Pakistan media in the government firing line

Pakistan media regulary faces snubs and threats at best and murder at worst

Mansoor Jafar
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January has always been a dreadful month for media in Pakistan the last few years. Not only because media publishes yearly reports on the number of newsmen killed on the job; but because over the last few years, very high profile newsmen were killed in this month. Noted U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl and Geo News’s reporter Wali Khan Babar are just of few of them.

This January has been no exception: one newsman and three technicians of a TV channel “Express News” were gunned down in Karachi in separate incidents. Someone claiming to be a new spokesman of Taliban took the responsibility of shooting them down, saying they were killed to avenge the media’s backing of military operations and drone attacks on tribal areas.


A history of poor treatment

Newsmen in Pakistan have always been victimized by the state and pressure groups. After Sept. 11, 2011, they have been targeted from many sections of society and literally performing their duties against the barrage of gunfire and bombs. Religious extremists are accusing them of siding with the enemies of Islam while Taliban is killing them for allegedly carrying out the U.S. agenda against Islamists.

Pakistan's secret agencies viciously slander newsmen who they think are exposing their illegal activities. Many political parties have been openly accusing media of being biased against them or paid by their rivals.

The most courageous and truthful journalists have to face the most accusations and threats. After failing to counter the truth, people conveniently accuse journalists of corruption and betrayal against the country. Pakistan has been carrying this ugly tradition for a long time.

Former military dictator General Musharraf is known for his open contempt and averseness for media men. When the government of Nawaz Sharif at last lodged a treason case against him a couple of months back, he became the first military dictator in country’s history to be in the dock for treason against the constitution.

A couple of days ago, however, his lawyer Ahmad Raza Khan Kasuri followed the precedent of those before him when publicly accused journalist Ali Sher of corruption and being a traitor, threatening that the newsmen would be ‘dealt with appropriately.’

The crime of the unlucky journalist was simply asking the lawyer why Musharraf, who used to boast he never feared death, was now ‘hiding in a hospital for the last two weeks on the pretext of some sudden and mysterious heart problem, to avoid appearing before the court despite issuance of repeated summons from the judge.’

The question pricked the seasoned lawyer so much that he instantly lost control of himself and began shouting at the newsman, who works for a local Urdu language daily.

The most courageous and truthful journalists have to face the most accusations and threats. After failing to counter the truth, people conveniently accuse journalists of corruption and betrayal against the country. Pakistan has been carrying this ugly tradition for a long time.

Mansoor Jafar

The lawyer not only accused those journalists criticizing Musharraf as being secret Indian agents and corrupt, but also threatened them, claiming that those journalists working against the general would be dealt with soon. He went on to cite faults with journalistic community, saying many of them were actually holding dual nationalities and staying in Pakistan to carry out foreign agenda.

When the anchor of a TV talk show asked the lawyer to detract his comments, Kasuri refused and persisted in his threats and warned media that he had compiled a long list of traitor journalists and he had already filed a petition before the Supreme Court to try such newsmen.

General Musharraf was known for treating his opponents with open contempt and naked threats, even while addressing them live on media. Once he contemptuously threatened to hit Baloch tribesmen with sophisticated weapons fired from long distance. Similarly, he used to ridicule the media by saying, “you ask too many absurd questions."

Media walks fine line

Kasuri must not forget that media has so far gone very softly against General Musharraf. Few have questioned why Nawaz Sharif made a ineffective treason case against Pervez Musharraf that only deals with his dismissal of supreme court judges and imposition of emergency in 2007.

Only a few questioned why Nawaz has spared Musharraf of the treason charges of dismissing his elected government and parliament in October of 1999 and his crime of selling off thousands of innocent citizens including noted educationist Dr. Aafia Siddiqi to the CIA on charges of working for al-Qaeda. All of these citizens are still missing to this day with their families running from pillar to post in search of them.

Kasuri could have been more furious if, for example, the media asked about the allegations of Musharraf launching U.S.-propelled military operations in tribal areas that caused a civil war-like situation in the country, taking the toll of over seventy thousand civilians. Not many journalist today accuse Musharraf of allowing drone attacks and inviting secret private U.S. forces like Black Water into the country, forces that wreaked havoc in the shape of subversion and killing sprees like that of Raymond Davis and the operation to hunt Osama Bin Laden.

Another former military dictator, late General Ziaul Haq, once said if he could have hanged a few journalists nobody could have dared to speak against him. His military courts punished four outspoken journalists with flogging. Three of them were actually flogged while the fourth escaped the punishment for being handicapped and doctors advised he should not be flogged.

Musharraf's lawyer has a lifelong love for military dictators. He was a devoted supporter of General Ziaul Haq and remained at the forefront of his campaign for awarding capital punishment to deposed former Prime Minister Bhutto. Then he joined hands with General Musharraf as a loyal leader of his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML).

Following his threats to the media, if anything happened to those journalists critical of Pervez Musharraf, should Kasuri be held responsible? Some journalists tried to lodge a case against Ahmad Raza Kasuri for hurling open threats, but Islamabad police was reluctant to lodge a formal report and the case against him was not made.

Foreign favoritism

His client General Pervez Musharraf has always favored foreign journalists over the locals. His inclination towards Indian and western journalists was known to all. During his visit to India in 2003, he spent too much time with media shows and interviews. His over indulgence with media was held as one of the causes of his visit failing to achieve the desired results. He is known for breaking exclusive information only to foreign media.

Like his notorious interview with U.S. press in which he opined that Osama bin Laden might have been hiding in Pakistani tribal areas. This interview paved the way for generating strong US demands to launch military operations in FATA areas in February 2004.

In his last days before retirement, the dictator gave exclusive interviews to foreign media and selected TV anchors, ignoring the mainstream local media.

It was strange that his lawyer was accusing the local journalists of having dual nationality. Even if some newsmen are dual national, it is their personal matter and has nothing to do with Mr. Kasuri’s bad temper. He must not forget that newsmen have no guns to defend themselves unlike his commando general client.


Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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