By Haider Abbasi
Begum Kulsoom Nawaz tragically passed away on September 11 after a year-long battle with cancer. She served as the First Lady of Pakistan thrice and mostly kept out of the limelight. However, when Nawaz Sharif’s government was overthrown by the military dictator Pervez Musharraf in 1999, Begum Kulsoom heroically came to forefront, displaying tremendous bravery and fortitude. When many others backed out out of fear, Kulsoom Nawaz became a symbol of hope for the Muslim League and challenged Musharraf openly, fearlessly leading her husband’s party. As one writer put it, because of her popularity Musharraf made sure Kulsoom would leave Pakistan too in the exile agreement reached with Nawaz Sharif.
The media’s coverage of Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness in the last year has been disgraceful. We have been mired in speculation about her health with various news channels claiming that her illness had been faked to gain sympathy for her husband and daughter. This guesswork and theorizing over a person’s health was a daily affair, slowly seeping into the minds of the public, pushed by a cruel media that does not care for sentiments or privacy. What we witnessed was the perfect example of the lack of ethics and morality that is largely prevalent in the Pakistani media where ratings come first and sentiments don’t matter.
Slander and propaganda seem to be central to the functioning of any news outlet in Pakistan. And the proponents of such disinformation know very well that they are indoctrinating a large audience. What separates Pakistani media from the rest of the world is that the ability to lie with a straight face, and concoct stories at will are seen as highly sought after skills rather than character flaws. With the handling of Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness, our media, those who we entrust to bring us the truth, failed us terribly and sunk to unimaginable depths.
The toxic media environment was encouraged by politicians and opposition parties, through direct opinions and coordinated social media campaigns. The same hypocrites are now offering condolences and pretending to care. It seems that politics has taken away the humanity from even the best of them. Senator Aitzaz Ahsan was until recently a highly respected figure in Pakistan politics, but even he could not resist claiming that a cancer patient was faking her illness for political gain. Although Mr. Ahsan has apologized, this means little when the person his insults were aimed at has passed away.
One person who was not undeterred, however, was Hamza Ali Abbasi who seems to live in his own bizarre world. This gentleman claimed that the Sharif family was using the death to gain sympathy, a truly idiotic notion which drew much criticism. What the acclaimed actor fails to realize is that sympathy comes naturally for a family when their loved one dies. But then again, we live in a country where famous media personalities openly speculate about a woman with a life-threatening disease simply because she has a certain political affiliation.
If this was any other country these people would be condemned to oblivion. But we are in Pakistan, and they will continue to be esteemed media personalities who spew venom and spread hatred.