THE extent to which extremist groups have managed to proliferate in Pakistan and the impunity with which they operate pose challenges on many fronts. Consider the bind in which Pakistani journalists, especially those working in the conflict-hit areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, find themselves.
They must do their duty by those who seek information and, being mindful of journalistic ethics, report objectively on instances of violence and extremism. At the same time they must take care to not become mouthpieces for extremist or banned organisations or spread divisive points of view, even if that means earning the ire of dangerous militants. In the interest of ethical journalism then, any attempt by any party — the militants or the government — to make media persons to a certain line must be strongly censured as a move against press freedom itself.
In view of this, the All-Pakistan Newspapers Society has done the right thing by criticising the Balochistan government for registering cases against publications perceived to have violated the provincial high court’s instructions not to publish or telecast any report on banned groups. Major news networks the world over do not subscribe to the hate-filled ideology propagated by extremist groups but they do still telecast statements of militant leaders. As such the court too must revise its opinion that giving coverage to banned organisations violates the Anti-Terrorism Act.
It is unfortunate that the state has not been able to create a definite narrative vis-à-vis militancy. The heroes of yesterday are the terrorists of today; bad Taliban can be converted into good Taliban after a few deals are struck — until the next time they try to thwart the state’s writ. With no clear state policy in sight and no definition of the enemy, it is all the more incumbent on the media to form a narrative that is independent of the state’s and is based on factual reporting and the opinions of all sides. That much is owed to the public and its right to know. Which is why to accuse the media of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act is to hinder independent reporting?