Amir Hamza Bangash
Press-state relations in Pakistan have never been ideal. It has always been shadowed with the closure of newspapers, magazines, harassment of journalists coupled with threats, kidnapping, murders; and other pressure tactics such as censorship and release of news print quota and even ban of official advertisement.
On the other hand, the press in Pakistan, for most of the times, has not remained fair in doing justice with its noble profession by looking at the issue from the neutral or third person perspective. It has been mostly influenced by financial motives, past enmities, nepotism, personal grudges and even its own immaturity and incompetency.
The loopholes in this relation between press and the state have cost both of them a lot, including the public, who have rights to information and facts – but unfortunately, this has stayed only in theory.
None of the ruling government, military establishment and even powerful media outlets has tried to resolve the issue on permanent basis due to their latent interests. In all ages, the troika has found peace in the adhocism — a temporary remedy of the permanent evil or treating diseases through fantasies. The temporary peace might have resulted in giving us hopes for the better future, but it has not achieved even a glimpse of it.
One of the major confusions revolving around this lethal-mysterious issue is also the myth that these state organs have the authority to do anything, anytime, and to anyone under the name of national interest, freedom of speech, and good faith.
All freedom needs to be coiled with the stitches of responsibility; every national interest needs to be clearly defined for the sake of national interest; every good faith needs to be measured with clear intentions before it is implemented on the ground. The need for all these arises, as after all, we all are humans, and there is a margin of biased human error.
The few recent events that stained the Media-Military fragile relations were the current attacks on popular Talk-show hosts. The current Geo-ISI standoff, after an assassination attempt on Geo TV host Hamid Mir in Karachi, has exposed this imbalanced equation of Media-Military-Government relations. It has put many interesting things on the front, which indeed need attention and care.
Soon after the attack, the kin of Hamid Mir, and later on Mr. Mir himself, blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) for orchestrating the plan. Media outlets got polarized: one pole in favor and the other against. Military Establishment sidelined with the ISI and the Government, adopted ‘Don’t ask and don’t tell Policy’ by keeping both ends busy. The most interesting development was the visits of PM Nawaz Sharif to the hospital to see Mr. Mir, the injured journalist there; and later, military chief at the ISI headquarter to show solidarity. It was symbolic, but very meaningful.
The aftermath of the attack can be broadly analyzed in two ways – blaming the ISI for the event, and its coverage on Geo News. Many people in Pakistan are trying to confuse it with the past practices of the Geo News or the journalist itself. The attack on Hamid Mir can be condemned in the strongest words like attack on any civilian. No one has any right to kill individuals for personal motives, whether it’s institution, individual or crowd. Everyone has the right to free trial, whether it’s Hamid Mir or Director General ISI, Lt General Zaheer ul-Islam.
In every democracy, the right remains with the family and the victim itself for trial of anyone. If there is any limitation in trial, then the constitution of the country elaborates it well. If Hamid Mir and his family have blamed the ISI (chief and other foot soldiers) for the attack, then it needs to be investigated independently, without any panic.
Such independent inquiry will give more strength to the institutions and the democratic setup. No institution should make it a case of their ego. In the past, we have witnessed trials of the sitting Prime Ministers and Presidents of Pakistan, and no one objected to it by calling it the defamation of the Parliament, a supreme symbol of people’s supremacy.
The second issue linked to the event is the coverage of the issue on Geo News. Media outlets in Pakistan have mostly a problem in reporting the issues. They mostly act as infamous magicians to create hype and play with the nerves of the viewers. In reporting the crisis-hit event, they mostly rely on repetition and exploring superficiality. Hardly, one can explore the creative line in their coverage, except a mediocre display of the incidents.
Freedom of expression is always an excuse used by different media outlets in Pakistan to take refuge from their own blunders and others’ action. It is also one of the great hurdles in their self-reformation and professional development. If we need the maturity and professionalism, then we need to go beyond it.
Such allegations and criticism will remain even part of our future lives, unless we don’t move forward and solve this issue and other lines attached to it permanently. The best way-out of the recent crisis is that every institution in Pakistan understands and respects its constitutional orbit. It is equally important to solve all the outstanding national issues, such as militancy in the country and conflict in Baluchistan, through dialogue as the root cause of most of these tensions lie there, but if any institution(s) tried to find allies to put pressure on others, then instability is our present and future like we’ve witnessed it in our past.