The recent attack on Raza Rumi, the Consulting Editor of this publication, would in saner parts of the world be seen as an eye opener. The only whispers – and one would be extremely generous to dub them as such – of concern or condemnation seem to be aimed at the government for the lack of security provided to the journalists or at the Taliban for, well for basically doing their ‘job’ and shushing up voices that oppose them. The real cause for concern has been mopped up as usual, with the remnants brushed under the proverbial carpet.
Questioning the government over provision of security for journalists would make sense if the current ruling party were not negotiating with murderers of over 50,000 innocent citizens; or if it had not formed a political alliance with the likes of Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) whose agenda includes extermination of over 20 percent of Pakistan’s population because they follow the “wrong” kind of Islam. And of course condemning the religious extremists, for attempting to murder a journalist that opposed them, is like condemning a fruit vendor for selling oranges.
[quote]For Pakistani media houses the ratings war continues to supersede the war against religious fundamentalism[/quote]
In the middle of a battle, if your fellow troops push you into the trajectory of the enemy’s bullet, or leave you criminally exposed, would you condemn the enemy for attempting to kill you, or would you have a bone to pick with your own battalion? And let us reiterate the obvious for the umpteen millionth time: we are at war with the Taliban. However, for the Pakistani media houses, the ratings war continues to supersede the war against religious fundamentalism.
If the government of any sovereign state can muster the audacity to peddle negotiating with groups who have regularly violated the country’s constitution, law, sovereignty and integrity as their preferred counterterrorism solution, it obviously means that this manoeuvre has the backing of the overwhelming majority in the country. And if such a large proportion of the country is diagnosed with the Stockholm Syndrome, obviously the lion’s share of opinion-makers propagate a certain school of thought.
Taliban sympathisers have been hogging the Prime Time TV slots ever since the Taliban first became an issue in the region. Among the Who’s Who of Pakistani journalists we have Hamid Mir and Javed Chaudhry, who have made illustrious careers out of apologia for the Taliban, and have been dubbing them “freedom fighters” for years – Chaudhry once did an entire show juxtaposing the TTP with revolutionaries from the French Revolution and was recently seen virtually begging the TTP for mercy on national television.
Then you have Mehr Bukhari, who despite being quite “liberal” in her own lifestyle, conjures apologia for the Sharia that would “make women want to sit at home”. Also there is a certain Arshad Sharif who gives the likes of Tahir Ashrafi and Maulana Abdul Aziz ample air time and then virtually shushes up a liberal voice in Marvi Sirmed on the show when she “dares” to call a terrorist a terrorist.
There is of course Mubasher Lucman who sells the most baseless of conspiracy theories designed to further exacerbate volatile Indo-Pak ties. The man still has an anti-Geo image as his display picture on Twitter – and we are talking about one of the most popular journalists in Pakistan here. Amid this abundance of nonsense, any moderate voice would obviously be dubbed treasonous.
Raza Rumi does not criticise religion, or question Pakistan’s ideology. He does not launch tirades against anything considered holy or venerated by the masses. His words do not have any trace of vitriol or bile for the Pakistani state.
The reason he was targeted was because he “dared” to sift reality from the excess of conspiracy theories. And the fact that he is virtually in isolation in that endeavour – at least on TV in the commonly understood parlance – made it easy for the extremists to earmark their target and launch the attack.
Had there been more voices echoing moderation, the reverberations would have more resistance value to not be silenced by a couple of bullets. The backstabbers in the media have ensured that they do not support their “fellow” journalists’ most basic of journalistic rights to voice their opinion that happens to differ from their own. And Pakistani media houses have in turn taken “professional rivalry” to a new, life threatening level.
This is precisely why the fact that none of the “rival” TV channels gave any coverage to the attack on Raza Rumi, isn’t particularly surprising. Pakistani media houses are collectively ensuring that the counter narrative against religious extremist is nipped in the bud before it can influence the masses. That and the endeavour to top the ratings race seem to define Pakistani journalism. Media houses by collectively shushing up on the attack on Raza Rumi, struck down both birds with a solitary stone.