The Quest for Legitimacy in Pakistan

The Quest for Legitimacy in Pakistan -
for both the watched, and the watchdog

Zahir Ebrahim

Nov 17 and Nov 20, 2007.

© Project HumanbeingsfirstTM. Permission granted to use freely as per copyright notice.

[Letters originally submitted to Geo News on their 'Geo is Shut' invitation for comments blog, on Nov 17, and Nov 20, 2007.]

November 17, 2007.
Dear Geo TV News staff, senior management, CEO, and all the sympathetic audience lamenting the loss of Geo and writing their prolific comments here,
While it is always tragic for any organization to be shut down through draconian and dictatorial measures, and I do hope that Geo is able to get back on air and recover from this travesty, I have to suggest that it's no national loss that this noise box is gone. What has it achieved? Created more zombies who remain contented spectators glued to their sofas watching it all on the soap box rather than being active participants in their nation's affairs and the civil society. As for bringing the peoples truthful 'current affairs' on the minute - hardly. Geo and all the other banned news media in Pakistan have certainly quite excelled in showing the 'katputli tamashas' as they have played out, very accurately. Indeed, for your engaging reporting of the visible leaves of the trees as they have continually fallen in the autumn of the nation's pathetic and wretched life, full marks to Geo. But so what - it's no different than the reality television shows in the US that gets a glued and captive audience mesmerized by the thuggery and debauchery on display. Is that what is meant by informing the polity? Perhaps partly, but surely not entirely?
Neither Geo, nor ARY, nor Aaj, Dawnnews, et. al., quite sadly, were ever able to unravel the multi-tiered deception games at play, nor able to penetrate through the 'technique of infamy'. They all remained focused on the microscopic whims of local rulers when the puppeteers were playing for keeps on the global 'Grand Chessboard'. Ever hear of 'Black-ops' - evidently not! And obviously 'Covert-ops' is a non-word in the news media. So what consciousness did these news shows raise among the masses, or what real knowledge about what's really happening did they bring? Judging from the malaise and lethargy, nay, total apathy, in the Pakistani society among the masses who presumably watch television shows like Geo (as claimed by Geo) to inform themselves, these news shows have only produced Zombies. In the previous age of radio and no information age and no internet, there was far more activism and conscience displayed in society than today. Care to explain this dichotomy if your news programs over the past six or seven years have produced anything substantially beneficial for the society? What is it? Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in its eating, not in assertions and bragging rights - leave that to the rulers!
You have, for all practical purposes, only produced more zombies! Just look at the anemic size of street protests - in fact Geo coverage of it has made excellent viewing entertainment for many families. More have been content watching Geo in the comforts of their homes than ever before. Then, instead of getting their conscience fired up and joining those being beaten up in an exhibition of brutality that can only put us back into the stone age of barbarism - perhaps unmatched by anyone else except the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan which all your news programs and commentaries persisted in calling the 'war on terror' rather than the 'war of terror' for 'imperial mobilization' - apathetically moving on to do the routine 'pooja' of their stomach, and life is back to normal until the next round of some more watching Geo!
I know this is a contrarian view, and perhaps not the best time to offer it. But you seem to be in the listening mode and so I hope you accept it in the true spirit of 'freedom of the press' - whatever that may mean to you. To me, it is entirely an illusion deftly spinned to keep the facade of 'democracy' going - worldwide! What does it mean to be the fourth pillar of democracy - who watches the watchdog? Anyone with money can set up a press or news media - and it is their respective corporate interests and ideological penchants that define 'freedom of the press' - is that the criteria for the fourth pillar of democracy? Anyone with good looks and ability to speak and act can become an anchor - is that the criteria for a television journalist? Is the conscience of a journalist more profound or more moral than of those whom he or she supposedly monitors? If not, then who monitors the journalists? A more penetrating analysis of this question in the context of the mind numbing American news media can be found in Chapters 6 and 7 of - as per the wisdom that whatever is in the developed nations is a learning mirror and 20-30 year heads-up to developing nations, if we are wise that is!
If you do come back on air, perhaps both Geo News and your faithful audience can try to address some of these never before talked about issues regarding the 'freedom of the press' as the watchdog of 'democracy'. At least talk about your 'special skills' and 'integrity' and 'special abilities' upon which you claim the 'ubermensch' imperative of watchdog status! In other words, what special analytical and forensic 'skills' and 'knowledge' do your journalists and news producers have, and what super morality do they and your corporate owners claim, that you are all exempt from both ineptness and co-optation unlike the rest of us in society? The fact that you have been shut down at the capricious whim of a 'doctor gone wild' with saving the nation even if it kills the patient, is not an automatic adjudication of your social achievements and journalistic contributions to 'democracy', even though, in your best capacity, you did try to stand up to abusive power as you saw fit.
Unfortunately that isn't enough to inform and 'activate' the people through modern day journalism where masterful orchestration of 'technique of infamy' is the name of the game, as is the passive indoctrination of the masses! You seem to have done well on both counts. In case of the former, you have elaborately documented each and every leaf that you could see, without forensically seeking the DNA of the trees - for that's all your camera can capture with your on-site reporting! And your plethora of talking heads later coming on to analyze the events of the day can hardly be published in any peer reviewed academic journal for their profound thoughts. As for indoctrination, well you did provide a compelling and captivating narrative captured on camera - the 'reality television show' - and you only created a massive following of zombies, once again at the risk of being repetitive, not unlike in '1984', or in the movie 'V for Vendetta'. If raising the conscience of the peoples to stand up for their rights and their nation - the masses with their stomachs attached and barely able to subsist in the '7-8 percent growth economy' - was your goal, did you really succeed? How else can the role of the 'fourth pillar of democracy be defined'?
The 'fifth of November' already came and went. Well perhaps we all dream of 'remembering' it next year - at least those with a modicum of humanity left in our soul - and amazingly hoping someone else will make it happen! Will Geo, in its next reincarnation after this wakeup call?
Thank you.
Zahir Ebrahim

November 20, 2007.
On reading the many messages that thoughtful viewers of Geo have taken the time to write here, I sense that there is a general confusion about the role of media in society, especially their role in a democratic society, or one that is striving towards it. I have previously provided feedback - appears on page 11 - that was critical of Geo in many aspects which are not traditionally thought about in any democratic society, and the mantra of 'freedom of the press' is taken for granted as the 'fourth pillar of democracy' without giving due consideration to its implementation. However, the following thoughtful message by a commenter requires another response as it is quite full of misconceptions on the role of news media, especially one like Geo, and this theme keeps resurfacing.
Mr. Danish Ahmed [Karachi] Posted on 19, Nov. 2007, wrote:
“[... Geo was continously hitting present government which i would say US or British government would have not even tolerated CNN or BBC in this way... Their are certain code of ethics and conducts in all fields which GEO was not following and justifying as " freedom of expression".Rebillions are always punished in every ways.]”
In a nutshell, 'freedom of expression' and 'freedom of the press' and enshrining it in a constitution is a gift of the Western Renaissance. It is their baby which we are trying to transplant into our historically 'monarchy' driven autocratic and feudalistic society. So it is important to understand both the transplant, as well as the soil in which it is going into, in order to have a successful transplant – as any wise gardener might attest - as did the late scholar and gadfly to power Eqbal Ahmed who repeatedly warned us about this when borrowing blindly from the West. So here is briefly about the 'transplant'. All of us already know much about the 'soil' – sadly we know too much.
The purpose behind giving such freedom to the press, as per Ben Franklin – the founding father of the United States who was also a newspaper man and had a small press - was to make it monitor the centers and corridors of power. Mainly governmental power, but also all sources of power in society. For that was the watchdog to sanity-check the mis-behavior and corruption of power by those empowered to implement 'democracy' - the triad of an independent but appointed judiciary, the elected legislative, and the elected executive – the system we are trying to blindly copy and adapt into our own native soil despite its barrenness!
This watchdog, presumably independent, and as independent as the independent judiciary despite being appointed (but also confirmed by the elected legislature), is traditionally labeled the 'fourth pillar' of constitution in a democratic setup. So how can a watchdog not be a watchdog upon the corridors of power? The same way as why the 'dog does not bark'! For those unfamiliar with the Sherlock Holmes story where I think this phrase first comes from, the always barking guard dog does not bark on the eventful night of the robbery when its owner himself or herself robs his or her own house!
In perhaps a very weak sense today, because of certain co-optations in the system, and consolidation and corporatization-privatization of public airwaves, that watchdog function has itself been co-opted, to a certain degree. Thus we read on the upper right hand corner of the front page of every edition of the New York Times for instance, "All the news that's fit to print". Who decides what's fit to print? The owners of New York Times and the ideological penchants of its Editorial staff of course. Not usually the journalist – who typically only follows the guideline handed him or her, or it's a 'pink slip', i.e., out of a job if the guidelines, often unwritten, are consistently violated. Thus the attached stomach to one's body also causes co-optation in the system. That is how the modern mainstream corporatized 'military-industrial-complex' affiliated press (and news media) works in the West, more or less. And thus we constantly see 'Islamophobia' being deliberately introduced into the mainstream discourse so openly – because it serves the interests of the ruling elite, and the corporatized media is now pretty much owned by them! So when they don't bark – that's why. Not because they ought not to bark!
Despite all this, you still see American and European press, at the opportune time, turning on their own governments, and indeed very very courageously exposing their monumental crimes. The Abu Garib atrocities appeared in the American Press first. As did the story of tortures officially authorized by the Pentagon - slowly, much too slowly, but nevertheless, it still did. And in the 1960s, when men were men and women were women and press was press and freedom from the shackles of society was in the air, Daniel Elsberg leaked the 'Pentagon Papers' that several American Newspapers published - very very courageously - and that is what brought the Vietnam war to an end eventually by building up the antiwar movement. Just google 'Pentagon Papers', and one will know a bit of history of what a courageous press can accomplish - if it wants to that is.
How does that relate to Geo? One can easily see that they have also understood their self-ascribed function to be - despite being a privately owned for-profit media - public service, to the extent of attempting to be that watchdog function even though we haven't yet achieved the ideal of a democratic and civilized nation.
I don't work for Geo, and don't speak for them, but I believe that their hope was to take the nation to that state of egalitarian existence by being that 'fourth pillar' of that much desired modernity du jour. In my previous comment that appears on page 11 (and which unfortunately keeps changing as new comments are added - wish the administrator of this blog would make permanent the url of a page on which a comment is put so others can find and reference it easily) I actually criticized Geo for not quite living up to that ideal despite all their hype, and in actuality turning the nation into a pool of bespectating zombies getting their thrills watching the 'reality television' in the comfort of their homes glued to their sofas! If this was America and not Pakistan, I might have also added 'while drinking beer and gulping down pizzas.' Perhaps we might do that too in Pakistan under "enlightened moderation"?
Such ideals need open debate in a civilized society so one can crystallize them and force such protections as the 'Freedom of the Press and Individual Speech', Human Rights Conventions (to which incidentally Pakistan is a signatory), Equal Rights, etc., in the nation's constitution as we move (hopefully) forward towards [a genuine version of] democracy (rather than towards annihilation due to our own stupidity).
Stupid nations, and stupid peoples, rise and fall together, by electing or selecting or accepting, stupid leaders who desire to rule them by hook or by crook – that is the lesson of modernity, as well of ancient wisdom, including our own legacy. I hope that our present leaders aren't stupid and all this turmoil is just a bad dream that will go away in a minute! When I wakeup, we will be living in a peaceful, just, and humanitarian, democratic, but most importantly, civilized society...
Thank you.
Zahir Ebrahim

The author, an ordinary researcher and writer on contemporary geopolitics, a minor justice activist, grew up in Pakistan, studied EECS at MIT, engineered for a while in high-tech Silicon Valley (patents here), and retired early to pursue other responsible interests. His maiden 2003 book was rejected by six publishers and can be read on the web at He may be reached at
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The quest for legitimacy in Pakistan 6 / 6 Open Letter to Geo News