The month of May has turned out to be truly atrocious in terms of highly traumatic incidents occurring within its span, whose enormity and impact has sent the country reeling in their wake. The fateful month saw the nation buffet not only by the landing of US boots on grounds in Abbottabad, but also had to absorb the painful shock of terrorists attack on PNS Mehran, which houses the aviation assets of Pakistan Navy. In case of the former, the US commandos had violated our sovereignty by evading the national vigil by dint of superior military technology; whereas in case of the latter, the internal threat posed by terrorism had breached the inviolable wall of security erected around a sensitive defence installation. Both incidents exposed our vulnerabilities and the brutal murder of Saleem Shahzad, an eminent journalist, at the hands of unknown assassins has further added to a pervasive sense of gloom. As we grapple to attain a modicum of balance and stabilise the situation, inimical forces take vicious swipes at Pakistans image, seeking to delve deep into the national morale and degrade the will to resist and fight back. A maelstrom of propaganda in the foreign media, particularly in the US and India, sullying Pakistans image and heaping accusations at its armed forces and the intelligence agency, ISI, has turned into a prime time issue, which is only gathering strength with the passage of time. A not too subtle campaign is going full steam ahead in the foreign media to cut these institutions to size, which now, more than any other time of our turbulent history, constitute the national centre of gravity. Various doomsday scenarios involving the issues of security of Pakistans nuclear capability, the monolithic loyalty and commitment of its armed forces to fight and defeat the forces of obscurantism, and the amity of civil-military relations are some of the issues that are being assailed by our detractors. In such a situation, our national media has its job cut out for it. It has to take up the cudgels on behalf of Pakistan, not only by bringing out the truth and demanding accountability on the internal scene, but also by defeating the foreign design by projecting its version of the realities at the international podium. If the foreign media wants to dent Pakistans image and resolve, our own media must rise to defend what can be termed as its vital interests and shore up public morale. Globally this is an era dominated by the reach of information, and fortuitously for Pakistan, its media has come of age to acquire a freedom and power that was unheard of till the recent past. This phenomenon is most significant and a positive development that holds promise for the countrys bright future. But every silver lining has, for sure, a dark cloud to define its lustre. Suddenly there is a mushrooming of media outlets, particularly so in electronic media, where the competition for attracting viewership, ratings and revenues is intense; not that print media is free of this curse. Universally, the media thrives on the news value of incidents that involve crisis situations and bad news; a proclivity that has come to occupy a centrestage in the media scene of Pakistan as well. The temptation for being the first to release breaking news and bringing ever fresh dimensions to stories, which have been done to death, can prove counterproductive, to the extent of losing objectivity and getting trapped in the bog of crass sensationalism. No freedom is absolute and likewise media freedom; the world over it has its self-defined and self-imposed ethics and mores that regulate its conduct. In this context, it would be instructive to see the US medias response to the dictates of ground situation in Iraq and Afghanistan; aligning itself to the compulsions of the national security and the public morale. For example, it is specifically aware of the sensitivities and sensibilities of the field commanders who object to the publication of any portrayals of US casualties. In January 2007, US Lt Gen Raymond Odierno took issue with the New York Times over the publication of a photograph of a mortally wounded soldier. The paper responded with apologies to the soldiers family and withdrew the offending photograph from its website. There is a US regulation that prohibits the publication of photographs of coffins of the dead American soldiers coming back home. The US media abides by it; choosing instead to focus on the Afghan and Iraqi deaths caused by the military action and only selectively touching upon the civilian casualties that have ravaged these countries. In the infamous Raymond Davis affair, major US media organs kept parroting the official stance that the killer of two Pakistanis was a diplomat knowing fully well that he was a CIA contractor without diplomatic status. The manner of his outrageous and trigger-happy demeanour drew meagre, if any mention at all. Pakistan is currently going through a period of lengthening turmoil, which demands a concerted effort by all national institutions, particularly the media, to steer the country out of a difficult and demanding situation. In these trying times, the media has a major role to play, which is to hold the nation together and to sustain the public morale and faith in the countrys ability to face up to the daunting challenges. It must address the challenge by countervailing its newly found powers with the restraint of self-imposed responsibility and caution to promote Pakistans interest. It is also time when the media comes together to chart out a code of ethics and shapes the contours of a press council, which should not only represent the medias concern, but also act as a one point contact to help address the issues of national interest. As Peter Parker lays out in the Spiderman, with great power, comes great responsibility. n The writer is a freelance columnist.