On March 28, Raza Rumi left the Express News studios on Lahore’s Ferozepur Road half an hour after he finished his program. He took this precaution to dodge the stalkers he suspected might be lying in wait for him. He needn’t have bothered. Raza was greeted by a hail of bullets a few minutes later. He said he saw a flash of light before he heard the storm of bullets and because he was half expecting it, he knew in that split second that this was it. He plunged himself on the floor of the car and thrust his head under the seat, choking but determined to save himself. His driver 26 year old Mustafa died almost instantly of the 12 bullets pumped into his young body. Raza’s brave guard fired back at the murderers on motorbikes and they sped away, otherwise they’d have come up to the car and finished Raza off.
While Express News broadcast Raza’s attack on both television and their newspaper, there was silence from Pakistan’s biggest media group, the GEO-Jang combine. There was a history to this hostility. Media ethics had been sacrificed at the alter of competition, with anchors attacking each other and their sponsors, some plumbing the depths as never before. There were rumours of anchors being encouraged by the “agencies”, which did not approve of GEO-Jang’s business ventures with Indian media houses. Working journalists were caught in the crossfire; ignoring Raza’s attack was a case in point. Worse was to follow.
On April 19, one of GEO TV’s premier anchors Hamid Mir arrived in Karachi. As he made his way from the airport to GEO’s offices, he was fired at by men lying in wait. Hamid’s courageous and quick-thinking driver drove for dear life, and managed to get his passenger to the Aga Khan University Hospital in good time. Hamid, riddled with 6 bullets and bleeding profusely managed to call friends to tell them what had happened. As he lay in hospital fighting for his life, his brother Amir Mir informed the world about his brother’s apprehensions – that in case of an assassination attempt, the blame would lie squarely with Pakistan’s premier spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence, and its Director General, Zahir ul Islam.
[quote]The media must see these terrible times for what they are and forge solidarity. The military and the ISI must understand that Pakistan is changing. Despite the hiccups, the march of democracy is unstoppable[/quote]
Amir Mir delivered himself of an oration that I for one did not think I would ever hear from a popular public platform. GEO TV telecast Amir live: “… the military is a termite that has afflicted Pakistan for six long decades and eaten it hollow … they are servants of the people and live off our taxes, yet they are unaccountable and operate with impunity … ” and on and on. Along with Amir’s voice, GEO displayed Lt Gen Zahir ul Islam’s photograph. This was a first for the media in Pakistan, despite the fact that this view of the military is widespread.
Amir Mir’s statement and GEO’s broadcast of it was too close to the bone, coming on the heels of the military’s standoff with the government over the Musharraf affair. Suddenly, Goliath seemed beset by many Davids and hit back. First, the defenders were unleashed on the other channels, with journalists baying for each others blood. GEO TV was made to see the error of its ways; the management apologised for the cardinal sin of having named the ISI and its chief. This was blasphemy on a grand scale. A day later, the supine Defence Ministry was ordered to send a notice to PEMRA, seeking the closure of GEO.
Just as GEO had bitten off more than it could chew by labouring the point of the DG ISI being the prime suspect in the attack on Hamid Mir, the ISI and the military has overstepped the mark by seeking to shut down GEO. Just as the media needs introspection and reform, so the ISI needs a comprehensive overhaul as indicated by several commissions that have found in favour of restructuring and accountability. The Saleem Shehzad commission report of 2012 made a lengthy recommendation to this effect. Ignoring the case for reform will make matters worse – there will be more violence and vitriol and more strife and strain. The media must see these terrible times for what they are and forge solidarity. The military and the ISI must understand that Pakistan is changing. Despite the hiccups, the march of democracy is unstoppable.