Media Trial And Error
The military has in the past been unassailable and now faces increasingly vocal challenges especially from the Jang group. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (Pemra) suspended the license issued to Geo News for a period of 15 days for defaming the ISI and the channel was also fined Rs10 million. As time progresses more and more players are dragged into the mess and the scuffle has become a national problem. Geo has served a legal notice asking ISI to apologize in 14 days or pay damages of $500 million. Geo TV and Jang Group, issued an apology to Pakistan’s armed forces and the ISI for making the allegations but the military is angry. This comes at a time where the government and the army have already tense relations with the TTP talks and Musharraf’s trial.
But the opinion of journalists as well as the public is divided. Where on one side values of freedom of press and speech are at stake, on the other people are horrified by the attack on an institution supposed to ensure the security of Pakistan. And as of yet, there is no evidence that the ISI was involved in the attack on Hamid Mir that spurred Geo to air yet unsubstantiated allegations and caused the scandal in the first place. But then, it is the ISI. Can any claims actually ever be substantiated? The ISI has been infamous among journalists for bribing, or harassment and abduction to the extent that even the New York Times ran a story on this. But in this scenario, other groups are part of the lynch mob out for journalist’s lives including the TTP, and MQM.
And while Nawaz Sharif failed to comment on Geo’s charges, he did end up at Hamid Mir’s bedside with a get well-soon message to Mir and a mixed message to the public. Freedom of press is indeed a value we must all defend yet the whole incident reeks of conspiracy. There are reports that Geo has not even submitted an FIR with the police, were they trying to create a media trial? It is true that the military has always tried to muzzle the press but now it seems that media barons driven by commercial concerns and personal grudges may be endangering the reputation of the media industry as a whole and are endangering the same freedom and space that they helped create in the first place.