Media’s importance in shaping narratives is undeniable: Mehr Tarar

Media’s importance in shaping narratives is undeniable: Mehr Tarar

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Mehr Tarar is an eminent journalist, intellectual voice of Pakistan, Executive Editor, Daily Times, Pakistan. She is also Author of Leaves from Lahore an often features in Indian TV debates on issues of South Asia. In an interview Mehr Tarar talks to Rameez Makhdoomi.

What is your take on current Kashmir situation?

It is the culmination of years of bad policies and the biggest victim of which has been the Kashmiri people. India in its intransigence to blame Pakistan for unrest in Kashmir has intentionally or myopically failed to take into account the reality of Kashmir where the struggle is fundamentally indigenous and the suffering rooted in local issues, the principal one being demand for autonomy. This demand for autonomy may have been supported, endorsed and perpetuated – in myriad ways – by Pakistan, but to say that what’s happened in Kashmir in the last two months is being remote-controlled by Pakistan is tantamount to refusal to accept the roots of the issue, and its subsequent effects. The ‘anger’ of Indian state has culminated in its adamant repudiation of all demands and grievances of the protesting Kashmiris, which has further exacerbated the sense of persecution and alienation many young Kashmiris feel today.

Your views on collapsing India-Pakistan relations?

It is rather unfortunate to see positivity of interaction between the two prime ministers turned into a war of words so soon: the K-word is and was the line that delineates the relationship between Pakistan and India into binaries of black and white. There is Pakistan’s insistence to make Kashmir the top item on the agenda of the bilateral, composite dialogue that never takes place, and there is India’s persistence on avoiding the Kashmir dispute, pushing terrorism as the sole issue at the moment. The result is growing hostility fuelled by inflammatory comments and churlish short-sighted stances by both sides.

Has Pakistan progressed on its war on terror?

Absolutely, the decrease in the number of terror attacks bears testimony to that. But the real battle will be won when there is absolutely no differentiation between “good” and “bad” terrorism, and terrorism will be tackled without being put into boxes of “us” and “them.” Pakistan must increase its efforts to help bring peace in Afghanistan, and all India-centric terror allegations must be looked into with honesty and sincerity to bring perpetrators to justice.

Sections of Indian and Pakistani media are following hyper nationalism, your take?

Through media there is dispensation of information regarding public opinion, expert commentary, opposition’s views and government policies, and therefore media’s importance in shaping narratives is undeniable. The problem arises when the focus is on increasing TRPs, and the sanctity of truth becomes irrelevant. Breaking news and gaining a bigger audience through blaring headlines shape the agenda of a channel, and sensationalism and twisting of facts become the norm. It is about who can shout the loudest, it is about shifting blame, refusing space for an opposing view, pushing your party or organisation’s agenda to the detriment of fact-finding and acceptance of contradictory views.

Prime time TV debates are becoming allegation matches, do you agree?

It is simply a refusal to accept responsibility and a willingness to find a solution. Shifting blame is a way of closing your eyes to your responsibility, and the consequences of your actions. The raised voice and the inability to have a nuanced dialogue on TV has become the expression of a person’s loyalty to his party, or to his country, which unfortunately is a sign of how lying to the audience and misleading the audience have become so easy, so commonplace.

Hyper nationalism among journalists in South Asia, isn’t it a worrying trend?

There is a very clear and nuanced difference between patriotism and hyper nationalism, but for many journalists, the line has blurred into a narrative of shrill blame-game and narrow-minded labelling, shrinking the space for honest work that is primarily focused on one factor: presentation of truth. Love for your country does not and should not make you blind to its faults and blaming your failure to have peace in Kashmir and Kabul on Islamabad or vice versa is not manifestation of your love for your country. The inability to introspect is the biggest weakness that hyper nationalism enables and perpetuates.

Are PEMRA regulations killing freedom of Pakistani media?

To a certain extent. While it is important to have rules to ensure there is no hate speech or incitement to violence through media, there is no simple way to gauge what is right and wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, safe or inflammatory. Too many curbs stifle freedom of expression, and while that may not be absolute in any country of the world, the increasing interference in media by a government agency do not fit in with the basic premise of journalism: independence to report.

Pakistan democracy is fully at mercy of army alleged by many in India, your take on this?

I would disagree. The history of almost three decades of military rule does affect the present system, but the real test of any civilian government in Pakistan is to strengthen its institutions and policies that would clearly redefine the power paradigm in Pakistan. The key to ensure strengthening of democracy is to have uninterruptable democracy, and that is what in time would redefine the dynamics of civil-military power in Pakistan.

What motivated you to pen down Leaves of Lahore?

Leaves of Lahore is a compilation of my articles that in the last few years have been printed in various publications in Pakistan, India, UAE and elsewhere. I met the Indian publisher Narendra Kumar in Lahore, who offered to print my published articles in the form of a book, and Leaves of Lahore was the result. The book highlights my views on various issues: religious persecution, terrorism, Pakistan-India peace dynamics, human rights, social and political issues etc.
(With Courtesy from Legitimate Magazine)

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