One: Mass media, in general, have become an inseparable part of modern society. From entertainment to politics, from television to the internet, its purpose has evolved to be more than just the dissemination of information amongst the masses. It is part of the social framework of modern society, dictating and establishing norms, as well as presenting the general character of our society and its politics.
Two: The role of media within society is vast, particularly the impact on how we interact with one another as individuals and as nations. Media has continued to have an increasingly significant role in our daily lives, especially in our perceptions of others. Although mass media is a powerful means of disseminating information, but it is also true that media continues to have a definitive effect on political thinking and perception, not only on the internal politics of a nation but also on its foreign policy and strategic thinking.
Three: As the fourth pillar of democracy, media has an active role to play in narrative building, shaping the critical thinking of young minds and peace-building processes, as well as creating divisions and controversies that are harmful to the nation and its institutions at all levels. As such, while media should not only present facts but also interpret facts to formulate public opinion and propagate new ideas and opinions, it should refrain from being a handmaiden to the myopic and negative agendas of some political and destructive forces.
Four: Free flow of information is an important prerequisite of democracy and of smooth functioning of the state and society on one hand and on the other, in stable maintenance of peace and development of relations among states, particularly neighboring states. With the power and reach to mold public opinion, media, and now particularly social media, can support developments and initiatives that mitigate conflict and promote peace or encourage the negative forces that lead to confrontation, conflict, and war.
Five: In contemporary times, the intricate ways in which new media, specifically social media, has provided the audience with a sense of ownership over the news and its content further enhances their ability to exert a tangible and enduring impact on economic, political, and strategic issues. It allows the audience to engage and even change the narrative, essentially forever altering the relationship between audiences and media in general.
Six: The exponential rise in the use of social media is being exploited to the hilt by some political Parties to target critics, mobilize public opinion, and use tags like “anti-national” to discredit anyone showing a hint of circumspection with their narrative. The audience watching news channels, reading national newspapers, following social media, and renowned bloggers make the assumption that the information being presented is an objective fact with no social, political, or cultural biases, which we know not to be the case. Media has long been known to produce and reproduce socio-politically detrimental and derogatory images of opponents, making it paramount for the targeted arties to negate this untrue representation of them as having violent motivations.
Seven: The media (especially news media) has the ability to take a group of people and place them in the role of the ‘other’, the other against which their own ideal is established, and a common enemy to unite against. Media-more particularly, visual entertainment and news media- have become some of our main points of reference for establishing and disseminating social norms, moral codes, and political beliefs and orientations, regardless of whether or not those are just or reflect the truth. The power of modern media has helped political parties to establish their specific brand of Politics with sensational and concocted information. We have seen this play out very negatively in Pakistan, where on political party understood the value and power of modern media to reach out to the general public with their negative ideology and create a cult personality and helped the resurgence of negative cult politics in Pakistan.
Eight: It was generally believed that with the end of the Cold War and the dawn of an era of remarkable technological advancement, easy access to information, growth of value chains, and increased interdependence of economies, the age of “Personality Cult Leaders” was finally waning and paving the way for democracies to flourish and develop.
Nine: However, during the first two decades of this century, partisans’ mild dislike for their opponents has been transformed into a deeper form of animus. The Spread of democratic ideas themselves and the subsequent development of mass media enabled political leaders, including the usually marginalized fundamentalist and extremist leaders, to project a positive image of themselves onto the masses as never before. It is this enabling environment in the 21st century that has facilitated the resurgence of personality cult leaders who, in the garb of nationalism, have perpetrated heinous crimes against their opponents, as we see being done by some supposedly political entities in Pakistan and the BJP leader Narendra Modi in India.
Ten: The Indian government has also fully grasped the impact of media on the thinking of the masses and opinion-making. The fundamentalist government of Modi in India, with the support and backing of its intelligence agencies, has ensured an iron hold on all the major media houses and has set up a huge network of social media community that they control both inside India and abroad to propagate its narrow hate infused ideology, particularly its anti-Pakistan rhetoric. It is also a fact that whenever the Modi government fails to control and resolve its fast-deteriorating economic and political problems, it turns to its favourite tactic of diverting the attention of dissatisfied and impoverished hundreds of millions by turning to the “Pakistan threat”. The Indian media is hand in glove with the Modi government to ensure they create the hype necessary to deflect the attention of the populace from the domestic endemic problems to a threat to national security by Pakistan
Eleven: It is not an uncommon sight in Indian and Western media to portray Pakistan with derogatory and inimical representations. Media often portrays Pakistan in narrow and stereotypical manners, portraying it negatively as the troublesome “other,” overemphasizing representations as violent extremists, fundamentalists, or terrorists – ultimately depicting it as an adversary to peace and stability in the region. Indian media, television news channels, in particular, bay for war with Pakistan, even if it escalates into a nuclear apocalypse. They spew up fictitious stories to whip up a jingoistic frenzy to keep the flame of hate burning.
Twelve: Popular Western and Indian narratives continue to enforce stereotypes, and in turn, it contributes to the nurturing of both subtle and explicit forms of racism, fear, and hatred against Pakistan amongst the masses. All aspects of the Western and Indian media hold a certain responsibility for the misrepresentation and widespread prejudice towards those nations and people who do not fit their political ambition. This happens because the repetition of a stereotype in media content naturalizes it and can shape how individuals discuss various countries and people, as seen in the case of Pakistan.
Thirteen: The Pakistani media is also increasingly portraying the conflict perspective both in internal politics and foreign policy issues. The conflict perspective focuses on how the media portrays, reflects, and maybe even exacerbates divisions within society and nations. The goal of Indian media, it seems, is no longer the dissemination of information but rather social coercion and control; and conflict within society. It ensures that mass media, especially main steam national media, reflects the predominant ideology and perspective of the political entity they support. The media chooses and highlights the beliefs that receive precedence, making the situation bad for those that are undermined.
Fourteen: Contingent on who guides public opinion, media can lead to a tradition of sensationalism. Today we see the crystallization and mainstreaming of sensationalism. Media is increasingly appealing to a particular style and rhetoric for the sole purpose of provoking public sentiment and promoting the branding of certain political parties. Some of the blatant lies the media is churning out have left them red-faced during live coverage, providing much-needed comic relief to their audience. The media passionately and with little regard for facts—parrot a particular narrative and amplify them at the slightest provocation.
Fifteen: By funneling one piece of negative information after another, people do not retain much and fall into a cycle of instant gratification. Rootless, when new information comes in, the old is a thing of the past. At the rate at which certain media spews out untrue information, the viewers have no time to criticize it, analyze it, or reflect on it, making them subject to suggestions and potentially devastating conclusions like the ones we recently witnessed in Pakistan. The media can move from being an advocate of democracy and peacemaker to being its greatest threat, a tyranny of extremist regimes fuelled by negative public opinion and stark binaries.
Sixteen: Nationalist hysteria isn’t solely a cynical tactic driven by business interests; it encompasses a broader strategy in which not only television channels but also social media, troll battalions, and fake news factories actively participate. There are many downsides to waging media warfare. Jingoistic eruptions distract from the crux of the issue. More importantly, media histrionics are creating the appetite for conflict and civil war. Media outlets should exercise caution in generating hype that pushes reality to conform to fiction, and they should avoid pressuring politicians into making impulsive and uninformed decisions. Unlike television, you can’t turn a conflict off.
Seventeen: Media and communications can play a positive or negative role in conflict situations and peace processes. Managing this is a key question for policymakers. The digital age has made this task even more critical and urgent. Faster dissemination of news and views by multiple means at faster speeds ultimately has a profound impact on developments. “We inhibit the peaceful and negotiated resolution of conflicts not only by the extent to which we demonize one another. We do so also by the degree to which we separate, on the one hand, the processes of politics and international affairs and, on the other hand, the moral relations between ourselves as human beings… talking to one another and discussion must be the prelude to the resolution of conflicts.” Nelson Mandela, Capetown, 1999. This quote by Nelson Mandela epitomizes the very essence of a successful peace process and avoiding conflict and war.
Eighteen: There are important lessons in this for the Pakistani media as well. The press has been and continues to be the most popular means of communication. Media can work both ways, that is, to ignite violence, conflict and to settle peace and normalcy.