Ugly, bloody, complex and intriguing issues are racing in Pakistan, each grabbing attention of the media in Pakistan. But the most urgent issue that for personal reasons is bothering me is the threat to journalists by the terrorist groups. These are not empty threats, Pakistan last year was declared as one of the most dangerous countries for the journalists.
This year there has already been an attack on the soft-spoken Raza Rumi in which his young driver Muhammad Mustafa was killed. I would count even the killing of his driver as the killing of one of us as he (took the bullet for) died instead of Raza. That’s every enlightened ones’ nightmare also. But terrorist don’t care what the collateral damage is.
Next they gave death threats to bold and ardent peace activist Imtiaz Alam last week. This is not the first time, as a warning his house was fired upon a couple of years ago. Terrorists planted a bomb outside the house of the Express TV Peshawar Bureau Chief Jamshed Bhagwan. They also attacked Shahab Khattak of Awami Workers Party in Peshawar; luckily he was saved by his wit.
The common thread in the attacks on the journalists this year and two deadly attacks last year is that they were all either Express Group employees, or journalists working as part-time anchors for its channel. Now these cannot be just series co-incidences. Baffled by the attacks and out of concern for its staff the Editor of Express Tribune issued a circular to its employees not to be harsh in their criticism on Taliban and their political associates like JI and PTI. I am not sure that such an advice was also given to the group’s TV anchors. One of the Express TV anchors had assured TTP spokesman that they would be careful in future while reporting or discussing them. But all these efforts to appease the fascist forces have not worked. Many journalists including this writer in private sittings had criticised the circular issued by the Express Tribune Editor. But to be fair with the Express group who are under deadly heat, one has to concede that their action shows helplessness.
Though it is said that the media is all powerful it is too weak to defend itself against physical violent attacks. Another major group insider told me that they have used some journalists who have good ties with the Jihadi groups to buy a truce with these groups. Otherwise, they had open threats that their offices would be blown up. Again it shows helplessness as state continues to appease the militants.
One Peshawar TV journalist told me that the TTP media people are communications savvy. “They even dictate us that their news should be given as ‘Breaking News’ using ‘Red’ bumper as they know its of alarming optic value,” she pointed out.
“If the focus was on news before, now it’s on views,” Mushtaq Minhas, co-anchor of Bolta Pakistan on Aaj News, said. “(The Taliban) want to dilute the growing state and society narrative against them and want to impose their own narrative.” Minhas claimed that the growing sophistication of the Taliban’s media operations – both in terms of putting out their own message and closely monitoring the electronic and print media in Urdu, English and regional languages – has meant that the Taliban are alert to growing public and media criticism of the TTP and the possibility of an impending military response by the state against the TTP.
The terrorists have categorized the journalists who are ideologically against them. “Murjif is someone who engages in propaganda against Muslims during a war between Islam and disbelief,” explains Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, deputy chief of the banned TTP and one of the main authors of the fatwa against the journalists. “Muqatil is someone who incites disbelievers and their allies to act against Muslims, while the third category includes those who corrupt Muslim society through different means such as replacing the Islamic ideology with secular ideologies,” he pronounced.
Why are these militant groups so concerned about what the media says? It is obvious that they want their each terrorist activity to be amplified through the media so that they can terrorise the people of Pakistan. This is not a peculiar tactics of Islamist militant and is also not specific to Pakistan alone. Such extremist fascist groups resorted to terrorist activities because they cannot win over the people’s support by using rationale arguments. Recently in congratulation message to new JI Amir Maulana Siraj-ul-Haq a leading TTP leader said that the only way to impose Sharia is through armed Jihad and not democracy.
This shows their ideological weakness. Other weakness of the Jihadis desperadoes is that they are off tune with the 21st century values and fighting a losing war against the march of progress. Their fascist ideology cannot silence the journalists who are enlightened and want the people to progress not regress. History has shown that no ideology could sustain itself on coercion.
Thus, the issue before the journalists is whether to abet with the terrorist by amplifying their messages which terrorise the masses or censor them prudently. At present there is no consensus on this open issue. Some of the footage and coverage glorify the terrorists. We have seen media airing and publishing statements of terrorists’ mentors and spokespersons threats given to democratic forces. Even announcement of head money for killing an alleged blasphemer is given publicity, which amounts to abetting in murder.
A question can be raised here that media job is to inform the people and present all points of views. Agreed, but in the name of so-called balanced journalism isn’t the media giving too much time and space to those who do not believe in the democratic value of freedom of expression? Isn’t it true that media boycotts assembly sessions and press conferences for much smaller grievances than that their colleagues been killed? Media today is harsher on the sitting governments, elected politicians, agencies and military, but many are trying to appease those who hold a gun to its head. Tragic, but true!
The journalist associations should take the lead as journalists are the one who have always struggled for freedom of expression, not the media owners who have succumbed to much less pressures. But will the fractured media organisations rise and resolve to censor the terrorist organisations, off course without compromising on journalist code of ethics? Let’s hope they do– journalists’ only weapon against the blazing guns and bombs is their pen and the power to decide what messages should go out.
The writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He is author of “What’s Wrong With Pakistan?