Much of the electronic media’s coverage of the Geo-ISI controversy is premised on two basic assumptions: certain state institutions are sacred and any criticism directed towards them has to be part of a larger conspiracy aimed at attacking the ‘integrity’ of such institutions. Yet again, the participants of the ongoing debate have deemed it best to take extreme positions on an issue which requires serious introspection on the part of all involved parties. Between ‘Geo did nothing wrong’ and ‘the ISI is a blameless patriotic institution’ lies the real debate; how both the media and intelligence agencies are in need of reform.

Firstly, no state institution is sacred. Be it the armed forces, the Parliament or the media itself, everyone must be held accountable before law and welcome public scrutiny. The ISI is tasked with the most crucial and sensitive of duties as TV anchors and their guests reminded audiences repeatedly. However, that should not mean that its actions or policies cannot be questioned or severely criticized. It is when the line between respect and complete subordination is blurred that we see dissenters being labeled as traitors or enemies. Secondly, institutions concerned with security issues cannot be allowed to claim a monopoly over defining national interest for everyone else in the country. It is quite convenient to label any differing point of view as damaging to ‘national interest’, and suppress genuine criticism under its garb. It is due to this approach, which finds its roots in misguided patriotism and insecurity, that an error in editorial judgment suddenly becomes a treasonous act deserving of an immediate ban on the channel responsible, and intellectuals who oppose state policies are viewed with suspicion and mistreated with impunity. Encroached space must be surrendered, and everyone should have the liberty to add their two cents to the mix.

The media can also take this opportunity to mend its ways. Just as it wishes from others, it too should act with responsibility and remain mindful of journalistic ethics. Resisting sensationalism is perhaps one of the biggest challenges the relatively young Pakistani media faces today. And this is definitely not a Geo-specific problem; the situation is just as problematic across the board. Not all that is good for business is necessarily good for journalism. Petty rivalries between media houses or other personal issues cannot be allowed to affect the quality of the content, but of course, they do. The media cannot be expected to play the role of an effective watchdog if it has no moral high ground. Perhaps it would be sensible for everyone involved to take a step back, and learn from the situation rather than being overly eager to teach the other a lesson.