Who holds the media key? -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Who holds the media key?

Pakistan Press Foundation

The “media story,” refuses to die, it seems. Geo is off air in most parts of the country; it is getting difficult day by day to send the copies of Jang and The News to their destinations, but now those working for these publications are finding it difficult to leave or reach their homes after work. This is the story of the country’s largest publication. This is the biggest challenge to the freedom of press and media safety.

Whom should I blame for the murderous attack on Zafar Aheer, Resident Editor of daily Jang Multan? Should I blame those who attacked him or those who created an atmosphere where doing journalism for the biggest media group has become almost impossible. Please, don’t play with fire because if it spread, it might hurt all those around.

Whom should I blame for burning thousands of copies of daily Jang and The News? Whom should I blame for putting those vans on fire, which carried the copies of these newspapers? “Journalism” has become the only news in Pakistan these days and all this in the name of “responsible journalism,” patriotism.

Whom should I blame for all those threats allegedly given to those senior journalists working for this media group? We have already lost 104 journalists since 9/11; some of them belong to Geo, while others are from other media groups.

2014 is the worst year for the safety of journalists in the past 66 years. The violence against media, which started with the murder of journalist Shan Daher on the New Year night, has not stopped but increased in the past five months. Now journalists can’t even suspect because if they suspect they themselves become suspect. I am still in search of a government. Is there a government? The government writ is under challenge and so far they have failed to act.

If the government has not banned Geo, if the Supreme Court has not banned Geo, if the cable operators have not followed the orders of Pemra as yet, who has given this conviction? One of the leaders of Cable Operators Association has claimed that under the law they were supposed to give 48 hours notice to the subscribers about change in numbers or putting any channel off air.

I wonder who holds the key in this controversy. But whoever has the remote in his hand should not take the situation to a point of no return. Will this community realize what have they done? This is not service but disservice to journalism. The kind of provocation which some of our colleagues have created since April 19 has now taken an ugly turn. Please do a show that “another traitor” had been punished. Please celebrate that we have blocked the free flow of information — all this in the name of “responsible journalism.”

What was Aheer’s fault except that he was an employee of Pakistan’s largest media group? Jang and Geo employees have already been told not to put organizational stickers on their cars or on motorbike. I remember once it was impossible to carry the tag of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) or its affiliated unions under dictatorship.

I thought we would have learnt a lesson from what happened after the attacks and threats to other channels in the last one year. On the contrary, we are promoting a culture of intolerance, making an appeal through tickers and news … “ban Geo and Jang.” And all this in the name of freedom of the press.

Our 66 years of struggle for “freedom of the press,” is not to put the lives of our own colleagues in danger. Perhaps, we don’t realize that when we brand someone as “traitor,” we actually put their life at risk.We have fought against military dictators or anti-press policies of civilian governments. Our colleagues went to jails and faced hardships in the worst jails from Mach Jail to Mianwali; they were flogged for raising their voice for freedom. During the struggle we also faced internal disputes, but none of us ever confronted the situation where we create a situation or fall in trap and become our own enemy.

It is good but surprising to see a statement of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which condemned the attack on Aheer. But what can one expect when you create such an atmosphere. Don’t condemn the attack but create an atmosphere of tolerance. Imran Khan said he had no complaint against the workers of Geo and Jang, but it is they who were attacked. It is the poor newspaper hawkers, who are facing threats.

Once, it was a desire of journalists to be associated with Jang or Geo in Urdu and with Dawn in English. Today, an atmosphere has been created where it is “life threatening,” if you are an employee of the country’s largest media group. The Pakistani media has never faced such a dangerous situation before.It will now take years to overcome the possible fallout of this crisis even if is over. We have not damaged a channel but the profession of journalism.

We are a small community of 25,000 journalists and media workers. We don’t hold guns but pen, mike and cameras. We don’t open fire but get bullets in our body. We are not supposed to show what people want but what is based on truth and facts. Yes, at times we are irresponsible in our reporting and even in our opinions. We can be wrong, but is this the way to punish us?

No channel or newspaper should be above the law. In fact, no institution or individual should be above the law. But you can’t convict someone without trial and that too in this way by refusing apology or regrets for mistakes. What happened with Zafar Aheer should be an “eye opener,” for all those who claim that they are not against the employees of Geo or Jang.

Vans carrying thousands of copies of Jang and The News were attacked and burnt and newspaper hawkers and cable operators are under threat. Is all this in accordance with the law? Where is the rule of the law?

While working full time for rival channels for almost 10 years, I know for the fact that all media groups desire to beat Geo and Jang. There is nothing wrong in it in a healthy atmosphere. Over the years, there are some very successful media stories. Yet, the fact remains that Jang and Geo News are still at the top.

Even in the post-April 19 controversy some channels adopted a neutral policy and treated all stories related to the controversy on “merit,” but some took it very personally, may be for personal, professional and marketing reasons or for the reasons best known to them. Some also complained that Geo did not do justice when they were in trouble. Some even accused Geo and Jang of conspiring against them from time to time. But does that mean it should be the “tit for tat” policy?

The most pleasant change that I witnessed in this controversy was the role of Jang’s old rival Nawa-e-Waqt. It was a pleasant surprise to see a news item in Nawa-e-Waqt that “Jang and The News copies were burnt by unknown persons.” In the past or until recently the media industry adopted a strange policy of not mentioning rival newspapers, channels or even journalists. Jang, Geo and their rivals blame each other for these unhealthy traditions.

There is not doubt in the mind of even worst critics that Geo and Jang Group is Pakistan’s number on media group for it took them decades to become the leading group. In this process, I hardly agree with their policies and even tactics. I never worked in any of their publications but remained a reader of Jang from my school days till today. When Geo was launched I was doing a part time “political show” for its rival channel in 2002-03.

Though once I was offered to join The News when Ghazi Salahuddin was the editor, I always followed all the publications. Like some other groups. The News has also produced some very good journalists over the years.

Many of my colleagues in other channels also agree that in the newsroom, news desks often follow Geo, which over the years became a household name.

I wish other channels had beaten Geo News in the competition to get to the top. Let people decide which channel they want to watch or switch over. Let people give verdict through the “remote” in their hands. Don’t kill my freedom, don’t kill my voice, don’t kill my words. At least, give me right to live, if you can’t give me right to speak.

The News