Is PPP The Last Acceptable Media Punching Bag?

Mar 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Express Tribune

Express Tribune LogoWhen we were first shown a copy of the email sent by Kamal Siddiqi advising Express Tribune staff against writing against Jamaat-e-Islami, PTI, extremism, militancy, TTP or any other terrorist group, a debate began about whether we should say anything. After some heated discussion, an agreement was finally made that out of respect for the journalists who were facing the very serious life threats from Taliban militants, we would refrain from making any statement either supporting or condemning the decision by Siddiqi Saab, who is a respected and accomplished professional in our field. Not being in his position, we decided that we should not second guess his position. If Express Tribune began to write only about sport and entertainment…it would be sad, but there were certainly worse things to worry about. Since that time, though, something we did not expect has happened and we feel that we must break our silence.

It is one thing to tell staff to avoid criticising terrorists out of fear of retaliation. We can disagree on whether such a move is worthy of a media group of Express Tribune‘s prestige, but it is one that honest people can agree to disagree about. If Express Tribune does not want to be part of the solution, to terrorism, however, turning their guns on the only people who actually do speak out against the terrorists makes them part of the problem. Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing more and more of each day.

Last May, PPP lost re-election and were relegated to the opposition benches. Despite losing power, there were no threats made to disrupt the country through extended street actions. Jiyalas did not take up arms and begin savagely murdering innocents by the bus load in an attempt to force the government into ‘peace talks’. Rather, the outgoing party did what political parties are supposed to do in a democracy: They licked their wounds, accepted their defeat, and after some reflection, began re-organising and speaking out in opposition.

One of the most visible changes since PPP’s loss has been the emergence of Bilawal as the public face not only of the PPP itself, but as a boldly outspoken critic of the Taliban and religious extremism in the country. While some corners of media continue inciting attacks on religious minorities, Bilawal has appointed a Hindu journalist as his advisor and has Tweeted that he wants to see a Christian PM in Pakistan during his lifetime. In greatest contrast to most of the political leaders, Bilawal has spoken out strongest against the Taliban, terming them as ‘stone-age‘ and publicly urging the military to ‘beat them on the battlefield‘.

Having been instructed not to criticise JI, PTI, TTP, or other militant groups, Express Tribune is left with few punching bags. The PML-N is one, certainly, but criticising the party in power threatens the two A’s crucial to any media group: Access and Advertising. This leaves only the PPP for Express Tribune to beat up on. Recent pieces published by Express Tribune have taken a noticeably harsh tone, including terming Bilawal as ‘incompetent‘ and even going as far as predicting ‘PPP’s end‘.

The problem is not that PPP or Bilawal should not be criticised, but that if PPP is being criticised while others are not, the appearance is that Express Tribune is against liberals and, by not giving equal criticism to Taliban and their sympathisers, it ends up actually appearing like it is projecting a pro-Taliban ideology, even if unintentionally.

As we noted at the beginning, terrorist attacks against Express Tribune offices and the memories of journalists who were martyred make the decision of whether or not to continue reporting on terrorism a difficult one and one that only Kamal Siddiqi is in a position to make. With all due respect, though, media cannot decide to stop criticising one side only without at least the appearance of taking sides. If Express Tribune believes it is in their interest to stop criticising some political groups, they have a responsibility to stop criticising all political groups.   Express Tribune provides a valuable perspective in the national discussion, but only when it is free and impartial. When it is not, it can lead to confusion.

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