Since the retirement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the media campaign against him has become no-holds-barred. His sworn critics were the most sought after guests in talk shows supposed to sum up his tenure and, in special interviews, his vilest detractors were given a free hand to paint his legacy in morbid colours. With a few exceptions, newspaper comments belittled his heroic efforts for creating a more egalitarian and just society. One thing is certain. He must have done something great for the people of Pakistan to earn the wrath of these members of the high and mighty club who thrive on their above-the-law privileges.

Interestingly, news channels that waste no time in piecing together man-on-the-street segments on every current issue under the sun, decided that gauging the public perception about the performance of a Chief Justice restored as a result of a popular movement was not necessary. Tainted experts with petty axes to grind were instead chosen to talk about his role. Lawyers and politicians with a grudge against him were asked to pass their biased verdicts against him. It didn’t seem to matter that those being asked to judge the tenure of the Chief Justice were not neutral observers, some of them prominent players in the campaign against his initiatives.

The idea is not to block out all criticism of the former Chief Justice and worship him blindly. But certainly, it is the responsibility of the media to understand the distinction between a balanced critical analysis that discusses the pros and cons in their proper perspective on the one hand and personal vilification based on a selective reading of events and malice on the other. Lawyers expecting special treatment from the Supreme Court due to their role in the movement for the restoration of judiciary and disgruntled because of the court’s refusal to advance them this favour and politicians penalised for their corruption and abuse of power by the court are hardly expected to rise above their hurt egos to appreciate the pro-people legacy of the former Chief Justice.

Of course, the high and mighty, big private corporations, senior public servants, sitting ministers, serving and retired generals, and their lawyers and minions, who got no relief for their anti-people actions, for their robbery of the public exchequer, their wadera-like approach to governance in defiance of the law and rules, their trashing of rights of citizens, their neglect of their duties, their collusion in and covering up of crimes, are unlikely to say a positive word about the former Chief Justice. Unfortunately, this is the lot that dominated the discussion in the media regarding his revolutionary tenure. Unbiased senior and respected jurists had a token presence and the man-on-the-street had no say.

The result was a disservice to the nation. By becoming a mouthpiece for entrenched powerful interests that have traditionally abused their power and influence for personal advancement at the cost of public welfare rather than for the disempowered, exploited and abused man-on-the-street, the public for which the media is supposed to be a watchdog, our opinion makers sunk deeper in their chosen role as power players rather than rising up to their professional duty of making the powerful accountable and guarding the public interest. By ignoring the most important aspect of the discussion, the tremendous progress made by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry towards an independent judiciary that holds the powerful accountable without fear or favour and that puts public interest before traditional considerations, they exposed their own orientation and safe place within the politics of status quo.

It is important to understand that the concept of politics is not restricted to the power play of our established political parties and their dishonest antics to appropriate and retain state power. Politics is not only the game of musical chairs being played by vested interests that throws up new winners periodically without changing the status quo. When reduced to this restrictive definition, it becomes a dirty word, an offensive exercise allowed to our political elite alone. All the lies and hypocrisy, u-turns and marriages of convenience, corruption and abuse of power are acceptable ills that are taken in their stride by the media as part and parcel of politics.

This power-play among entrenched status quo players is actually a corruption of politics. Politics, in essence, is aimed at changing the society in a direction considered desirable by any individual. In that sense, politics is not a dirty thing per se but can be judged according to the goals and direction it pursues. The media as well as judiciary are both political in that sense. The opinion makers and judges could either cement the status quo by drawing advantages and finding their place in the sun within the existing power structure, or they can do what is their professional duty; using their positions of influence to challenge the entrenched interests and their lawlessness and injustices, and to push in the direction of a more egalitarian and just society.

The former Chief Justice has been accused of being political which, in this larger context, is true and should actually go in his favour. Instead of becoming part of a cruel ruling elite that survives on its above-the-law status and thrives on privilege accumulated over generations, he decided to side with the powerless and voiceless, the exploited and abused citizens of Pakistan, and took on their tormentors who’d been getting away with murder for too long.

It is not important whether he was entirely faithful to the tradition of how courts are run. Institutional traditions are, after all, designed to favour the elites. What matters is the pro-people direction in which he pushed the system. What matters is that despite the vicious campaign against him that has been going on for years and still continues after his retirement, his detractors have not been able to pinpoint one instance where he personally benefited by his pro-people politics. Actually, we could do more with such politics.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.