New Age Islam
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Islam and the Media ( 9 Jun 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Freedom of Expression Abused In Pakistan


By Mohammad Jamil

June 10, 2014

Freedom of expression is one of the most abused freedoms in Pakistan. Commentariat in general and some media persons in particular have been flouting the provisions of the Constitution with impunity. The nation watched some anchorpersons in the TV talk shows unleashing avalanche of blistering censure against military and intelligence agencies. Indeed, there was criticism on media trial of politicians when reporting the cases in the courts. During proceedings of three-day judicial conference organized by Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association in September 2011, the participants among other things agreed that “there should be no media trial and the media should not be allowed to encroach upon the space of the judiciary”. If media is to become a credible source, it should provide reliable and accurate information, and work with utmost diligence to offer reports and comments objectively. Analysts should present their analysis, which should be unbiased and free of prejudices.

Indeed, information is a source of learning; but unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit. However, credibility of media as a source of information is of paramount importance. After anchorperson Hamid Mir was attacked, the Geo TV had put up a banner on the TV channel with photograph of ISI Chief Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam stating that he had planned the attack. At the same time the comments by the Geo anchorpersons and editors had continued for days maligning the Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. Unfortunately, neither the government nor Pemra took notice of the blatant propaganda. Nevertheless, the entire nation including civil society, intellectuals, analysts and all media channels condemned Geo and Jang for unlawful media tirade against ISI/DG ISI, and subsequent attempts to defend their stance, challenging the authority of national institutions.

On Friday, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) suspended the licence of Geo News for 15 days and fined it Rs10 million to be paid before the expiry of the suspension period. It said the suspension period may be extended if the fine is not paid, and that proceedings for the revocation of Geo News’ licence shall be initiated in case the licensee persists in its violations. In its first ever reaction over Pemra’s decision to suspend Geo News for 15 days, the Ministry of Defence said on Saturday that it is not satisfied with the penalty awarded after the private TV channel was declared guilty of misconduct. The defence ministry had sought revocation of the private news channel’s licence and prosecution of its editorial and management teams under regulatory laws for electronic media for allegedly bringing premier agency Inter-Services Intelligence into disrepute and harming national interest. Meanwhile, military source said the penalty on Geo was too little and too late.

Despite dressing-down by large number of viewers and public scolding, Geo Group made premeditated efforts to discredit PEMRA. Global players and anti-Pakistan foreign elements also have similar agenda against Pakistan’s Armed Forces/ISI, and some palmed off media men and media groups are advancing their agenda. They perceive that an effective PEMRA will create a ‘win win’ position for Armed Forces/ISI, disallowing any pressure from international and national organizations like EU, HRCP and others, as PEMRA decisions being legitimate will have world wide acceptance.

There is a dire need to empower PEMRA for regulating media in an effective manner and competently protecting the prestige of our national institutions. Media trial of Armed Forces/ ISI should not be allowed under any circumstances. National and international organizations should not be allowed to influence the legal structure of Pakistan by interfering in the internal affairs of Pakistan and matters related to PEMRA. Protection of religious values, Islamic ideals and Pakistani cultural norms, ideological foundations of Pakistan (Two-Nation theory), independence movement and history of Pakistan must be the guiding principles of all media programs in Pakistan. Controversial statements and derogatory remarks on the ideology of Pakistan should not be tolerated. Media should be forced to abide by the provisions of the Constitution with regard to judiciary and armed forces, as nobody is above the law.

It is unfortunate that some media men, especially those associated with a particular media group, act in an irresponsible manner. They do not realize that they are providing India, US and the West justification for advancing their agenda to weaken nuclear-Pakistan by denigrating our intelligence agencies especially ISI, which are eyes and ears of military. In the recent past, when senior Supreme Court Judge Javed Iqbal’s parents were killed, newspapers and some anchorpersons and analysts on TV channels, directly or in a subtle manner accused intelligence agencies while making a reference to missing persons’ case. Though they claimed having competent investigating editors and reporters yet they did not bother to investigate matter to find out the truth. Meanwhile, Naveed Iqbal step-brother of Justice Javed Iqbal had admitted having planned murder of his parents.

There are indeed patriotic and conscionable elements in media, who comprehend the issues in their true perspective and dispel the impression of present state of despondency, conspiracy theories and misperceptions. But at the same time there is no dearth of biased and grossly irresponsible anchorpersons and media men who highlight the differences among the pillars of the state. They tried to denigrate military especially after 2nd May Abbottabad episode, terrorists’ attack on Mehran Naval base, NATO forces’ attack on Salla check posts and other series of acts to denigrate the armed forces. Some anchorpersons on private TV channels and columnists in print media have been trying to lower the prestige of the armed forces in the eyes of public, raising doubts about their capabilities of defending the integrity and sovereignty of the country. This must stop because by disgracing Pakistan’s institutions, they are striking at the very foundations of the country.

Mohammad Jamil is Lahore-based senior journalist.