The attacks on the Jang group offices in Karachi, the damage to a Geo TV satellite van and the burning of thousands of copies of ‘The News’ and ‘Jang’, the intimidation of street vendors and the cutting of cable TV channels all have a single point of origin. A political party did not feel it was getting enough exposure, and like a child having a tantrum lashed out at what it perceived to be the cause of its loss of self-control. But this was not the random undirected violence of an infant; it was the closely targeted and directed response to a perceived slight. At the time of the attack in I.I Chundrigar Road on Tuesday night the agencies of law and order were conspicuous by their absence – as they so often are – which at the very least indicates a willingness to turn a blind eye or perhaps a willingness to look the other way.
But it is the attacks on the cable operators and their connections that are of greater significance. The cable operators do not determine content, they merely distribute what the production companies make and air. Even so they are the primary means by which the majority of the viewing public get their TV delivered. They have been threatened and millions of rupees worth of their assets damaged. Perhaps as many millions of viewers will have had their services interrupted in what amounts to a censorship of the airwaves in a fit of pique by a political group that lacks both maturity and the will to control some of its members and supporters. Once again the immaturity of political players is exposed. Intimidation and scaremongering are the juvenilia of politics, the politics of the bully who would rule by fear rather than consent. The ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan has said that if any of his party members were involved in the attack then he apologises on their behalf. If the Sindh and federal governments have any commitment to press and media freedom then they will robustly defend the media houses and cable operators – anything less is not just a sign of weakness but also of approval and complicity.