Life will, can never be normal after relay of the footage of two underage brothers beaten to death in Sialkot. Embedded deep in stonewalls of the newsroom over years, I could not break myself from the objectivity, but the role of media in this episode made me write in first person ‘singular’ for the first time. Journalists now should call a spade a spade lest it’s too late. They have no way out and have to swallow the truth that they need training and they need a collective conscience.
Monitoring media is a painful yet inevitable task, inevitable because you have to hold yourself accountable daily and know where you stand and painful because you cannot accept that the media is treating society so roughshod that a commentator is justified in dubbing us Pakistanis ‘human cockroaches’. It is wishful thinking that the media is bringing about a positive change in society, pressing or trying to press all levers of power to protect human rights, but what if there is an analogy between social violence and popularity of TV channels or newspapers for that matter? What if the perception of wolves of Sialkot was that their savagery will be justified and aired on media? What if the media came up to their perception? What if it was a sequence to many more such acts that the media promoted? What if the media won crowds by doing so and does not want to stop in this rate race?
I had to have a nerve-shattering experience of watching and listening to this incident in two footages online and I am not alone, as over 18.5 million Pakistanis had this opportunity. There was no sadistic reason to avail this opportunity other than confirming if the killers had perceived they were doing good and if the media has a part in formation of this perception. The result was sadly positive. When the boys were pulped out, their faces flattened, all of their bones broken medically, and their bodies overstretched and drained of blood after being hung upside down, they were driven to the killers’ village, put in a trailer in such a way that their heads were swinging down the rear of that trailer for a procession of following motorcyclists to watch. At that time the bodies were dumped in mud facedown and the head of the killers was saying, “Look at the robbers. We caught and killed them. Lo and behold, this footage will be aired on a private TV channel that is popular there”.
This shows that they were encouraged in this dreadful act partly because of some sections of the media (read TV channels) and these channels are popular in society so the head killer was boasting of the footage to be aired on one of them, singling it out by its easy name. And this boast he had not made in passing since the media scientists have a near unanimous opinion that the media is cultivating violence in society and the masses have now grown to understand that violence is now a major option to get themselves heard and seen. The channels that do it more are more popular amongst the masses. This is an un-put-down-able analogy between social violence and media popularity. How the media is making public perceptions such as these is evident from the second footage. Robbers were burnt to death in Karachi and photos of their mutilated bodies made front pages of even mainstream newspapers. The event was well publicised in TV channels. All this remained intact in the subconscious of the killers and on that day this idea was flowing from their mouths. This is the media giving them new ideas to worship their god of grudges and distortion.
In media polls, devoid of credibility and validity since no researcher can imagine they follow the research procedure, I monitored that an overwhelming majority of masses held police responsible more than citizens in this case. The police lodged a case citing a bloody robbery allegedly involving the two brothers as a cause of public anger and their death. This lethargic approach was later lamented by the chief justice of Pakistan on whose order two separate cases were registered for the bloody robbery and public murder of the two brothers.
Exactly following in the footsteps of the police, who they don’t tire of calling ‘corrupt’ morning, noon and night, reporters started dishing out the cause-and-effect theory. A female anchor first went to the killers’ family and had us viewers hear that the brothers were basically robbers. She did not bother to cross-question the family members just symbolically to get to the truth, however harsher it may be. And then every reporter was jumping on the bandwagon, some posing as film heroes reporting live from the site of the killing.