Did the media play a role in Salman Taseer’s murder?

Who killed Salman Taseer? Did Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin who sprayed the bullets, kill Salman Taseer? Did he really kill Taseer or is it a prevalent mindset in our mainstream media and it’s business interests alike exploiting religion for ratings and popular support amongst the masses led to his slaying? Is Qadri only an expression and an instrument of a larger narrow religious fanaticism? These are the questions that haunt us when such sort of national tragedy strikes.

Did media play a role? Various media analysts and researchers are suggesting that media portrayals of Salman Taseer and blasphemy law fall within a category of ‘incitement of violence’. The media especially Urdu press and leading television channels have played a catalytic role in what happened.

Lamentably, extremist and bigoted section of society has found a sound floor in the media. A large part of the print and electronic media provides the much needed space to both hate mongers conspiracy theorists and radical groups to publicize their cause. The major responsibility of Taseer’s assassination rests with the irresponsible media and it’s howling and yelling anchors. There are several extremist anchors and rightest analysts in the media, who berated and maligned Taseer for supporting Aasia Bibi or condoned such behaviour. It’s also very unfortunate that the intelligence and security apparatus has well established links with mainstream media to espouse a particular cause.

Author Mohammed Hanif writes in his article”Pakistan viewpoint: Who is to blame for Taseer’s death?

When Pakistan’s television anchors and newspaper columnists describe Salman Taseer’s assassination a tragedy, they are not telling us the whole truth.

Because many of these very anchors and columnists have stated, in no uncertain terms, that by expressing his reservations about the blasphemy law, Salman Taseer had crossed a line on the other side of which is certain death.

This death could have come by way of his own guard, or an armed mullah, or a mob or the stroke of a pen in a court. It could break through a governor’s security cordon or, as has happened many times before, visit someone in a cramped prison cell.

The line that Governor Taseer is supposed to have crossed did not get drawn just by the text of a fatwa, or by the orders of Gen Zia who promulgated the blasphemy law as it exists now.

Religious groups are not the only ones responsible. The op-ed writers whose work reads like bloodcurdling fatwas are also not the only ones to blame.

And we are so frightened of crossing the line that would render us faithless that we are ready to sacrifice anyone?”

It is a line that is drawn across all Pakistanis’ hearts.

Why are we so frightened of non-Muslims who make up less than 2% of this country’s population?

Why are we so fond of killing people in the name of the same Prophet who brought us the message that one murder is the same as the murder of all of humanity?

By using words like “ghazi” (warrior) and “shaheed” (martyr) for cold-blooded killers, are we trying to tame some ancient fear or placate the jihadi within?

Goad the butchers

Why do our TV reporters run to muftis and mullahs for answers to questions about everything from Ramadan moon sightings to causes of the solar eclipse?

Who has managed to convince us that Dr Aafia Siddiqui, jailed in the US for attempting to kill US military personnel, should be revered as a “daughter of the nation”, while another daughter of the nation, the condemned Christian woman Asia Bibi, is to be executed?

The same Islamabad where Salman Taseer bled to death in the middle of a pretty neighbourhood played host just a couple of weeks ago to a Namoos-e Risalat (Dignity of the Prophet) conference which was attended by individuals whose party manifestos include the death by murder of Shias, Ahmadis, Hindus and Jews?

Were some of our prominent politicians not in attendance?

Do these same people not inhabit our government corridors, media organisations and security agencies? Do we not break bread with them at weddings and funerals?

The line that Mr Taseer crossed exists within all of us.

And we are so frightened of crossing the line that would render us faithless that we are ready to sacrifice anyone and draw blood to feed our faith.

What if we do not have the stomach to wield the knife ourselves?

We can still goad the butchers on from the fences. For those of us who call ourselves liberal Muslims there is always the option of turning away and holding our noses.

What’s frightening is that our mainstream media seems to be entirely confusing these things and it continues to spin different facts, such as ‘Taseer had been abandoned by his own party’. Ms Meher Bokhari, in her popular [but irresponsible]talk show “News Beat” posed this question to nation that wheather Mumtaz Qadri is hero or culprit?Is media still not sure about it? With all due respect, most of the media is still not understanding this latest mournful and pathetic event correctly, Salman Taseer’s tragic murder at the hands of his own security guard to avenge his bold stand on the Blasphemy Laws is not a single-day development. There is a history to it and unfortunately, there is a huge direct and indirect contribution by the state, non state forces, civil society, media, and political parties in promoting this monster and ignoring the repercussions of its creation.

In an interview to BBC Urdu Abbas Athar has alleged that Shaheed Salman Taseer’s killer is media, particularly one group. Listen his interview

Here are video clips of the Talk Show ‘Reporter, in this episode of Reporter, Arshad Sharif tries to find out if the media, judiciary, lawyers and society at large also have a role in promoting extremist tendencies in Pakistan.

Another Op-Ed on the same issue:

The media’s role in Taseer’s murder

It is quite likely that the tragic murder of Salmaan Taseer, much like the other violence around the blasphemy law, was the act of a lone wolf with acquiescence from co-workers. The security guard who shot the governor was not funded by a terrorist organisation or a political group; rather his motivations stemmed from a misguided conviction, a culmination of anger and hate and a clouded moral compass. Unfortunately the killer is not alone.

He has millions of sympathisers, thousands of whom have expressed support through fan pages, tribute videos and SMSs.
This murder is a hate crime and nothing else. Let’s not grace attention to frivolous arguments which we would like to hear. The injustices in society, poverty, corruption and the lack of concern for the ‘awam’ by politicians had little to do with this act. What must be realised is that the public-servant-turned-killer hated the victim so much that he emptied over two dozen bullets into the governor. The smug smile on his face and his statements suggest that he firmly believes what he had done was right.
How did we get into such a situation? This hate has a long-term ingredient and an immediate cause. Intolerance has bred into our society for decades. One could point to reports such as the A H Nayyar Report which revealed that our curriculum promotes intolerance, or to the incompetence of our institutions which are unable to punish vigilantes or which prosecutes those who incite others to violence.
However the instant trigger must be kept in mind as well, which in this case is the information and views that the guard received. He was made to believe that Taseer was a blasphemer and that it was his duty to kill him. In reality Taseer did not say anything about the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The duty to award and execute punishments rests solely with the state. This is the reason Islam asks for four witnesses, for a competent qazi and the right of the defendant to argue his case.

The perception of the above false reality was the outcome of large sections of the media which acted irresponsibly. Many stories which do not merit to be consider news are played on the screens because they can be sensationalised. Over the past three odd years prime-time slots have been hijacked by political talk shows, hosts of which are constantly trying to make the politicians fight with each other and make fools of themselves.

Through these Jerry Springer shows and Fox News-style reporting, the media has successfully created the perception that politicians are malicious, immoral and irreligious.
In their earnest to make a fool out Taseer, a particular talk show host on Samaa TV constantly traded accusations with him that put him on the defensive and gave the impression that he (Taseer) was somehow not being honest about his views on the blasphemy law. Add to this his press briefing with Aasia Bibi in jail and the common perception that he, a politician would never speak the truth, was reinforced. Soon, the average Pakistani must have begun thinking that Taseer was being defensive because he supported those who committed blasphemy. Sections of the media went a step further. They actively gave airtime to people who accused him of committing and this only confirmed the suspicion their irresponsibility had planted in the first place.

The madness doesn’t stop here. Disproportionate coverage was given to clerics who declared it an obligation on Muslims to kill blasphemers and offered cash rewards. Instead of being impartial, and arguably for the sake of improving ratings in cut-throat competition, many journalists very visibly sided with these extremists. Eventually someone who had access to Taseer pulled the trigger.

Sadly, this won’t end here. The media will continue to irresponsibly televise violence and continue to project the narrative that politicians are the reason why the country is a mess. If drastic measures aren’t taken by responsible citizens and the government to rectify this trend and a clear sense of right and wrong isn’t established things will get worse.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2011.

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