Media under gunpoint
By: M Ziauddin
The Pakistani media has consistently refused to abide by a universally-agreed minimum code of ethics. It has continued to sell its soul to the market at the cost of its professional calling — playing the role of a watchdog in public service. Most media workplaces present a picture resembling sweatshops where media professionals work without job security or even without salaries for successive months and no insurance or protective outfits like bulletproof jackets, even for those working in combat zones. Notwithstanding all these drawbacks, Pakistani media is a gloriously vibrant creature, thanks largely to working journalists. And often times, the media is too vibrant for its own good.
That is why Pakistan has been called the single most dangerous place for the profession of journalism (International Federation of Journalists). The impunity index of the Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked Pakistan as the tenth most dangerous country in the world for journalists where chances of getting away with murders are extremely high. Nearly 35 media persons have lost their lives so far since 2010, most while reporting from conflict zones.
The menace of violence against media had actually reared its head in Pakistan sometime in the mid-1970s. However, this violence was mostly confined to strong-arm tactics by student wings of political parties. But compared with what is happening today, the 1970s version of violence against media would look like child’s play. Almost the entire country has now become a war zone, from where reporting is becoming increasingly riskier, especially for the media persons in the field. Jihadi organisations which were funded, trained and armed by security agencies in the 1980s-90s have now turned against their own creators, ostensibly angered by the establishment’s policy of appeasement vis-à-vis India, especially by the GHQ’s soft peddling on Kashmir.
In the rebound, these disenchanted jihadis have walked right into the welcoming arms of a bloody horde called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has vowed to force their own distorted and obscure version of religion down the throats of the majority at gunpoint. The GHQ still appears in two minds about whether to eliminate them or keep them on the back burner, to be used at some opportune future date. But these terror groups have their own plans of violence-filled action. They have already attacked the GHQ, the Mehran naval base and the Kamra air force installations. Most of this war is being fought in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. Meanwhile, a violent insurgency has taken hold of Balochistan. And in Karachi, a running battle has been going on since 2010.
Covering the terror war and the bloody carnage in Balochistan and Karachi has become too hazardous for media persons because all the violent groups involved, as well as the security agencies that are seemingly trying to bring an end to this bloody violence, want only their version of the butchery to be reported to the complete exclusion of the versions of their rivals.
In the crossfire, many media persons have lost their lives and many have left their stations in the conflict zone and moved to safe places. But even Islamabad has been rendered unsafe by the cold-blooded killers. Saleem Shahzad lost his life in this heavily secured city of Pakistan. Another journalist, Umar Cheema, was picked up and tortured before he was let off. Media offices keep receiving visitors and messages from jihadis, insurgents and groups locked in a war of attrition in Karachi, as well as from security agencies almost on a daily basis, warning the decision-makers against writing/broadcasting what the visitors consider to be against their interests. In fact, some would even make you suffer lectures on the do’s and don’ts of the profession that you have been practising for ages. And when they depart, they leave behind a pungent smell of intimidation: “Do what we tell you otherwise …”
And the latest message is too close to home. The TTP chief, Hakeemullah Mehsud, has issued special directions to his subordinate terrorists located in different cities to target national and international media organisations, especially those media organisations and media personalities who were denouncing the TTP after the attack on child activist Malala Yousufzai. This public and blatant threat puts a big question mark on the reach of Islamabad’s writ.