The recent media wars in Pakistan have once again exposed the myth of ‘freedom of media’ in the country.
It all began with the attempt on the life of the country’s most famous anchorperson, Hamid Mir. The allegations made by Mir’s family against the ISI chief and the decision by Geo to repeatedly air them for the next few hours led to an unprecedented backlash against the country’s largest media group. One can have a debate on the merits and demerits of Geo’s coverage but since the Jang Group has already apologised for its “excessive, distressful and emotional” coverage, it would be an exercise in futility. The real, and more pertinent, debate should be about the way other media houses have dealt with the issue because the aftermath of Mir’s attack has left the Pakistani media in tatters.
At risk: Leading Pakistani TV journalist Hamid Mir, who survived an April attack by gunmen in Karachi, leaves the Supreme Court on a wheelchair after his appearance before the judicial commission in Islamabad on May 19. Pic/AFP
According to Amnesty International, “Up to 80 percent of Jang Media Group’s distribution in print and on the airwaves has been disrupted by media industry bodies, apparently under the orders of the Pakistani military.”
It is unfortunate that many people have commended this move instead of condemning it. What is more distressing, nay disgusting, is how other media houses have joined the ‘Ban Geo’ bandwagon instead of realising the potential damage such a move could have on the media itself. In their bid to please the military establishment, several media houses, journalists and analysts have outdone themselves.
The way some news channels and newspapers have ripped Jang/Geo apart is a classic example of hara-kiri. The Jang Media Group is no saint when it comes to following media ethics but no amount of corporate greed can justify the disgraceful behavior by its rival media groups during the recent crisis.
Amnesty International further added that several journalists from the Jang Group have “received daily threats and harassment by unknown individuals by phone and in person. Many dare not enter their offices or identify themselves as belonging to Geo TV or other Jang Media Group outlets for fear of being attacked.” Jang’s resident editor in Multan was brutally attacked last week.
At a time like this, the journalist community should have shown some spine and stood up in solidarity with their comrades. Instead, some of them have justified the attacks on their fellow journalists while others remained silent at the plight of those working for the Jang Group. Even more shocking is how some well-respected senior journalists have turned this incident into an issue of Jang/Geo’s monopoly in the Pakistani media. Do they not realise that if the largest media house loses this ‘war’, the media will be the biggest loser in all this because no one would dare cross any ‘red lines’ again. A practical civil war has started within the media — something even those who started this campaign against Jang/Geo could not have envisaged themselves.
Some say it was bound to happen; the media thought it was too powerful and could not be taken to task for anything.
Well, the military establishment and its cronies have shown us how the media can be cut to size. Delusions of grandeur and race for ratings have finally set the Pakistani media on the path to self-implosion. Let’s hope better sense prevails before it is too late.
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org