Media and Activism: Where do we draw the line?

Jul 15th, 2012 | By | Category: Dunya, Geo TV, Samaa TV

Speaking at a forum in Washington earlier this year, President GEO TV Imran Aslam proudly described his channel’s political activism. He spent most of the time talking about activism against the Hudood ordinances – a great example for an American audience, but hardly the only (or most common) issue. Actually, when the moderator asked if he thinks he has ever gone too far, Imran replied, ‘Zardari think so’ and then burst into laughter. The question of whether media should engage in political activism, though, is no laughing matter.

Imran Aslam may have been the one to publicly admit that his channel sees itself as doing activism and not just journalism, but Geo TV is not the only media organisation that engages in political activism. Political activism masqurading as journalism has also been seen on Samaa TV, the channel that aired Meher Bokhari’s fatwas before she finally crossed the line, only to get picked up at Dunya TV.

Dunya TV has its own notable examples including Meher Bokahri and Zaid Hamid attacking Mian Nawaz Sharif and the recent expose of top anchors Mubashir Lucman and Meher Bokhari (yes, again) planting interviews on political and legal issues.

During the ‘memogate’ saga, Editor The News (like Geo, a part of Jang Group) Mohammad Malick co-authored a column terming the memo ‘treasounous’, despite the lack of any judicial ruling to that effect. Actually, the Supreme Court recently declared that the memo commission did not declare Haqqani a traitor. But this may be a case of ‘too little, too late’ as The News was whipping up public opinion against Haqqani for several months before the commission ever reached its conclusions. The Intenational Commission of Jurists (ICJ) termed the memogate saga a ‘media trial’, an opinion given some credibility by the fact that The News published a lengthy attack against Haqqani by none other than the lawyer for Mansoor Ijaz.

We won’t even bother getting into the political attacks against Asif Zardari – we’re not sure the internet is big enough to catalogue them all. It should be noted, however, that Imran Aslam himself joked about how mercilessly Geo TV hounds the president.

The question we should ask ourselves, dear readers, is not whether any media group is right or wrong in their positions, but whether they should be promoting a position at all. Where we draw the line between journalism and political activism? Whether the issue is Hudood ordinance or corruption, do we need media to give us facts or do we also need them to tell us what to believe? What if its not even their beliefs at all, but beliefs they are paid to promote? Journalists are unelected and unaccountable. Even those who have been disgraced have soon shown up on different channels (sometimes even back on their old channel!). Editorials and op-eds have their place, but there must be a line drawn between journalism and political activism. Today, it’s increasingly hard to see where exactly that line is.

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  1. Who is to be believed in the Fascist Jang Group on activism of Jang Group and GEO TV AGAINST Adultery Law? Imran Aslam or Pedophile Nayyar Zaidi of the same Jang Group.

    New Hudood laws at US behest Nayyar Zaidi Saturday, September 16, 2006
    http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=3070&Cat=13&dt=9/16/2006

    WASHINGTON: The State Department’s report on “International Religious Freedom” during 2006 appears to provide a unique insight into the Pakistani government’s efforts to produce a “reformed” version of the 1984 Hudood Ordinance by last Monday. The report informs that “(US) Embassy officials pressed members of parliament and the government to revise blasphemy laws and the Hudood Ordinances to minimise abuses”.

    On the other hand, it perhaps also provides an equally unique insight into why something that appeared to be a “done deal” last Friday disintegrated by not only the efforts of the Muttahida Majlis-Amal (MMA) but also such “yours truly” type liberals as the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) and a modern equivalent of “you, too, Brutus”, ie the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, an ally of the government.

    The report minces no words when it says: “The government failed to protect the rights of religious minorities. Discriminatory legislation and the government’s failure to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different faith fostered religious intolerance and acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities.” Add this to the long list of government’s “failures” to reign in the al-Qaeda and Taliban and you can guess the temperatures inside the Oval Office September 22 when George W Bush meets General Pervez Musharraf.

    But there were silver linings as well and both the government and the Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) are given some credit for efforts to reduce religious tensions and create religious harmony in Pakistan. According to the report, “(T)he government maintained its public calls for religious tolerance, worked with moderate religious leaders to organise programmes on sectarian harmony and interfaith understanding, maintained its ban on and actively attempted to curb the activities of sectarian and terrorist organisations, implemented a registration scheme for Islamic religious schools known as madrassahs, and proceeded with reform of the public education curriculum designed to end the teaching of religious intolerance.”

    Although not all but “some members of the MMA made efforts to eliminate their rhetoric against Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Parsis. Under government pressure, many of its leaders joined various interfaith efforts to promote religious tolerance. Religious leaders, representing the country’s six major Shia and Sunni groups, issued a religious injunction in May 2005 banning sectarian violence and the killing of non-Muslims”.

    But in spite of these efforts, the report noted, “relations between religious communities were tense. Societal discrimination against religious minorities was widespread and societal violence against such groups occurred. Societal actors, including terrorist and extremist groups and individuals, targeted religious congregations. More than 110 deaths accrued from sectarian violence… large numbers of victims came from both Sunni and Shi’a sects”.

    It is duly noted that the followers of Aga Khan and the “Zikirs” are off the hook and religious rhetoric against them is “eliminated”. Christians have no complaints about the government policy. Their fears are based on “societal pressures” that may force them into “self censorship”.

    The report highlights alleged discrimination and mistreatment of the Ahmadiyya sect. “The embassy carefully monitored treatment of the Ahmadiyya community. During discussions with Islamic religious leaders, embassy officials urged reconciliation with the Ahmadiyya community and an end to persecution of this minority group. Embassy officials also raised and discussed treatment of the Ahmadis with members of parliament, encouraging an eventual repeal of anti-Ahmadi laws and a less severe application in the interim”.

    Some examples of discrimination against the Ahmadis included: “While the constitution guarantees the right to establish places of worship and train clergy, in practice, Ahmadis suffered from restrictions on this right. According to press reports, the authorities continued to conduct surveillance on the Ahmadis and their institutions. Several Ahmadis’ places of worship reportedly have been closed; others reportedly have been desecrated or had their construction stopped. For example, on June 18, 2005, police ordered the Ahmadiyya community in Pindi, Bhatian, Hafizabad, Punjab, to stop construction on a worship place at a site acquired for the purpose some 20 years before then. Police were reportedly acting on the request of the local Islamic cleric.” Contrary to this, “state funding was provided for construction and maintenance of mosques and for Islamic clergy”.

    While Christians seem to have no complaints about importing and locally printing books on their faith, the same right was allegedly denied to the Ahmadis who could not distribute their religious literature openly in public. However, there were no restrictions on doing so within their own community. But the most serious accusation is that the permission to hold a conference on the finality of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was a “tacit endorsement” by the government of the campaign against the Ahmadis. Also, those applying for Hajj have to sign an affidavit declaring Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as an “imposter” which is calculated to discourage and identify Ahmadi applicants.

    However, there is relative improvement even on this front. “In 2005, the government enacted a law that requires senior police officials to investigate any blasphemy charges before a complaint is filed….There were only 24 blasphemy cases filed during the reporting period, a decline from 54 during the previous years’ reporting period. According to figures compiled by local NGOs, between 1986 and April 2006, 695 persons were accused of blasphemy: 362 Muslims, 239 Ahmadis, 86 Christians, and 10 Hindus. In many cases filed during the year, the accused were either released on bail or charges were dropped. Of the 695 individuals accused of blasphemy at the end of the reporting period, 22 remained in detention awaiting trial on blasphemy charges, and 9 were in prison following conviction.”

    Another plus: “The government did not impose onerous financial penalties due to religion….The government did not abuse converts to minority religious groups. Converts to the Ahmadiyya community were often accused of blasphemy, violations of the anti-Ahmadi laws, or other crimes.” But there were complaints that religious zealots continued to force people to convert against their wills.

    The government also “took steps to bolster religious freedom during the period covered by this report” and there was “a significant decline in new blasphemy and Hudood cases, approximately 44 per cent and 164 per cent from the previous reporting period, respectively. It appears that this decline could be due to the implementation of the 2005 revision to the procedures for the implementation of both the blasphemy laws and the Hudood Ordinances. Under the new procedures, senior police officials must investigate all blasphemy cases before charges are filed, and a court order must precede women’s detention under the extramarital sex provisions of the Hudood Ordinances.

    But who knows? By the time President Musharraf takes his seat at the breakfast table with President Bush on September 22, news of a reformed Hudood bill could be in has hands. Now that would be “timing”.

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