“Tell all the truth, but

tell it slant.”

– Emily Dickenson

Despite my best efforts, I have failed to understand how can people distort, slant or twist a reality and yet claim it to be true! For slanted words are no less dangerous than corrupt minds. Perhaps, truth is a metaphor and people change it to suit their needs.

Nevertheless, there are several principles to lead a better life; one of which is honesty. Either an individual is honest or dishonest. There is no middle way between the two, especially for journalists. However, the difference will be visible in the upcoming general elections.

The closer we get to the elections, the more our patience and veracity is being put to test. The biggest struggle remains between the media and the stakeholders. The debate remains about what is right and what is wrong. The stakes are rising and with it, the intensity of allegations is getting stronger on the media.

Having said that, I recently interviewed Dr Tahirul Qadri. He is, indeed, a scholar of international repute and has authored a number of books. Yet, the decision to end his self-imposed exile, and to denounce the present electoral system of Pakistan, seems to be purely political. This raises several questions: why did Dr Qadri choose the present time to return to Pakistan? Is he well aware of the controversy surrounding him? Is he prepared to deal with it?

When I asked him a few of these questions during the interview, a lot of his supporters/followers criticised me, unreasonably stating that asking Dr Sahib “old” or “personal” questions was inappropriate. Some, as usual, tried to harm my image and credibility by belittling my character and intelligence, while others assumed wrongly that my organisation was behind the tough line of questioning.

So let’s be fair, frank and candid! First, not once did Dr Qadri show displeasure during the interview. In fact, he spoke to me after it was over, assuring that he was not upset at all. Second, Dr Qadri’s supporters do not stand alone in exerting the choppy waves of pressure on a professional journalist. This new trend to suspect a journalist’s or anchorperson’s intentions has now been adopted unanimously by the judiciary, military and almost all political parties.

The media had its fair share of honeymooning with the public opinion during Musharraf’s era. Nevertheless, the situation started changing after the memorable speech of President Asif Zardari, in which he labelled anchors as non-state actors and questioned their loyalty to their profession. The days that followed saw open venom being spilt against senior journalists and, in particular, one media group.

While the clamouring against talk show hosts and news channels was initiated by the federal government, the rest were quick to follow. For instance, the debate about media resolution in the Punjab Assembly can be recalled. Although it ended up being a storm in the teacup, it raised many questions about the “acceptability” of present-day independent media as compared to the past. In particular, it put the patience level of PML-N to test. Recently, the blacking out of a programme, “Off the Record”, by PML-N has once again put them on a litmus test.

The party of change, PTI, is no different in this regard. Often PTI Chief Imran Khan has on many occasions lectured anchors on how to follow Tim Sebastian’s standard. His argument is quite interesting: “Because people like me, I should be allowed to talk.” Mr Khan is right! There are thousands who like him, but does this give amnesty to a leader? The fact that thousands love someone, make him all the more answerable. Obviously, anchorpersons would lose the ground of professionalism if they first judge their guests on the basis of public opinion and then ask questions. Isn’t this slant then?

But I will give credit to Khan, perhaps, for doing the largest number of talk shows than any other party leader. He is always receptive to most of the questions, even about his private life as opposed to many others who would go red or shy away on slightest inquisition. But while we may give some leeway to Khan, his party youth aka trolls on social media are not to be exempted. The moment you ask a slightly critical question, they start bombarding your inbox with all sorts of indecent accusations.

The basic rule of debate in a civilised society remains that abuse always sucks sanity out of the argument. If some of PTI’s youth would only “understand” what huge damage their abusive, insolent and accusatory messages to the anchors and journalists do to their otherwise relatively cleaner party, they would think twice before flicking casually on the “send” buttons of their iPhones and iPads.

I have practically seen Pakistani news media grown in the modern era. The last five years have been a transition time. Yet, the next elections are the actual test for this self-acclaimed pillar of society. General elections are to the journalists what Olympics is to an athlete. And like a good athlete, a good journalist would aim for the top position without a slant.

The writer is the host of Eight PM with Fe’reeha Idrees on Waqt New

Email: fereeha@gmail.com