GIVEN Khalid Khwaja’s fate, whoever’s voice it is on that leaked tape can at the very least be potentially found guilty of incitement to violence, and at the worst be accused of being an accessory to murder.
The ideologies of Khwaja’s captors are well-known after all: the militants are against the West and religious minorities, for example, and in favour of a violent, extreme interpretation of Islam. Given who he is talking to, whoever is speaking on that tape can be said to have signed Khwaja’s death warrant.
The conversation makes for spine-chilling listening, even in this country where one has become inured to violence, betrayal and U-turns of a criminal nature.
Whether or not the man on the tape is Hamid Mir will perhaps never be conclusively proved. He denies it, as he has every right to, yet it sounds uncannily like him. We need a thorough and above all fair investigation to find out the truth: it is a relatively simple matter to distinguish between a doctored and unedited recording, just as it is to determine whether the voice is actually that of the journalist’s.
Regardless of whether the investigation is undertaken or not, though, what is clear is that the country’s media industry needs to introspect and put its own house in order. The case represented by the leaked tape is an extreme one, throwing up questions about one particular journalist’s ethics, bias and manipulation, if the voice is indeed that of Mr Mir.
What is a matter of deeper concern, however, is the apparent radicalisation of many people in positions of influence in the media industry, and the power of the media as a whole to influence society and shape public opinion.
There have been murmurings about the Pakistan media’s general predilection for the right since at least the Lal Masjid episode. But the shift in this direction has been going on for decades.
During the Ayub Khan era, the left-leaning Progressive Papers Ltd were taken over by the government and journalists were suppressed. The gaps created were plugged particularly during the Zia era, when the media was filled with right-leaning writers who supported and could project the government’s conservative and Saudi-oriented policies. As the country and its politics moved steadily towards the right, unsurprisingly so did the media. That is the route through which we got here. And the frightening thing about the Hamid Mir controversy is that if it is indeed him on the tape, it means that there could now be people in our media industry who are not just supporters of or apologists for the agenda espoused by groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or the Asian Tigers, but are active members.
There is of course the fact that the ideal of total journalistic objectivity is not really a fully achievable goal, for every person chooses his material and what to say about it in the light of his personal interests and inclinations. And then, journalists who report from the frontlines of militancy or criminality, for example, often speak of the risk of becoming influenced in some way by the ideologies of those on whom they are reporting.
Journalists around the world, in a variety of conflicts, have told of this curious version of the Stockholm syndrome. Their job dictates that they ingratiate themselves with and gain the confidence of their subjects, with whom they often become very closely involved. There is always the possibility that the subjects’ cause — in our case the extremist/militant nexus — will begin to take hold of the journalist’s mind and he will begin to sympathise.
Nevertheless, such indoctrination must be resisted at all levels, from the journalists themselves to the organisation they work for. There have been cases where mediapersons have left their jobs, or been asked to resign, for such reasons.
But the situation in Pakistan is a little different. Here, members or activists of proscribed militant/extremist organisations may or may not be working journalists. If there are, they can be identified and action can be initiated against them. Yet the problem is not so easily solved, since vitriol that amounts to incitement to violence is common in the Pakistani media.
Statements against the Ahmadi and Christian communities abound, for example, and so does a lot of inflammatory speech against America, the West or the Jewish lobby. This is irresponsible, journalistically unethical and can in no way be defended by the freedom of speech doctrine.
Far more worryingly, it may well be one of the sources that feed the extremist lobbies and help them swell their ranks.
Every time someone on television or the newspapers refers to the ‘martyrs’ of Lal Masjid, the writ of the state is undermined. Every time a member of any community is called kafir or an ‘agent’ for the West, it could work as the equivalent of signing their death warrant. Because we know that groups such as the TTP, the Lashkar-i-Taiba, the Sipah-i-Sahaba, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the Asian Tigers and who knows how many more are willing to murder on precisely these grounds.
It is difficult to see a way out of this predicament. The swing towards the far right is in evidence in not just the media but also in society at large, thanks to various factors that include Gen Zia’s radicalisation of the educational and other systems, the influences of Saudi Arabia and the United States, the war on terror, etc.
Yet it is imperative that some way of reversing this trend be found.
Admittedly, Pakistan is a conservative country, but conservatism is not and must never be the same as the extremist right. The latter is already wreaking havoc in the country, and in some areas we are at war with rightwing extremists. Their ideologies must not be allowed to gain strength because of a media industry that feeds them or panders to them.
Source: Dawn, 24 May, 2010