Militancy in print —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
The media is the new way to exercise power. If you are a media baron enriched by cross-ownership laws, you have made it. However, even if you are only a reporter you get to exercise petty displays of power. Whether it is your local grocery store or the police check point, the press presses the power button
“If three out of four pillars of a building are crooked and need reconstruction, then what conclusions can be drawn about the fourth one?” asks Mazhar Arif, director of the Society of Alternative Media and Research. This is a question worth pondering over as we cast our eyes over the present socio-political landscape of the country. We sarcastically and condescendingly ask how Hindus can worship the cow, snug as we are on the high moralistic perches that we have mentally installed ourselves on. However, we have no dearth of holy cows in front of which we have been prostrating through the decades: the army, the Kashmir issue, lately the chief justice and, the latest to the list, the media.
The media is the new way by which the middle-class Pakistani can aspire to exercise influence. It is his present meal ticket. Previously, the joke went that the only way a middle-class Pakistani could ever hope to become powerful or exercise some influence was to join the army, hope to move up the power rungs and, if he reached the general commanding officer level, he was set. The luckier ones made it to the chief’s position, staged coups, and became presidents. However, even if you were not so lucky, you were quite comfortably encased in your social power structure. The media is the new way to exercise that power now. If you are a media baron enriched by cross-ownership laws, you have made it. However, even if you are only a reporter, you get to exercise petty displays of power. Whether it is your local grocery store or the police check point, the press presses the power button (pun fully intended).
The corporate media is free, free to carry out the agenda of the corporate owners. Where the owner’s agenda is not disturbed, journalists can pursue their own agendas. These agendas in turn can be corporate, political or ideological. For instance, if a reporter is a member of the band of ‘militant media’, as media analyst Aniq Zafar puts it, s/he can easily file a story on page four of a leading English newspaper titled, ‘Islamic charities most effective in relief activities’. If I were associated with an ‘Islamic’ charity, I would file a suit against the reporter because he goes on to mention organisations that are old wines in new bottles. In other words, banned militant organisations operating under new names. There are a number of Islamic charities that are doing excellent work and do not use militant ways and means. They are funded not by mafias, crime and drug money as the militant organisations are, and have transparent, audited accounts.
The reporter is supposed to report, not give an opinion. Opinions are reserved for the op-ed pages. However, in the said news story, in the very title, the reporter has given his considered opinion. Throughout the four-column story, he fails to establish what is the basis of his sweeping conclusion displayed prominently in the heading.
The news story further goes on to declare that the “most effective among the Islamic charities” is “the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation which is linked with the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)”. The reporter clearly is aware of the way the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation is linked with the JuD. Is the reporter not aware then that the JuD is a banned organisation? As if the heading of the news story was not enough, the reporter, to really imprint it in the reader’s mind, further states, “much discussed in the international media, the Falah-e-Insaniat is another major contributor in the relief activities”.
Since, in this space, I am clearly asked to give my opinion, I will venture to state that it seems to be a paid, placed piece to do some damage control and spin some ‘feel good’ stories about the Falah-e-Insaniat, given the fact that “much has been written in the international media” about it. However, from a purely PR point of view, this is a rather poor attempt as it is quite an overkill. Writing that it has extended significant help does not change the fact that it is linked with a banned organisation that has as its parent organisation a mafia, militant, criminal, bigoted band of thieves that have time and time again proved to work against the interests of the people of Pakistan. These non-state actors’ publicly stated objective is to create a parallel state, funded by illicit means.
Leading English newspapers do not have the monopoly over promoting irresponsible reporting nor is the militant media confined only to English. Just this week, an Urdu paper prominently displayed a statement of Hafiz Saeed, head of JuD, claiming that “there is no al Qaeda”. If there is no al Qaeda, then how is it that there is a group that has, to date, claimed responsibility for global terrorism attacks? Another question that begs to be answered is what is the basis for this claim of Mr Hafiz Saeed? He must have proof showing the absence of al Qaeda .If so, then does he not owe it to his Muslim society, the suffering of which greatly concerns him, to share the proof so that the war on terror which is pursuing al Qaeda can stop?
Irresponsibility, whether in cricket, media, politics or personal relations, needs to be addressed. For what starts as irresponsible behaviour and choices always ends in tragedy. We as a country can no longer afford to have further tragedies.
The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org