Need for sanity

Pakistan Press Foundation

The judicial commission comprising three Supreme Court judges set up by the government to probe the attack on Hamid Mir has started its work. Meanwhile, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising representatives from the ISI, the MI, the IB and other related intelligence agencies has also launched efforts to uncover the hand behind the attack.

However, instead of awaiting the result of the findings of these two high-powered probe teams, the media industry in general seems to have decided to split along an arbitrary line.

Geo insists that professionally there was nothing wrong with the way it covered the attack on the first day. The other side vehemently disagrees with this position.

The focus appears to be more on exploiting the situation with Geo trying to empower itself with more media muscle. That also seems to be the purpose of the charge sheet submitted to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) against the Geo Group. The Group itself is not helping. It is digging in blatantly.

Just before the attack on Hamid Mir, our own Group had suffered, at least, about six attacks as a result of which four persons have lost their lives — three of our staffers and a driver of Raza Rumi. The Taliban have owned up to the murder of the three staffers but we are still in the dark about the other attacks. No one seems to be seriously interested except the Express Group itself in finding out the truth about these so far ‘blind’ attacks.

Hamid’s case has received a different treatment from the very word go for reasons now too obvious to be repeated here.

There are two issues involved in this case. One, the insistence of the Geo Group that it has not made any editorial mis-judgment in treating the report of the attack the way it did. In fact, the Group has taken the position that it can never do any wrong. The other issue is Pemra itself. As a regulatory body, it is still accountable to the Information Ministry which, in turn, is accountable to the executive.

Let us take the first issue first. The victim of the attack has the right to name any one he suspects of being the perpetrator of the attack. But no media vehicle had any right to broadcast or reproduce the allegation without any proof in its raw form even if the victim in question is its star talk-show anchor. It is the professional obligation of the editors in the media vehicle to edit and vet the statement, rehash the language to make it legally sound and delete references to unsubstantiated allegations.

Now let us turn to Pemra. The charge sheet submitted to the regulatory authority is so comprehensive in its allegations that even the best of defence would be incapable of puncturing legal holes in it. Moreover, the charge sheet has been submitted by a government body to another government body against a private firm.

Either way, the Pakistani media appears to be in for a lot of trouble. If the government wins, that may affect media freedom in the country. If Geo wins, then we would be handing over the fate of the country into the monopolistic hands of just one giant media group.

The only way out of this predicament is for all the media organisations and their national bodies — the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) — to join hands and form a mediatory team to, on the one hand, persuade the Geo Group to tender an unconditional apology and on the other, request the government to withdraw the charge sheet submitted to Pemra.

Express Tribune