Last week, the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) organised an event to celebrate Pakistan Day with emphasis on media’s role in the society. One of their main conclusions: Pakistan’s media is responsible for spreading doom and gloom in the society. The FPCCI is not alone in its critique. It is joined by many who sit in corporate offices, civil society organisations, cabinet division, government secretariats, and establishment circles alike.

They are the kind of people who would probably echo Steven Pinker’s latest book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” In that book, the Harvard psychologist, who might soon be oft cited by Pakistan’s gang of cheerleaders, brings home the point that today the world is a far better place than yesterday. He illustrates this point by citing improvements in a wide variety of indicators; rates of war, disease, longevity of life, poverty, illiteracy, dictatorship to name a few.

Progress, development or growth. They all depend significantly on cheerleaders, aside from the right dosage of right policies and action of course. Optimism and hope have benefits too. In the self-help sections of bookstores from Mehran to Manhattan, examples abound of how motivation, optimism and positivity breed success and drive progress, both individually and collectively. Not all those examples can be written off as sham psychology for there is truth to the power of positivity, which is why critics of Pakistan’s media bemoan that the media does not show the positive side.

Who can deny that media across the world suffers from ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ bias. Prophets of doom and gravitas market rule the screen as well as the papers. That is where the profits are. But media businesses cannot be expected to chase some higher moral ideals at the cost of profits, when all other businesses are praying at the temple of profit maximization.

Besides, when did the so-called civilised educated urban critics of Pakistan’s media last discuss the sight of a policeman who did not take bribe from them, or a traffic cop who helped an old woman cross the road as a good Samaritan. If the good news-‘walas’ really want, they should set up a Good News media organisation of their own. Surely there are enough deep pockets among the ‘civilised’ urban elite from Mehran to Khyber.

Or perhaps they should wait for the impact assessment report of Accountability Lab’s reality TV show called ‘Integrity Idol’. Aimed at discouraging corruption, the programme showcases the profile and work of honest civil servants, from Nepal to Nigeria, nominated as per pre-defined criteria; it then asks viewers to vote for the most honest contestant. It is difficult to assess whether such ‘positive’ TV shows are really making an impact on the society, but reportedly the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently measuring that impact or lack thereof.

Until then, consider this. Progress is not just about fancy gadgets, booming cafes, rising incomes, shiny roads, more hospitals, or schools. The discourse on progress needs to include much wider aspects: the quality of progress, its distribution, equality of opportunity, its sustainability and so forth. If the discourse on these affairs is snubbed or ignored, then sooner or later, progress will limp. And if there is no discourse at all, then progress will have a flat line for want of the necessary dosage of criticism, hard questions, and red flags. Critics of Pakistan’s gang of critics, naysayers and doom seers are still living in primordial times. They receive criticism as an attack on their survival. Instead, they need to upgrade their minds to 21st century. Growth, development and progress spring forth from the well of dissatisfaction, criticism, and cynicism. Take a look at history, and wonder whether a new car, a new policy, law, lifesaving technology, medicine, etcetera has ever been invented or implemented without the then critics who painted negativity, doom and gloom on their respective canvases.

Those who flag problems and risks of gloom are as important as cheerleaders; they are in fact partners in the way of progress, if not the cause. The difficulty is that no one really knows the ‘appropriate’ amount of negativity. Finding that ‘appropriate’ amount is as difficult as finding the Golden Mean that has eluded humankind since time immemorial.

Do not blame the media for what it mirrors!

This article was first published in Business Recorder on 26 March 2018