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Dirty media wars

In my last column for this paper, I had written about a near-fatal attack on my friend and fellow journalist, Raza Rumi. It was an emotional piece because my friend could have died in that attack. Having been through a near-death experience and seeing his driver dying in front of him, Raza Rumi is not sure if journalists can work with freedom under these circumstances. The state has virtually told journalists under threat that they are on their own and the state cannot protect them. “Pakistan’s media has always been under some kind of threat. After a long struggle it gained freedoms only to be muzzled by non-state actors and private militias and gangs, which act with impunity. Often they are linked to state institutions that patronise them and in other cases more powerful than the law enforcement apparatus,” says Raza. He is spot on.


State of unrest: Pakistani journalists hold placards and photographs bearing the image of Geo television journalist Hamid Mir during a protest against the attack on Mir by gunmen in Islamabad on April 23. Pic/AFP

Barely three weeks had passed when another journalist — Hamid Mir — received six bullets in Karachi. Thankfully, he survived. Mir is no ordinary journalist — he is one of Pakistan’s most famous journalists who hosts a prime-time show on the country’s largest private news channel, Geo. Yesterday, Mir recorded his statement and held the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) responsible for orchestrating the attack on him. The day he was attacked, his brother — Amir Mir — made the same allegations on Geo.

A media campaign against the Jang/Geo group was launched by rival media groups and those who supported Mir, his family, friends and colleagues were labelled as ‘traitors’ and ‘Indian agents’ for ‘tarnishing the image of Pakistan’s armed forces’. The Ministry of Defence recently moved Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to take action against Geo News for levelling allegations against the ISI and its chief. It shows that Pakistan’s military establishment remains as powerful as ever. Even when elected governments are in power, they have remained under the shadows of the hegemony of the garrison.

Media wars are not new in my country but the sick and twisted games that the media has played during this entire Hamid Mir/Jang/Geo saga is nothing short of abominable. It has endangered the lives of many others, including SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam. Mr Alam was hosting a show for Express News until recently. He resigned when he was asked to pre-record a show on Hamid Mir instead of going live, as was the norm with his talk show. He refused to be party to the rivalry between two media groups — Jang/Geo and Express — and decided not to be part of a malicious campaign against his fellow journalist Hamid Mir. When I asked him about his resignation, he said he did not want to get into any kind of bashing of the Express group but wanted to give friendly advice that they should not let the credibility of their group go down the drain by indulging in such sectarian fighting. Unfortunately, it appears that the Express group's owners do not care about media ethics. In a story published in Express Tribune in response to Mr Alam's resignation letter, Express has clearly insinuated that he is an 'Indian agent'. This particular quote from the story is nothing short of incitement to violence: "What is the nexus between Mr. Alam's Pakistani and Indian handlers? Joining the dots in this case is the job of the country's intelligence agencies." Express is asking our intelligence agencies to 'sort out' Mr Alam, who is already on the hitlist of the Taliban. By publishing this story in a once-liberal paper, Express group has put Mr Alam's life at risk.

Pakistan’s democratic process has almost always remained under threat and some sections of our media have openly colluded with the undemocratic forces. This time, the media has gone a step further: asking for censorship and putting the lives of people from their own fraternity in danger. This should stop before we are all silenced one at a time.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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