The attack on Hamid Mir has stirred up a storm in the Pakistani media. In the initial salvos, Pakistan’s leading news channel Geo over stepped, coming out openly against Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. This gun slinging in turn provoked a backlash, with many questioning, in particular Jang group’s agenda, and at large the role of media in our society.

Though there is overwhelming support for the seriously injured journalist, many emphasize the need to constrain the media. While defending state institutions, skeptics declare that any kind of accusations or scrutiny could undermine the morale of state institutions, especially during challenging times.

There is much happening on television today that supports sensationalism and delivers nothing of any real importance. Instead of airing impartial and sound information, many media outlets are packaging and selling the news as a product aimed at mass consumption. Whenever and wherever media gets the space to do so (or wherever it can construct that space), sensationalism is heavily indulged in, because that is what sells.

Despite these drawbacks, it is beyond a doubt that if our national security demands strong law enforcement and intelligence agencies, then in the name of democracy and pluralism in Pakistan, we must have a free and independent media.

The media is essential for democracy in many ways. First, it brings forth and exposes the wrongs in society; a kind of mirror that is essential for self awareness. Second, it highlights the workings of a government, allowing people to scrutinize the democratic machinery, in a kind of feedback loop that is essential for keeping the political system aligned with popular hopes and aspirations. Then, it also allows for the coordination between coalitions, which could impede any attempt by one group to take control of the entire game, as in the case of coups.

And the Pakistani media has played this out on all fronts. It has exposed many human rights abuses, be it domestic violence, excesses committed by a powerful elite, transgressions by militants or abuse by state institutions- the prompt action of the media brought relief to many.

The problem of militancy, Balochistan and the issue of missing persons are a few such examples, where the media went at loggerheads with the establishment and its definition of national interests. Apparently, it is one of the reasons there is friction between the establishment and Hamid Mir, whose narrative made the establishment quite uncomfortable.

Similarly, the media has exposed many corruption scandals to its credit. These have involved the embezzlement of billions. Scandals such as the Hajj scam, NICL scam, the ephedrine corruption case and the rental power producers scam are just a few cases that the media has brought to light.

In addition, the media also laid bare the corruption and inefficiency of the state owned enterprises such as Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan Railways, PIA and WAPDA, which have fallen to the avarice and neglect of government officials.

The way our media has defended democracy is noteworthy. It played a pivotal role during the restoration movement of the former CJP. The institution stood by the judiciary, mobilizing the masses in support of the judicial movement, strengthening the integrity of civil, political and legal institutions in Pakistan.

Though many blame the media for being overactive, one reason behind its activism is the failure of our political system. Our state has failed to deliver even the most basic of services and it is this failure, when exposed, that evokes anti-media backlash; a reaction that takes violent forms, making Pakistan one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

Had this been a truly democratic polity, accusations against a senior state functionary would have been enough for the government to ask him to step aside until the matter was fully investigated. But this is a civic virtue we lack.

The developed world boasts many such examples, where powerful military and intelligence officials stepped aside in the face of allegations; former US General David Petraeus being the latest. A decorated war veteran and an architect of the US policy of surge in Iraq, Petraeus resigned from the CIA after allegations of improper conduct surfaced. On the contrary, in our land of the pure, state functionaries can get away with anything in the name of national interest and security.

Our state institutions have enjoyed a great deal of power and have resisted both oversight and accountability, which are the basic components of democracy. No necessity can be too great as to override human rights and liberties. And no organization however pivotal, can be allowed to threaten or intimidate any member of civil society.

There is no doubt that our media needs maturity, and with time, it will come of age indeed. Nonetheless, it is playing an essential role in strengthening democracy. Let it not be forgotten, that no pluralistic society achieved real democracy without a free and an independent media.

 The writer is a freelance columnist and has worked as a broadcast journalist.

Email:adnanfalak@gmail.com

Tweets at:@adnanfsher