Among the top news stories on national news channels in Pakistan these days is the attack on popular Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir. Mr Mir became the victim of an assault in Karachi in which he was shot six times.
Following the attack, Geo News, a popular local news channel which also happens to be Mr Mir’s employer, launched accusations at Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, and its director, holding them responsible for the attack. No FIR had been filed by the victim or his family, nor had any preliminary investigation into the incident been completed at the time. However, the channel continued its propaganda for a good number of hours.
Since then, the ISI has publicly and quite vehemently denied any connection with the incident. The Defense Ministry has gone so far as to request Pakistan’s media regulatory body to suspend the channel. A three member panel has been conducting an inquiry into the incident before which Mr Mir has also made an appearance.
The greater question now, however, is, ‘Will this incident clamp down on the freedom of media and press in Pakistan?’
Pakistan’s media came into the limelight in 2007, when it propelled the ouster of General Pervaiz Musharraf by fueling street protests. Since then the media has been battling forces of suppression to keep their freedom intact.
According to the latest press release from Amnesty International, journalists in Pakistan have been targeted by the ISI, MQM, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), Lashakar e Jhangvi and several other armed groups. To make matters even worse, of the 34 journalists who have been killed since the restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan in 2008, perpetrators for only 2 have been tried and convicted till date.
In the face of such trying circumstances, one would expect a united media body, but internal rivalries are tearing them apart. The influence of channel owners has increased to such an extent that no one can take a stand against them. The contentious relationship between channel owners is not new either and is clear from the way they pounce on opportunities to bash an opponent. ARY news person Mubashir Lucman filed a petition in the Lahore High Court to suspend the license of Geo News following the latest incident. Other rival stations also ensured that they made the most out of the ‘chance’ to bludgeon the channel.
This latest episode has revealed that there’s another element that is bent upon snatching the media’s hard-won freedom away. The face of the leaders of competing media outlets who are determined to stifle the very right that they got after so much effort. Ever since the attack, competitors of Geo News and Jang Group have taken up a concerted effort to question the behavior of Geo News and despite the fact that the latter was way out of bounds, the whole media body has played it perilously close to endangering their own rights.