Geo Saga Requires Reflection, Not Reaction

Apr 23rd, 2014 | By | Category: Censorship, Geo TV, ISPR

The attempted murder of Geo News Senior Anchor Hamid Mir has rocked the nation, not only as the latest attempt to silence a journalist who reports on sensitive issues, but due to the very serious allegations made by Hamid Mir and others holding the ISI responsible for the attack. As tensions are rising to regrettable levels, though, it is worth taking a moment to step back and reflect on the actual issues. There are two important issues at work in this case that have been in conflict for some time and are once again coming head to head. Those issues are media ethics and freedom of the press.

First let us examine the issue of media ethics. This is an issue that has been debated and discussed since long. In the current crisis, the complaint is that Jang Group (Geo) and its journalists have been airing unsubstantiated allegations as if they were facts. Writing in Express Tribune, Talat Masood says that “is surprising that Geo, a leading electronic channel, faltered and presented a personal allegation as a part of news,” and suggests that “it would have been more appropriate for Geo to wait for the official and media’s own committee findings, before taking any categorical position”.

This is undoubtably true except for one important point – it is not at all surprising that Geo would present unsubstantiated allegations as if they were facts. Actually, it is not only not surprising that Geo would do such a thing, but that any media group would. Haven’t we seen since media gained its freedom initially a veritable mela of unsubstantiated allegations masquerading as facts. Whether the reports contain simple incorrect information or political attacks, the past several years have seen countless examples of unsubstantiated allegations leveled in the media.

During the previous government, the media was filled with unsubstantiated allegations masquerading as facts against the President, Prime Minister, Ambassadors, and other politicians. Some of these were so obviously silly that they appeared to be formed only in the wild imaginations of the authors. Others were supposedly based on heavily on information provided by mysterious ‘sources’, some of which were so unbelievable that they were termed by the Court as ‘incorrigible liars‘.  This brings us to the second important issue, which is freedom of the press.

Despite the abundance of unsubstantiated allegations presented as if they were facts, we never saw the previous government request the closure of a TV channel and legal action against its principals. This is how a democracy works – there are no ‘sacred cows’ that are accountable neither to the Courts nor to the media. Instead, the government responded appropriately by answering allegations with the facts and letting the people decide for themselves.

It should be noted that this website was begun with the same principle in mind: holding media accountable for its own actions in order to convince it to clean up its act. Some in the media did not appreciate facing the same scrutiny that they enjoyed giving, but in addition to being in the media’s own interests, it is also a Constitutionally Guaranteed Right in Article 19 and 19A.

Just as politicians and media should not be sacred cows, neither should any institution, no matter how ‘sensitive’. In the present case, whether Jang Group has crossed a line in making unsubstantiated allegations against ISI, the response should not be to silence Jang Group, but to respond with the facts, something that the military is certainly well equipped to do.

The current tension between the media and military should provide important lessons about media responsibility and freedom: Media has a responsibility to verify its facts and not report unsubstantiated allegations, and those who find themselves in media’s bright lights have a responsibility to respond with correct information, not threats and censorship. Taking these lessons will actually result in the strengthening of respect for all institutions. In a democracy, there can be no sacred cows – not the media, not the politicians, and not the intelligence agencies either.

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