Taliban has contributed to the deaths of over 50,000 Pakistanis since recent years in their quest to replace Pakistan’s constitution with their own definition of an Islamic state. Eager to stop the bloodshed, the government has been pursuing a strategy of negotiation. Whatever one’s opinion of this strategy, it is agreed by all that some solution must be found to stop the violence. But critics of the government’s strategy of peace talks argue that the government offered militants a seat at the table prematurely, and now find themselves negotiating from a position of weakness. Whether or not the timing was right is a question we will leave to the experts on such matters. However, it is worth noting the role media is playing in strengthening Taliban’s hand in the negotiations, and legitimising a force that is responsible for the deaths of countless innocents.
To begin, it is worth examining the different way media treats democratically elected politicians and terrorists.
Our television channels are adept at pulling together montages to mock politicians, but make little effort to compile documentation that highlights the hypocrisy of militant groups and the scale of atrocities they have committed (and claimed). Some may say the media has been intimidated by attacks against journalists. But this excuse would hold only if media houses were busy bulking up security, providing safety training, and using their clout to pressurise the government to provide more protection for journalists. In the absence of that, we have to assume the decontextualised and extensive coverage of TTP statements is a result of ratings pressure, even ideological affinity with the Taliban.
It’s not just that media groups avoid treating militants with the same degree of criticism as politicians, though. By granting an uncritical space for militants, media groups are essentially projecting Taliban views.
If the images on television screens are evidence, then the truth is clear. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are the current rulers of Pakistan’s television screens.
From a country that knew little about them as recently as four or five years ago, the Pakistani viewing public has become intimately acquainted with the agenda, views, threats, likes, dislikes, punishments, and statements of the group.
The pliant faces sitting before their television screens at home, poring over homework or housework, have had little choice in the matter.
The powers that be, owners of television networks and the marketing departments that sell advertising on them, seem to have decided that near constant coverage of the Tailban is a moneymaker, and morals cannot compete with money.
Avoiding criticism of militants while heavily criticising democratic politicians and simultaneously giving extremists a lot of attention delegitimises democracy while creating sympathy for the Taliban. It is a dangerous combination in the best of times. Doing so while the government is negotiating with these same militants is tantamount to a thumb on the scale – in favour of the very people who have been doing the killing.