MALIK MUHAMMAD ASHRAF The passing of a unanimous resolution by the Punjab Assembly to show solidarity with the fake degree holding members of the federal and provincial legislatures and unbridled castigation of the media for its role in unearthing and agitating the issue, has left a bad taste in the mouth. And has also pushed down our already unenviable national morality graph by several notches. True that the Eighteenth Amendment has annulled the condition of graduation for the members of the legislatures and validated the February elections accordingly and as such the legislators with fake degrees are not liable to be disqualified on this ground. But the question here is not of their acquired legal eligibility with retrospective effect under the amended constitution. It is the immoral act of cheating on the part of aspirants of the public office whose integrity is supposed to be above board in all respects. The acquisition of a fake degree in itself is a criminal act. The august forums, like the legislatures, require to be run by men of integrity and impeccable character. The media has done a tremendous service to the nation and the cause of democracy by exposing the cheats, notwithstanding its sporadic indiscretions and hitting below the belt. A free media is a prerequisite to a democratic polity. But to play its role as the fourth pillar of the state it needs to adhere to the internationally recognised professional ethics and demands of social responsibility. There might be some question marks on the observance of some of these cardinal principles in certain respects during the transitory period in its march towards real freedom of expression, but it provides no cause for media bashing or condemnation, particularly by the public representatives, who relentlessly cry hoarse from every convenient rooftop in an attempt to serve the cause of democracy in the country. The move by the Punjab Assembly, therefore, represents a terribly wrong reaction. In fact, our politicians are accustomed to a docile and pliable media of the yester years and have not reconciled to the new ambience of media freedom. Out of compulsion they do talk about democracy but inwardly they hate it like anything, as is evident from the speeches that were made in the Punjab Assembly. The move exposes their disdain for the democratic values and fundamental freedoms. But probably they had not expected or calculated the kind of repulsive reaction by the media, the civil society and the international community that has come forth. The belated attempt by the PML-N leadership to dissociate itself from this saga and the reported initiative to bring another resolution in the assembly to annul the resolution are in fact efforts at damage control. The PML-N spokesman has apologised on behalf of the party and accepted responsibility for the abortive action. But that is not enough. Punjab is the biggest province of the country. The recent spate of terrorist acts and frequent incidents of lawlessness are a cause of great anxiety not only to the people of the province but the whole country. Law and order basically is the responsibility of the provinces. The scourge of terrorism which poses an existentialist threat to the country is a challenge to the entire nation which can be eliminated only through concerted and cohesive action of the federal and provincial governments. The blame game that ensued between the Punjab and the federal government in the aftermath of the suicide attack at the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh at Lahore is regrettable, to say the least. It is issues like terrorism and militancy that need both central and provincial government to focus their energies, rather than needlessly and wrongly targeting the press. The politicians need to realise the fact that the media has played an invaluable role in the restoration of democracy, the fight against terrorism and in educating the masses about the challenges confronting the country. They should not take an alarmist view of the unravelling of corruption and wrong practices within the system of governance by the media and instead, be thankful to it for assisting them in identifying the maladies and underscoring the need to eliminate them. By exposing these wrongs, the media is playing a complimentary role in strengthening democratic norms and weeding out the ailments afflicting our body politic. As such it deserves to be complemented rather than subjected to scorn and ridicule. The writer is a former diplomat.