Is PM Imran Khan Obsessed With The Media?
Just when Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an amalgamation of country’s 11 political opposition parties, gathered at the famous Minar-e-Pakistan ground in Lahore for flexing political power, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) official Twitter handle on same day released photos of the country’s premier chilling out with dogs at his lavish private residence in Bani Gala, Islamabad. The ruling PTI’s official Facebook and Instagram pages, federal ministers, party loyalists and paid social media trolls all jumped on the bandwagon and shared pictures from their respective handles with sarcastic captions calling it Khan’s ‘routine’ on Sundays. ‘A man of steel nerves’, ‘unshakeable’, and ‘strong as hulk’, were some of the other titles attributed towards Khan who preferred feeding dogs over keeping an eye on Opposition’s political buildup. And then the propaganda arm, the media, went to lengths to televise Khan’s pictures with dogs intermittently on TV screens and re-plugging in following bulletins.
All this set up a perfect platform for the media obsessed premier to finally comment on PDM’s Lahore rally. Taking a jibe at the leadership of the PDM, the Prime Minister called it a ‘pathetic’ show and reiterated his determination not to give NRO to the Opposition.
This is not the first time that Imran Khan received an all-out media gushing, both on electronic and social media. Ever since Khan made his name in cricket followed by his drive to build a cancer hospital on donations in Lahore, local media always followed him. That made him media obsessed. The media gushing spree swelled when Khan’s political fate turned for good in 2011 with the help of the country’s powerful establishment. Still he couldn’t take his party to a winning position during the 2013 general elections except in the northeastern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).
Khan’s years in opposition, mainly from 2013 to 2018, primarily centered on a 126 days long sit-in in Islamabad over PTI’s perceived notion of rigging in elections. During those politically heated months, Khan got widespread media coverage by all mainstream TV channels, apparently on the behest of the establishment. Media’s primetime slot, that otherwise goes to self-proclaimed political analysts, was given to Khan in which he used to give the same speech daily threatening and abusing every opponent, be it the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, federal ministers, civil servants or police.
The sit-in ended without conclusive results yet Khan continued peddling anti-government tirades. The Panama leaks scam provided him an opportunity to take on besieged Nawaz Sharif. Khan then insisted to address the nation on the national broadcaster PTV but was denied as there was no example in the past of allowing an opposition member to address the nation from PTV. But like a stubborn kid he addressed the nation, thanks to dozens of private channels which ran the traditional national anthem before Khan’s address so as to give the address a semi-official look. A video leak afterwards showed how keenly Khan sat before the table, smiling as if the heyday was so close, and repeatedly asked cameramen ‘should I start’.
The year 2018 finally enabled PTI to the helm of power; Khan became Prime Minister. And the formal recognition finally gave him a chance to address the nation from the state owned and run PTV. Since then, Khan has appeared on PTV as much as a popular drama is repeatedly telecast. He wouldn’t even mind keeping Parchi (notes chit) with him thus often falling out of the line and repeating lofty promises.
The love affair with the media isn’t over for him. Quite recently, he was interviewed by a number of private TV channels. Media owners picked Khan’s blue-eyed anchors who put words in PM’s mouth when he ran out of tirade stock towards opponents. At one news channel, Khan was interviewed not by a news anchor, but instead, by a showbiz star who has been riding with Khan on a container during PTI’s sit-in. The duo had the perfect combo and it seemed that the anchor was not interviewing but actually giving. Ironically, a relatively tough interview by Mansoor Ali Khan of Express News, recorded more rating than of the interviews to friendly anchors. However, PM was seen upset many times when Masnoor reminded him of his past talks and current doings.
PTI is now in its third year; the party and the PM both heavily rely on the media, propaganda became more important than substance. The media reciprocates with unbridled praises for the underperforming PM. The duo’s love affairs have made things on paper good but the reality check puts PTI on a downward trend. In a recent survey by a French organization, 4 of 5 Pakistanis think the country headed in the wrong direction and only one in 20 Pakistanis rated the current local economy as strong. PTI empire was built on media; the king still enjoys 24/7 hailing. The masses, however, are under unprecedented threats such as unemployment and inflation. This compromise between the government and the media should end now. Hosts of nightly theatrics of talk shows, who project themselves as the guardians of public’ s wellbeing, should start asking the PTI and the PM what has it done in over two years as they used to seek answers from the governments of the past.