BEFORE Daesh got digital and Ebola went viral, Ukraine dominated international airwaves. Back then, switching between CNN and Russia Today was the closest one could get to experiencing alternate realities; one channelís freedom fighter was quite literally the otherís terrorist. The real difference was in finesse, and here RT lost the battle. CNN had the young Ukrainian football player who put his dreams on hold to fight for his country, while RT was all hard edges.

In talk shows, RT would have host and participants acting like cheerleaders for their side while CNN did it right, knowing that the way to discredit an opinion is to make sure that its proponent is outnumbered by those supporting the approved narrative.

In the same category as RT is Iranís Press TV. Both are state-funded English language news channels that exist to promote their respective countryís foreign policy and defend whatever is currently defined as Ďnational interestí. Both are also painfully obvious in that pursuit, when compared to their slicker Western counterparts.

How varied relations between a state and its media are, and how much they relate to national ethos, can be are illustrated by this Japanese example.

The media situation here is more chaotic than in other places.
Recently, a TV anchor quit the state-owned network over what he called Ďannouncement journalismí of the Fukushima meltdown. He claimed that the attitude was to not question official information, and that he could not tell the Ďtrue storyí on his network. Apparently even private TV channels held back information, not out of overt pressure, but because they genuinely believed local and international panic would hurt Japanís national interest. Thatís uniquely and adorably Japanese and only possible in a country as homogenous, disciplined and as reluctant to question authority.

Also recently, the chief editors of major Egyptian newspapers declared support for the state in ďcombating terrorists and protecting national securityĒ. This entails rejecting news that casts doubt on the performance of the Egyptian police, judiciary and military and banning guests who ďpromote concepts that demoralise the militaryĒ.

The tone of the declaration is bombastic, its sweep is vast and unclear and its effects will be smothering. In effect, just like Pharaoh Sisiís Egypt. While some here may salivate at this media model, bear in mind that Egyptís rulers define peaceful protesters as terrorists and arenít afraid of massacring them either.

Itís less obvious in the US. Here, six corporations control approximately 90pc of American media, as compared to 50 companies in 1983. This has two curious effects: one, that corporate malfeasance is rarely given airtime, and that state narrative is rarely, if ever, questioned.

Oh sure, Fox will go after Obama and so on, but the sweeping contours of foreign policy ó the war without end and the abuses it entails ó are never meaningfully questioned. Try to look up favourable or even balanced coverage of Snowden and Bradley Manning and youíll see what I mean.

Here itís not so much imposed censorship as it is a complex love affair between the American state (deep and shallow alike) and its corporations. Itís all about embedding and co-opting and withholding information. From peddling lies about WMDs in Iraq to soft-focus Afghan war coverage and the NYTís obediently hiding Raymond Davisí CIA ties, itís quite the torrid, if covert, romance.

Thereís a Bollywood version of that love story brewing as well. Indian media, despite its vast size, is increasingly owned by a handful of corporates and businessmen, who happen to be very fond of new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Add a little old-fashioned fear to that mix and youíve got an already very shrill, very jingoistic media marching lockstep with their new strongman towards the promised Ďacchay diní.

Itís also telling that, for the first time, state-owned Doordarshan conducted a live telecast of RSS head Mohan Bhagwatís annual address. Of course, the honeymoon period is still ongoing, but the smart money is on mainstream Indian media giving a further gloss to Modi, who is blessed with a massive mandate, friendly business leaders and an image of nationalist strength.

By contrast, the situation in Pakistan is more chaotic. Here we saw a TV channel practically accuse the ISI chief of attempted murder and in turn get accused of treason and blasphemy by its rivals. One of those rivals then fell afoul of one or more pillars of the state and got hauled up for contempt.

Meanwhile, some other channels act like the media wings of whatever party they support or have been directed to support. Pressure to spin, censor and withhold comes less from shadowy state agents than from corporate interests, criminal mafias, political parties, political parties-cum-mafias, and an alphabet soup of militant outfits.

Accusations are routinely hurled and one manís crusading journalist is anotherís Ďlifafa khorí while fact takes a back seat to perception. And yet, in the midst of all those rising tides still remain islands of excellence, journalistic works of quality and sensitivity that speak truth to power. Now if that doesnít spell ĎPakistaní I donít know what does.

The writer is a member of staff.