By Farkhanda Qaiser
“The Lahore High Court ordered young doctors on Saturday to end their strike and resume work in outpatient and inpatient departments of all government hospitals from Monday morning,’’ reads a headline in today’s local newspaper.
By now, thanks to our vibrant electronic media, most of you must have heard this news already. However special attention must be paid to the phrase ‘from Monday morning,’ which means the court has given the doctors a deadline till Monday to return to their duties. Until then they can’t be accused of contempt of court if they don’t start their work. But our Azad Media wants us to believe otherwise. Infact I was at first shocked and then angered at the way our channels very conveniently omitted the above mentioned phrase and kept on opining in breaking news how the doctors were not following court orders as they were still on strike in OPDs and indoors…!
This is just an illustration of how the facts can be twisted by media and how doing so can color the emotions of the general public. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start a debate on the conspiracy theory that most of our media has been sold off to the Punjab Government on the doctors’ issue. Being an optimistic Pakistani, I don’t want to believe in this theory because I’ve seen this same media standing up for its freedom countless times. I remember how it reported in detail the visits of the Chief Justice to various bar associations during the lawyer’s movement much to the displeasure of the then government; how the Musharraf regime pressurized the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan (CAP) to take GEO and Aaj TV off their network for criticizing the Pakistan Army; how the Zardari-gilani led elected government wanted gag orders for media in the NRO implementation case…but the media showed persistence throughout and stuck to the principals of free and independent reporting.
On the other hand, we have also seen examples of how the media over-sensationalized simple news items to increase their TRP (Target rating points). The on-going doctors’ strike is sadly such an issue. In the first few days of the peaceful OPD strike, visuals of patients crying due to their sufferings were shown again and again without even mentioning the fact that these patients were being duly treated in the emergencies and indoors…! As the strike progressed, anchorpersons kept on bemoaning that patients were ‘dying’ due to the doctors’ stubbornness. However as I mentioned in my previous blog, an anchorperson on GeoTv admitted the fact that no death had taken place during the first 12 days of the OPD strike until the crackdown on doctors by Punjab police after which doctors were forced to take shelters in their homes to avoid arrests. Moreover the brutal torture of doctors was also not widely reported so much so that when this was brought up in discussions on Social Media, many people refused to believe so. Now in the culmination of the issue when the Lahore High Court has intervened and issued direct orders, we again see how the media is misreporting the facts.
I don’t know why the media is doing this neither am I interested in finding out but all I can see is that due to this irresponsible behavior of the media, the common man is turning against the doctors. He is forced to believe that doctors are selfish souls who are making their patients suffer just for monetary gains. When infact the truth is not so simple and not so gruesome!
Before the situation worsens any further, the media must stop and re-analyze its strategy in unbiased reporting of the facts. Or else we may see mass shunning of doctors by civil society and social organizations as happened in India. During the Junior Doctors’ strike in Rajasthan last year, the milkmen discontinued the supply of milk to doctors while the trade associations closed their shops to show displeasure against the Residents. Thankfully the state of affairs in Pakistan has not reached that level yet but it could soon be heading towards the social alienation of doctors if the media does not watch itself.
Having said that, I also believe that the doctors must re-define their policy as well. They shouldn’t at any cost disobey the orders of LHC because doing so will further tarnish their image in the eyes of the general public which firmly believes in this independent judiciary. However this doesn’t mean that the doctors should give up their just demand of service structure. Instead they should find an alternative way to lodge their protest. For instance setting up free medical camps outside government hospitals; wearing black armbands to show their displeasure with the Punjab Government for reneging on its promises and also doing awareness seminars all over Pakistan to explain to the civil society how a proper service structure for doctors would eventually improve the healthcare system. What purpose would this serve? It would unite the doctors, civil society and media against the government. Because under the present circumstances, the doctors can’t hope to win their battle alone. And even if they do, it’ll be a very uphill task in which the respect of this noble profession may be lost. Are the doctors willing to pay that price?
P.S. I would clarify here that I’m not against doctors’ strikes in OPDs as long as they are serving a purpose and are for a long-term benefit to the healthcare system. But in the present scenario, a continued strike would further alienate doctors and that’s why I think it should be called off.