By Ali Javed
Since the end of the Cold war, national security is no longer seen in the confined connotations of military security, matters of sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has become a wider concept that involves economic, political, social, and environmental and cyber threats. Use of hard power has become a void, the use of soft means to shape perceptions and build opinions is, now, fueling the vary engine of national security, and media is playing a vital role in this regard.
Historical analysis suggests that media came to occupy such an influential role in the time of WWII. World War II experienced different forms of propaganda. The United States had its propaganda in every aspect of media; the use of posters, comic art, leaflets, themes, radio and television, all had propagated an image of power. The German propaganda to show its military might and portraying Hitler as an Iron man had a major impact on people perception. Britain had its own ways to move things in its direction. Objectives of the media portraits during the war are to unite public and military.
Media is regarded as the fourth pillar of the state. Its evident role in policy formation to policy implementation cannot be overshadowed. From shaping ideologies to perception management, media has an influential role. The three pillars of state; legislature, Judiciary and executive, which are comprised of elective and non-elective members, have roles in forming the policies and implementing them, but the most important factor in modern democracy is media. It is also a dominant player in national security decision making.
In the democratic countries, media uses the democratic principles to mark the choices regarding national security. The principles; right to life, liberty to citizens, freedom to form associations, equality, Justice, cooperation between private and public sectors, civil-military relations and economic development are the key elements that media utilizes to have its say in policy making.
Individual sovereignty is linked with the state sovereignty. The deprivation of rights and injustice in society may create insurgent elements. Socio-economic deprivation in one group can have consequences on a larger scale. Media highlights the issues and problems related to these principles and then state actions are taken place to form policies which are in the national interest. Globalization is another dimension to look at media’s role in national security decision making. With the rise of information dissemination and freedom of expression, challenges to national security are also on the rise. Globalization is a threat to national security as countries are experiencing media wars and, in this regard, their sovereignty and identities are at stake.
Internal security risks are growing rapidly with the advent of cultural and religious wars through media. Countries’ internal situations are perceived as the international media is portraying them. Pakistan is a one example, in the current environment where Pakistan is fighting a war on terror, international media is alleging it of providing safe havens to terrorist elements. In Pakistan, over the last decade, media has come up as a strong and influential force to set the perception of Pakistani public. Media is an important element in Pakistan’s statecraft. Recent examples of judicial activism in Pakistan have shown the power media possesses. From the day Islamic republic of Pakistan came into being to this day, media has helped to build opinions and shape public perception. First it was Pakistan Radio, then Pakistan Television came to structure the public opinion.
In comparison to previous decades, media has enjoyed freedom to a large extent. Although media has access to all the matters and areas of national security, yet it has failed to report state’s stances on those matters. To quote Lt. General (Retd) Asif Yasin Malik, the former Defence Secretary of Pakistan, “There is a gulf between the state and the media, because of which, the government’s spokespersons are not believed and the media gives its spin to the stories.” Media’s policies on reporting the national security concerns are very imbalanced and immature. It has been observed that government’s account on terrorism has not been presented well, and that has created hurdles in the way of state institutions. In the name of freedom of expression, terrorist elements have been given a wide coverage on print media. This portrait has given an edge to extremist elements. Those elements started having their influence on public, particularly, after the rise of TV journalism. Lal Masjid is a one big example.
As there is a negative side of media, it has a positive side as well. But in the matters of national security, media has to be a trustworthy body, hence it needs to adopt approaches that are mature and support government’s stances on policy making and implementation. In a democratic society, media freedom is a good thing, but on the sensitive issues like national security, media should restrict to its duty of reporting national security decision making rather than defining it. National security is a sensitive matter and Pakistan has a great concern for its national security, so media needs to play a positive role in this regard.
Media being an independent institution can accelerate and expand security awareness. It can perform psychological operations in the context of national security. It can create a bridge between government and people. Media can play a positive role in portraying country’s image at international level. In Pakistan, media needs to adopt a professional approach and its freedom shouldn’t be exploited. It has to be apolitical and needs to present an independent view to the public. It is media’s duty to provide information to public and educate them, on state and other matters, and for that it has to adopt a constructive approach.
By Ali Javed
The writer is a Research Associate at Pakistan House