Manufacturing Consent In Pakistan: Can PTM Be Taken As A Case Study?
Media is sometimes referred to as the fourth pillar of the state after legislature, judiciary and executive in a democratic republic. It plays an important role in shaping public opinion and attitudes about certain issues and events. This article addresses the Pakistani mainstream media’s role in manufacturing public consent and its treatment of different news. The main concepts Zahid Ali Shah has employed here, are borrowed from Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s book ‘Manufacturing Consent’.
Pakistani media always serves the agenda of the powerful. Powerful quarters exercise control over media, guiding its policy and censoring information for the general audience. Interestingly, this model also incorporates the ability to complain about media treatment of news and provides ‘proper-thinking’ experts to convince people to conform to the biased narratives.
Media produces a conundrum of closely monitored opinions in order to ensure some form of dissent and covers some of the inconvenient facts. However, this presentation of inconvenient facts is always kept within the margins and is effectively regulated so that it would not clearly refute the lies and official myths propagated through the media.
In January 2018, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), a civil rights movement, emerged in the Pashtun regions for the protection of the rights of Pashtuns. PTM has not only been completely blacked out from the mainstream media, media channels and newspapers have actually become mouthpieces for the powerful establishment by dubbing the PTM leaders as traitors and anti-state elements working on some foreign agenda.
On May 26 this year, as PTM leaders Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir along with PTM workers were passing through the military checkpoint near Kharqamar in North Waziristan to join the ongoing sit-in against the mistreatment of women and locals at the hands of security forces, they were allegedly fire upon. 14 were killed, including two children, and at least 46 others were injured. In the aftermath of the incident, the two PTM leaders were also arrested.
However, the military spokesperson alleged that the PTM had attacked the Pakistani military checkpoint, killing one soldiers and injuring five others.
Pakistani mainstream media only picked up the official narrative and completely censored PTM and its leadership. PTM is now heavily dependent on social media. International media channels, such as VOA Pashto and Urdu, Radio Mashal and BBC are regularly demonised by the self-proclaimed Pakistani ‘nationalists’ for reporting about PTM.
A BBC report titled “Uncovering Pakistan’s secret human rights abuses” published on June 2, based on local native accounts and interviews, revealed the human rights abuses in the erstwhile FATA during various military operations. It was rejected by the ISPR as a ‘pack of lies and in violation of journalistic ethos’. However, BBC stood by its story and said that it would “welcome an interview with the Pakistan Army on a range of subjects including the allegations in the report.”
On May 15, 2019 a 10-year-old little girl Farishta Momand went missing. She was found raped and dumped in the capital city Islamabad after almost a week but when her parents approached the Shehzad Town police station, the police officer denied her parents the right to register a complaint. The SHO reportedly told them that the girl must have eloped with some lover of hers. Later, the Islamabad Polyclinic hospital staff refused to do the autopsy of the 10-year-old victim.
Initially, Pakistani media did not report this incident. But when PTM leadership intervened and started a protest against the discriminatory treatment, ARY News deliberately tried to justify the murder of the 10-year-old victim by reporting that she was an ethnic Afghan and her parents were from Afghanistan.
Pashtuns in Pakistan not only suffer structural, institutional and racial abuse but the Pakistani mainstream media has also always downplayed their grievances. Media houses, armchair journalists and self-styled intellectuals have become propaganda mouthpieces for those in power. The democratisation of information is badly needed in Pakistan to deal with the growing alienation among the Pashtun youth.