

Reportedly an elderly woman and two children belonging to a minority community died of suffocation from smoke when their house was put on fire by an enraged crowd at Gujranwala on 28th July while others present on the scene cheered the perpetrators of the crime in approval of their dastardly act. That was the exhibition of an ultimate bestiality. Unfortunately this was not the first incident of this nature as the country has witnessed a string of such gory enactments where the members of the minority communities have been the victim of the wrath of the religious fanatics. The carnage of the Christian community at Gojra in August 2009 would put to shame even Adolf Hitler, the architect of “The Holocaust”, for having underperformed. The most sordid aspect of this gory incident was that those who were lynched and whose houses were subjected to arson, were not at all involved in the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Electronic media shindigs

Courtesy:-  Malik M Ashraf

Introduction of the private sector in the field of electronic media and the accompanying freedom of expression, is probably the best thing that has ever happened in thisland of the pure. While it is heartening to see the media enjoying its freedom and guarding it zealously, it is equally disappointing to see the absence of the component of responsibility. There is a discernible propensity to scandalize things, rumour mongering and playing favourites in disregard to the internationally recognized professional ethics - more so among the electronicchannels.

It is quite an ordeal to watch current affair programmes and talk shows, hosted by some uncouth and non-professional anchor persons - barring a few exceptions - yelling at top of their shrilling voices at panellists and trying to rub in their peculiar perceptions and getting involved in a debate with them, instead of listening to their views on questions put to them. Being aggressive in approach is adorable but descending into an insulting mode is absolutely non-professional and detestable.

They also lack the ability of a professional moderator to control the flow of the arguments as is evident from their nod to the shouting matches among the participants, presenting a spectacle of the shindigs rather than serious forums to discuss national issues; so repulsive to the eyes and jarring to the ears. A professional anchor person and host of such shows would always thoroughly brief the participants about the etiquettes of the discussion before coming on air and also curb his own inclinations to join the melee.

Most of the anchor persons are inductees from the print media and are not well conversant with the professional culture of the electronic media and the art of conducting panel discussions or talk shows. Some even have not worked as journalists at all before landing into the arena. That probably is the reason that these shows look more like entertainment stuff rather than the forums for informative and educative debates. Had these anchor persons and hosts of morning shows been properly trained professionals, savvy of the cultural and religious sensitivities of the people,   The media must be mindful of the fact that the onus for preserving its freedom of expression is inextricably linked to the exhibition of a responsible behaviour. There are no two opinions about the fact that the media, at present, enjoys unprecedented independence, thanks to the encouraging and tolerant attitude of the government despite a persistently hostile and provocative stance of some sections of the media. That surely is the dividend of democracy.

There is a need to consolidate the gains of democracy and promoting democratic culture in the country in which the media has a pivotal role. Being a representative of the society, it is incumbent upon the media to show unswerving dedication to the cause of democracy and the promotion of national interests. These are indeed very serious issues and are required to be handled and commandeered by the thoroughly professional and knowledgeable individuals. In a democratic setup the government is also under obligation to ensure an unfettered press in the country and its growth on healthy and professional lines. While the media is a watch-dog against the indiscretions of the government, the latter is also a watch-dog against streaks of undesirable behaviour by the media. That relationship needs to be respected and strengthened.

This is an age of self-regulation and less intervention by the governments. In most of the developed and democratic countries, the media - with encouragement and support of the respective governments - has taken upon itself the role of ensuring adherence to the professional ethics and redress of complaints against irresponsible, non-professional, unethical and erratic behaviour by any electronic channel or a newspaper.

In Pakistan also necessary legislation has been done to establish a Press Council and a code of ethics has also been devised after discussions with all the stakeholders. PEMRA also has issued exhaustive guidelines for the anchor persons. There is also a talk of setting up a separate regulatory body for the electronic media. In my view instead of creating new regulatory bodies for the media, there is a need to strengthen the Press Council and let it act as a regulatory body for both the electronic and print media as is the case in the free world.