Coverage of militancy
TO read through the 46 recommendations issued by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage after its meeting on Wednesday is to run the gamut between good intentions and the deeply dangerous. Opening with “the press shall not lend itself to the projection of crime terrorism as heroic and the criminals, terrorists, as heroes [sic]”, it goes on to highlight several laws regarding the media and oversight of it. But other briefly put clauses amount to imposing a media blackout on the activities of militants and terrorists, preventing media houses from carrying out their duties and depriving the public of its right to stay abreast of events. Consider, for example, the baldly stated recommendation # 2: “Terrorists’ statements will not be given coverage by any segment of the media”; similarly, the 30th point is that “media should ensure that no coverage is given to proscribed organisations… ” adding “images and statements of such militant groups or individuals should not be aired”.
There is no quibble that anything in support of militant or terrorist groups must not find its way on the media. However, it is the media’s central mandate to report on the actions and the outcomes thereof of such groups. Such are the realities of the country and to try and prevent the media from bringing them into the public domain is to open the doors of censorship. The list of recommendations seems to put the onus of the country’s situation on the media’s reportage of it. For the journalists, cameramen and others on the front line to report on what the National Assembly committee referred to as a “war”, this is all the more outrageous given that many find themselves caught between violent groups and state actors, Balochistan and Fata being cases in point. True, there have been some regrettable slippages, and these should continue to be called out, but there is nothing to be gained from censorship; media houses must themselves tighten editorial control. Noting the youth-oriented nature of society, the recommendations end with some “psycho-social” guidelines for the media, one of which is “don’t repeat bad news too often”; what the media reports would be different if circumstances were different — which is in the hands of the state. Pakistan’s media freedoms were won after a long battle in which political cadres were also involved; these must not be sacrificed.