Booming media gives a slip to Musharraf

May 26th, 2008 - 11:39 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Manish Chand
Islamabad, May 26 (IANS) Shorn of his military uniform and his power diminished by the Feb 18 general election, President Pervez Musharraf has literally vanished from the two dozen TV news channels that used to hang on to his every word and gesture for the nearly eight years that he ruled Pakistan. Switch on any of the proliferating news channels in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, and it is the new civilian rulers of Pakistan who are basking in the media spotlight and not the once all-powerful media-savvy general.

President Musharraf gets briefly flashed on TV screens when there is a story speculating about a deal being struck to get rid of the man who sent into exile Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif - two of the towering leaders of the present dispensation.

He is also not seen much at public functions and appears to be slipping away from the media glare.

There is no deliberate blackout of Musharraf from news channels. But those who call the shots in these networks are perhaps getting back at Musharraf, who brought in a special ordinance to crack down on defiant journalists after the imposition of emergency in November last year.

“Nobody in the media is missing General Musharraf much. We are much freer now than we were in the previous regime,” said a reporter, who prefers anonymity, from Waqt TV, reflecting the changing atmosphere after a new civilian government was formed three months ago.

A big question mark hangs on the future of Musharraf as president and nobody seems to be sure how long he will last.

“Politicians are at the centre of the media stage. And that’s the way it should be. The focus should be on them, rather than on Musharraf,” Shireen Mazari, a strategic expert who headed the Institute of Strategic Studies till some time ago, told IANS.

Ayaz Amir, a well-known columnist and a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) member of the National Assembly, said the military establishment continued to be influential in Pakistan, but Musharraf is “not that much relevant now”.

Amir recalled how Musharraf used the media as a springboard to float unconventional ideas on the resolution of the Kashmir issue with India. “Musharraf would toss his ideas on Kashmir to the media. He was good at these gestures and photo-ops and he knew how to play the media,” said Amir.

Ironically, the present media explosion in Pakistan is a result of Musharraf’s decision to lift the ban on media ownership in 2000, spawning a host of new channels competing with each other in the high-stakes popularity ratings game.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which leads the ruling coalition, is reportedly trying to push a deal under which Musharraf can offer to resign and go out quietly in return for indemnity for his unconstitutional action on Nov 3 of proclaiming emergency.

Others say Musharraf is cannily watching every move of the new civilian government and is in no mood to call it a day.

Musharraf has roped in key figures in the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) that led the previous government like Muhammad Ali Durrani, former information minister, to rally support in the Senate and the National Assembly to counter any move to dislodge him from the presidency.

In recent media reports, Musharraf has been quoted as saying that he will not resign and will serve the full five-year term which he won after what was said to be a stage-managed election in November last year whose legality may be questioned by the higher judiciary.

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