Pakistani media is increasingly coming into conflict with the state’s supremacy and integrity over the past few years, more precisely in the last 3 years of the new government of Imran Khan. It seems to be a serial of episodes emerging at meticulously planned and conceived intervals.
But the intriguing aspect of all this melodrama is inarguably the only one target, the ISI. They are so well coordinated to ensure the armed forces and the ISI (eminent national spy agency) are always in the crosshair.
The intriguing aspect of all such incidents was the follow-up in the international media. Their tabloids sold catchy headlines painting Pakistan as “the most dangerous country for journalists.”
Glimpses of the melodramas
In April 2014, an assassination attempt was made on Hamid Mir. Post-attack claims said, “Three gunshot wounds, but his life is out of danger”.
According to Hamid Mir’s brother, he had been threatened by ISI because of his political views. Ridiculously, he told BBC lately that ISI has been threatening his family, his wife, and children too.
In another case, in July 2020, Matiullah was reportedly kidnapped by unknown people and released unhurt after 12 hours. He was safe and unhurt, and his car and mobile phone were also intact from where he was abducted. But here is what international media concocted the story like:
“In July 2020, another prominent journalist Matiullah Jan was abducted by unknown gunmen in uniform. He was blindfolded, gagged, tied and assaulted for 12 hours before being released.”
Recently, an assassination attempt was made on Asad Toor in May 2021. Reports claim that at least 3 assailants carrying guns stormed into his apartment, punched, hit, and gagged him, and left him injured. But his pictures revealed he had bruises only on his elbows. He showed bruised elbows on the first day but to the surprise of the whole world the next day those bruises vanished.
International media reports: “Mr Toor said the attackers identified themselves as belonging to inter-services-intelligence-agency, Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence.”
In addition, a prominent Pakistani journalist Absar Alam was shot and seriously injured in April 2021. But he was continuously recording a video while being taken to hospital after the attack. His hair was not disturbed at all, his clothes intact, his face was devoid of any anxiety or trauma. He was talking as if it was a planned interview. He was not injured at all as per the video of his own.
But all the Twitter and vloggers of his close circle created hype about his serious injuries. Upon discharge from the hospital, he never showed any injuries or bruises on his body. As per the international media reporting, “He was shot in the abdomen.”
A common denominator as per the social media, the print media, and themselves has been the following rants; they were attacked for being vocal and critical about the powerful army, the ISI, and the agencies of Pakistan; they were attacked by gunmen but only beaten up instead of being shot at.
And they claimed they received injuries that are not life-threatening. They had been receiving threats from Pakistan’s powerful ISI for a long time. and their lives are not safe in Pakistan.
State’s reaction fuels misgivings
There has been a cursory reaction from the government and the armed forces to these very serious allegations from mainstream journalists and senior anchors. The rate of incidents points all the fingers to some sort of collusion between agencies and the government for concocting them.
It fuels speculations that no matter how powerful and mighty the media barons are, they are wise enough to discern the fine line and know how to keep away from stepping into the dangerous territory.
Likewise, the authorities cannot afford to wage a protracted war against media tycoons for they have unanimously proved themselves at a global level to be the champions of civil rights and free speech activism.
Read more: Does law of sedition undermine free speech?
Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 countries on the media rights watchdog list of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 press freedom index. Pakistan is ranked among the five deadliest countries for journalists to work, according to RSF. It proves how deep the international media and Anti-Pakistan lobbies involved to profile Pakistan for all the wrong deeds.
Another invidious distinction of the international media watchdog was noticed in the case of the military coup in Egypt. Egyptian dictator, General Sisi, gagged the media across the country and jailed dozens of journalists. They included local and foreign national, and many of them were imprisoned for years without a fair trial.
Sadly, none of the superpowers and the Arab countries expressed a statement of condemnation against him due to their business interests emerging from his military takeover.
Democracies spoiled by journalism
In most of the democracies in the world, including Pakistan, the governments have been involved in using media manipulation tactics to influence public opinion. It brings results that are quick and longer-lasting most of the time. These techniques adversely affected the media worldwide.
Journalism has gone haywire and issues like conflict of interests emerged in this very noble profession. The journalists became millionaires overnight and the malady continues to consume the societies.
During the cold war era, the US, USSR, deployed thousands of agents disguised as journalists, reporters for spying. This vicious cycle still runs at full scale in almost every part of the world as it became a vital weapon for the governments and the mighty politicians to engineer the elections.
Unfortunately, the CIA still controls at least one prominent media house in every country in the world. They use it for influencing public opinion which is then used in the favor of the investor.
The universal canons of journalism
The core values of journalism are accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity, and accountability. They also include objectivity, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship (neutrality).
To achieve wider acceptability, the news agencies, media outlets, and social media/YouTube journalists need to avoid “over partiality.” They should avoid making judgments and should stay clear of the doubts and ambiguities,
To maintain objectivity in journalism, journalists should present the facts whether they like it or not, or disagree with those facts. Anything regarding the writer’s personal beliefs or opinion, the rule of thumb is: “Their opinion, not yours.”
Sensationalism, suspense, and curiosity must be avoided. Reporting the truth eliminates all chances of libel and makes accuracy a paramount factor. Many civilized countries have hefty fines against libel lawsuits which makes it a positive deterrent for journalists and media companies.
Apart from the code of ethics, good media houses have an in-house ombudsman system. This helps maintain internal accountability, fosters criticism, and keeps adherence to all the codified and non-codified ethics, laws, and by-laws.
Yellow journalism, especially in the U.S, is the norm of all the media houses. This culture has lately been backed by wealthy and crooked politicians to gain weight in public opinion and manipulate the results during voting.
Read more: The curse of yellow journalism in Pakistan
Conflict of interest is another challenge to today’s journalists and prominent writers/reporters.
Imperative for the government
The price of leadership is criticism; the payoff is solving problems. Combination of factors, which have been discussed exhaustively in the past few days lead to this stage of predicament. The government’s overreaction, instead of a pragmatic approach, has always backfired.
From 2008 till 2018 there had been a record corruption by ruling parties and their cronies. Only between 2008 to 2013 reportedly more than $94 billion were siphoned by the ruling party in corruption, tax frauds, and other fake development schemes.
That cannot be done without the media’s involvement in any country. The bonanza is always shared with leading media houses, the anchors, and the select group of journalists to keep them shut. A wrong precedent that caused a significant dent in the credibility of a highly respected profession.
The media should be honored
Media is by far the fourth power globally. Journalists are a closely-knit family and their voices resonate more coherently than any other clan of this modern society of the world. It has rather become capable enough to challenge the writ of the governments.
Worldwide events in the past two decades proved the limitless power of media and it has become a force to reckon with. Journalists have the supreme power of their pen which can make a huge difference in influencing the mindset of the populace. The power of the pen is far more effective than any other force of the world.
PM and his cabinet team need to stop being fixated on the trivial arguments and aspersions about the media and the journalists. Shift the spotlight to more important issues rather than wasting time and resources to win votes in the next elections.
Playing at a level field with mainstream media and restoring the confidence of journalists in the country is the ultimate choice. Lately, the spiraling numbers of orchestrated assassination attacks are just a grim reminder for government to organize the house and use the strategic approach to restore confidence.
The government is always in the driving seat and it is its job to lead the nation while shedding all the personal and political biases. The government should not hide behind indecisions. It should not avoid conflict, instead, look for perspectives and opportunities through conflicts and disagreements. That is what great leaders do in a crisis. State comes first and its decisions are absolute and resolute when handling sensitive issues like this.
The authorities must bring back the essence of true journalism and the importance of journalist’s ethics to its rightful place in our media. I hope and pray that government takes heed and acts promptly.
The author is an Aeronautical Engineer and a current affairs analyst. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.