Like so many Pakistanis, I was shocked to hear about the assassination attempt at Hamid Mir. As someone associated with many public writing projects and as one who believes in the absolute freedom of the press, to me an attack on Hamid Mir was nothing less than an attack on all of us who voice our opinions against the powerful and mighty.
So, while my prayers and sympathies are still with Hamid Mir and so many others in Pakistan who put their lives at risk to keep the public informed, I now have strong reservations about Geo news since they have embroiled themselves in a silly war with those who have either challenged them or called them to question.
I have been watching Geo’s response to the case against them under consideration with PEMRA and now also the tone and virulence of their attack on Imran Khan, and I find their response childish, irresponsible, and reprehensible.
When I close my eyes and hear their phony challenges to Imran Khan and others to come debate them, all that comes to my mind is the image of an overfed spoiled brat who constantly wants more and more attention. It seems as if, somehow, through some cosmic intervention this entire network has been hooked to a massive, infantile id-driven monster, and no matter how much attention you give it, it always wants more.
Yes, freedom of press is absolutely necessary, but no democracy will ver allow the press to air uncorroborated rumors as news without any consequences. It seems Geo wants to have its cake and eat it, too. There is another side to the question of freedom of press: responsibility.
There is a certain hoarse childishness to Geo’s response to PEMRA as well as the statements of Imran Khan. I have been watching their continuous taunts and challenges to Imran Khan for his recent statements, which is sensationalist and might make sense to a twelve-year-old, but repsonsible journalism it is not.
Why was the army so incensed with the coverage of ISI after the attack on Hamid Mir? This question the Geo stalwarts have not bothered to ask. Was it only about the sanctity of the army as an institution, or that of its generals? I do not think it was the latter.
Pakistan army is engaged in a war with the Taliban. This means that for the last ten years, eighty percent of Army cantonments are empty as men and officers are deployed in several regions of conflict. Those of you who have read my work before know that I am not an uncritical apologist for the army. In fact, some of my writings have really alarmed some of my old friends. But my past criticism of the army notwithstanding, in these times one needs to be careful of what one impugns to the army, and the reason is simple.
Pakistan army is not a machine: it is made up of human beings. In most of the cases those human beings do not just follow orders, but follow the orders because they find them to be just. When the war against the Taliban was launched, there was a general crisis of motivation amongst the ranks that needed to be resolved. The crisis was religious: How to justify fighting against fellow Muslims who are fighting against America and who are fighting to establish a Muslim system.
So, the Pakistan army leadership had to redefine their role. They had to fist convince their soldiers that they were not fighting a proxy war for the US interests, but rather a war for the integrity of their own nation. They then had to posit the conflict not in the language of religion but in terms of rule of law. It was drilled into the minds of the soldiers and young officers that this war was about establishing the rule of law and the writ of Pakistani constitution and Taliban, by opposing the accepted law of the state, were, therefore, the enemies of the state. By and large this narrative seems to have worked.
By attacking the armed forces on flimsy evidence, Geo did not only jettison all forms of journalistic ethics, it also attacked the Pakistan army where this rhetoric hurts the very mission that the army has been engaged in. The logic is simple: If even the great institutions of Pakistan army are not safe from conjectural accusations, then, how would the media treat those in the lower ranks who put their lives at risk every single day. Furthermore, this “public trial” of generals further erodes into the leadership legitimacy that, when it comes to war against Taliban, rests on very precariously balanced narratives.
Similarly, the public spat between Geo and Imran Khan is another example of the infantile journalistic ethics that seems to be the mainstay of Geo group. In their pronouncements, the various Geo voices have insisted that Imran Khan should either prove his allegations in the courts or should come and face them on their TV shows. So, in one case they want Imran Khan, a politician, to follow some kind of journalistic ethic that Geo itself did not follow in reporting the attack on Hamid Mir, and in the other scenario they want a political leader to come into their staged TV show and offer himself for questioning. This is trying to have it both ways.
Over all, in this quixotic fight, as I watch the live streaming on my phone, Geo increasingly comes across as a spoiled rich kid stomping his feet and grinding his teeth asking for things that his opponents have no reason to give.
So, while I am not for banning any media channels or for putting journalists in prisons, I am also not very impressed with how Geo administration and its minions have behaved in this entire scenario.
I live in America, which has one of the freest (but corporatized) media in the world. Even here, where most programming is driven by ratings, the journalists never ever go after the armed forces without a hundred percent proof. By and large the media, sometimes more than required, mostly are very respectful to the armed forces and the logic is simple: the men and women of US armed forces put their lives at risk for their country and thus deserve due respect.
I would say the same principles should apply to the coverage of armed forces in Pakistan. It takes more than a good salary and good weapons to ask a soldier to run across a minefield and assault a heavily defended position. It takes a lifetime of care, love, honor, and respect.
This means that our soldiers should feel respected in their streets, villages, cities, mosques, and markets. All these acts of honor and respect are an investment–in so many indirect ways–to earn the right–as a nation–upon the lives of these men and it cannot just be done with a fat bonus. While this subjectivity of a solider takes a lifetime to construct and mobilize in the name of a nation, it can be very easily destroyed by one or two irresponsible and careless acts.
So, the reason the army is so incensed at Geo is not because Geo has, somehow, hurt the fragile egos of its generals, but that Geo has, inadvertently, weakened a fragile and precariously built system of motivation and morale.
No one who claims to be working in the best interest of Pakistan should do such damage and then hide behind childish and sanctimonious tantrums disguised under the general rubric of freedom of press. There can be no freedom of expression without responsibility!