Media Under Siege

Feb 16th, 2012 | By | Category: Threats to Journalists

On Monday’s Capital Talk, Hamid Mir reviewed a clip from the Difa-e-Pakistan Council’s rally in Karachi on Sunday. At issue was something that has become a troubling trend in Pakistan – threats to journalists.

For those who do not understand Urdu, please allow me to explain. The clip that Hamid Mir played shows Qari Sheikh Yaqoob speaking from the Difa-e-Pakistan Council stage. Yaqoob is leader of Tehrik-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, a spinoff group of Jamaat-ud-Dawa that called for the death of Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. Here is what he said on Sunday:

I am announcing this with extreme sadness that media is working extremely coldly and this decorating of cameras here is merely an attempt to fool the Difa council. And, know this that masters should listen also that if you can show full coverage of anti-state powers, you will have to give full coverage to the patriots here or else this ground will be made into the media graveyard.

Hamid Mir expresses serious concern about this threat. Some have tried to downplay Qari Sheikh Yaqoob’s comments by saying that he was just asking the media to give equal airtime to the views of DPC. But Yaqoob’s threats are taken seriously, and this one was accompanied by another incident earlier the same weekend.

On Saturday, Wajahat S Khan interviewed former DG ISI Lt Gen Hameed Gul who has been involved with DPC and attended its rallies. Wajahat was pressuring Gen Saheb about the involvement of ‘outlaw groups’ in DPC.

For the first time in the interview, around 10 minutes in, Gul struggled, outright rejecting the claim that Malik Ishaq was at the Multan rally. As we tend to do in our show, evidence was promptly presented. A screen shot of The Express Tribune, with Ishaq in living colour at the Multan stage, was displayed on our monitor, and Gul struggled some more. Doing what he does best, Gul upped the ante, claiming that the Tribune’s pics were doctored. I challenged him, defending the Tribune’s reporting standards. He counter-challenged, and said it was not the paper, rather the reporter who was lying. I rebutted, and hence we moved on. Around this part of the show’s broadcast, the call came.

He didn’t say hello. He knew my name and my address. He kept it short, and told me exactly what he would do to my body parts when he was done detaching them. He then hung up. That was caller one.

But that was just the bad cop routine. The good cops, several of them, came knocking with a flurry of text messages. One of them started off by asking why I was siding with India. My reply was that I was not siding with any collective, and in fact had brought up the disturbing statistic of India’s arms expenditures with Gul, asking the former ISI chief what he and the DPC were doing besides screaming murder about matching the $100 billion dollars that the Indians plan on weapons procurement spending over the next decade. He pinged back after a few minutes, concentrating his grammar on the imaginings between my mother and some animals. The other good cops started in similar vein, one of them asking me whether I had learnt my English in America. Seeing where this could lead to, I didn’t respond. That action further lit up my afternoon, as references to pre-Islamic debauchery, disasters and disease continued to flash on my phone. No names were offered, but when my address and location was confirmed, again and again, I pressed the panic button.

The international NGO Committee to Protect Journalists has taken notice of threats, but ultimately they can only bring attention to the issue. They cannot defend journalists who find themselves out of favour with militants.

In the case of Wajahat Khan, he was advised to “move for the night” and asked if could “handle a weapon”. A truly free media does not require journalist to take up arms to defend themselves. That’s a media under siege.

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