Done in by media, too -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Done in by media, too

Pakistan Press Foundation

The media has developed a prejudice against the people of Balochistan because of its subservience to the establishment

Collect the clippings of all the news items about Balochistan carried by the national dailies circulating in Punjab over the last few weeks and see what is considered worth reporting. The disaster stories — disappearances, mutilated corpses found dumped by the roadside, rockets fired at checkposts, suicide-bombing of pilgrims’ buses, and so on — outnumber other reports. In the latter category, too, most of the items only tell us what the provincial and the federal authorities have done or propose to do. One significant exception is the reporting of local government elections and a lonely voice calling for talks with the alienated Baloch.

It seems nothing good, positive, or healthy, happens in that part of Pakistan. True, some parts of Balochistan are disturbed and the law and order situation is not good. But even in such situations anywhere, there are men and women who perform acts of heroism or just do honest labour. Why don’t we get such stories from Balochistan? The one exception that comes to mind is the arrangement of air flights for pilgrims from Dalbandin to Quetta — but the reason for taking note of that operation is obvious.

What this indicates is that the national media treats Balochistan and its people as “the other” and not as part of “we” — in the way Indian and Pakistani media treat the people living across their borders.

And these disaster stories are not treated the way such happenings in other parts of the country are. A bus accident in any other part of the country gets more detailed, and graphic, coverage than the attack on pilgrims’ vehicle in Mastung.

Those who wish to be fair to Balochistan and its people, and are interested in saving the country from the consequences of wounding the Baloch in their pride, must realise the need to persuade the media to correct its sights.

The media is supposed to investigate the causes of disorder and to get to the people responsible for it. References are made to insurgents and separatists but are any serious attempts made to probe the causes of the despair of the actors damned by putting labels on them? Quite a few media persons have scored high by establishing contacts with al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who were, and are, no friends of Pakistan. Why haven’t the Baloch dissidents been considered news sources, if not characters worth meeting?

In most disasters, people are affected. In Balochistan, too, there are families of the victims of enforced disappearance. There are women and children related to the men who reappear only as disfigured corpses or whose bones are found in a mass grave. The media occasionally takes notice of them only when they squat outside press clubs here and there or when they succeed in reaching the haven of the high and the mighty in Islamabad.

What prevents the media, especially the camera-mike teams that are on the prowl everywhere in the country, from capturing the Baloch women’s faces of agony and helplessness as they do elsewhere? The studied indifference with which the media, certainly a greater part of it, has treated the long march of families of the missing persons exposes it to the charge of collusion with the elements who have been threatening the marchers with dire consequences.

The media has problems while projecting man-made disasters in any part of Pakistan. Sometimes, those responsible for causing death and destruction are too sacred or too powerful to be arraigned before the public. But nobody is afraid of nature and it should be possible to report a natural disaster in Balochistan as anywhere else. Nobody can deny the fact that the media did not cover the Awaran earthquake and the plight of the poor people who were deprived of shelter and food the way it has projected similar occurrences elsewhere.

The people of Awaran had many complaints — about pilferage of relief supplies and interference with the civil society’s efforts to extend them succor. Their cries were lost in the desolate desert.

One suspects that the media has developed a prejudice against the people of Balochistan, especially the Baloch, because of its subservience to the establishment. The people of the largest province in the country are not considered entitled to normal treatment, or to plain humanitarian considerations even, because they have such a bad history.

Force had to be used to tame Kalat, the Balochistan governments had to be frequently sacked for their failure to abide by the centre’s code of patriotism, and a cage had to be prepared for a former chief minister’s appearance before a tribunal. Off and on, official spokesmen blame foreign powers, India in particular, for the insurgency and that is enough to brand the entire Baloch community as a horde of traitors. The establishment demonises the Baloch, and the media, by and large, is keen to out-herod Herod.

Nobody bothers to find out why old Baloch leaders’ sons were wantonly killed or why large groups have been rendered homeless. Those in the refugee camp were exposed to epidemic; the media knew that and did not have the courage to report it. Some people in Balochistan have surely acted wrongly sometimes but who in Pakistan hasn’t? However, there is one thing the Baloch have never done; unlike their privileged compatriots they have not coveted any other community’s land or other resources. There must be a time when they will be allowed to own what belongs to them.

The other day, a child confessed to his Baloch origin to his classmate in a Lahore school and was promptly told: “You are killing Punjabis.” True, the blood of many innocent Punjabi settlers is on the hands of some Baloch militants. But if that is the only way a Baloch is to be recognised, then there is much rotten in the Islamic Republic. Who has created this image of the Baloch? The media has to ponder this simple question.

Those who wish to be fair to Balochistan and its people, and are interested in saving the country from the consequences of wounding the Baloch in their pride, must realise the need to persuade the media to correct its sights and give these people the respect they are entitled to as equal citizens of the state.

An important part of this effort will be a programme of the Balochistan media’s uplift. The state should help the journalists of Balochistan to overcome the fear of reporting the truth. Ask any journalist in Quetta and he will tell you of being afraid of militants on one side and the law-enforcing agencies on the other. Truth became a casualty of fear over there long ago.

The electronic media needs to stop taking the Balochistan society for granted. Till some time ago, no meter for testing the popularity of TV programmes had been installed in Balochistan. One does not know if the gap has been plugged. The refusal to take into account the wishes and views of Balochistan people amounts to a refusal to serve them. There is every reason for the federal and provincial authorities to facilitate the rise of an adequately functional Balochistan TV channel in the private sector.

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