Geo Banned-II – Guest post by Aal e Hashmat

Geo Television had started its broadcasts on 14th August 2002 on the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence Day, continued to run smoothly but, along with other such Channels like ARY Oneworld and Aaj, had first time suffered with drastic shock in November 2007 when Gen Musharraf had promulgated notorious ‘emergency’ in the shape of sub-martial law in Pakistan. Gen Musharraf was of the view that ‘the Pakistani media was responsible not only for political instability but was also involved in promoting terrorism’. He planned to fix a top media tycoon and some TV anchors under sedition charges but failed because the whole media, the civil society and especially the lawyers were united against him. The fact remains that the media had played an important role in Gen Musharraf’s departure from the government and Pakistan scene.

Geo was targeted, the daily ‘Jang’ and ‘The News’ ‘ were subjected to immense pressure but the programs on Geo could not be controlled by Pakistani Information Ministry. At last Gen Musharraf had to approach Dubai government for help. His request was acceded to and GEO was banned to go on air.
Geo, Pakistan’s most popular Urdu news channel was again beamed into homes by cable networks on 22nd January 2008 after a ban of about 77 days. Gen Musharraf had allowed Geo News and its sports channel Geo Super back on air immediately before leaving for a visit to Europe. With full-page advertisement with the caption ‘Geo Phir Say’ in its sister newspaper The News, the Geo group had announced the comeback of its two channels.
It was interesting that other media channels — including Dawn News, Aaj TV and Business Plus were back on cable networks on 12th November 2007, just after nine days, but Geo News and ARY Oneworld remained banned from cable systems and were available only via satellite and the Internet. Two of the Geo channels: Geo entertainment and Aag, a youth channel; were allowed back on cable networks after a month or so but main Geo was only re-instated after a series of protests across the country against the ban. Some of the channel’s anchors even hosted their shows on the roadside in several cities as a mark of protest.

Just before Geo Super was taken off the air, the channel had secured the rights to the India-Pakistan cricket series, an event bigger than the Ashes in terms of importance in sports, and lost about $15 million. In total, the network’s loss was estimated to be about $25 million endangering the livelihood of over 10,000 employees at home and abroad.

The same Presidency, but this time occupied by Mr Asif Ali Zardari, again successfully molded the Dubai government to force ‘Merey Mutabiq’ program to go off-air. Dr. Shahid Masood might have suffered this fate for his expected open discussions on sensitive topics like NRO in which Mr Zardari was placed at the top of the list. This time some senior Geo News staff members were also harassed to make the news programs run according to the conditions of the Presidency. In addition, two of the most popular newspapers Jang (Urdu) and The News (English) were also brought under pressure in this regard.
Interestingly, on a similar note, Sherry Rehman, a Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting in PPP’s government, had reportedly resigned from the cabinet due to the issue of government’s policy on media. Miss Rehman had warned against any unfair restrictions on media on any issue whether related with the PPP’s government or party decisions or Presidency. No body had shown any deep concern with her exit.

In the present situation, the anchors and news-people maintain that President Zardari does not need enemy from outside nor any media person is against him in person. His own irresponsible acts and behaviour towards certain core issues have brought him to this stage of loneliness coupled with degradation of president’s office. The anchors and media-men openly say that the imminent danger to the cause of democracy in Pakistan is from the President himself and his cronies, associates and partners. Most of President’s team members are regular and paid employees of certain foreign powers and they do not feel shy for this shameful service.

There are so many other issues which can be included in the above list. The above list was being discussed in media off and on but the immediate causes of anger were anchor’s open criticism on the Kerry-Lugar Bill and NRO. PPP leaders like Raza Rabbani and Nabil Gabol had also criticised the KLB and NRO openly. Fact was that PPP lost support from its own legislators over these two issues but instead of putting his own house in order Mr Zardari pasted blame on Geo. It should have been taken into consideration that when the media would catch air of any of such issues, they will reflect the same in their news with feedbacks, opinions, analysis, observations and predictions. When the people go through such news, of course, a general opinion starts taking shape. Its responsibility cannot be placed on anchor’s shoulder solely but there are other cogent factors, too.

The events narrated in the preceding article are analyzed here one by one. It seems that the problems have gone multi-dimensional and all power sharers were responsible to create the said chaos. The readers would be able to identify that who was wrong and where.

The critical analysis of above events somehow tells that the president is angry with these media persons and anchors because he understands that they are being sponsored by the Army, by the PML(N) or by some religious factions whereas his own PM Mr Gilani is also playing in their hands for ulterior motives. The Presidency also holds an opinion that so many administrative failures like power shortage, acute shortage of flour and then sugar, fuel price hikes, mishandling of Baluchistan situation, strained relationship between Centre and Punjab, Taliban’s activities in Swat and Wazirastan and deaths in suicide bombings should have been attributed towards Prime Minister’s office and not to the Presidency.

The rental power plants issue was also criticized in the federal cabinet and lots of inappropriate dealings were reported. The government completely failed to apprehend a big sugar crisis in the country despite repeated early warnings from many experts. State Minister for Production Ayatullah Durrani disclosed in the Parliament the names of owners of sugar mills, the MsNA of ruling party and opposition, who were responsible for the crisis but Federal Minister for Production Manzoor Wattoo contradicted his deputy. This crisis exposed the bad governance of the government. PM office should have been declared responsible for these follies but the failures were attributed towards the Presidency.

The emergency imposed on 3rd November 2007 was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 31st July 2009. Opposition parties demanded the trial of Gen Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution. A general impression is that President Zardari did not agree to try Gen Musharraf due to an understanding with some foreign countries. The general populace did not approve this level of foreign interference in Pakistan. The insiders believe that the President wanted it but the PM Gilani did not agree with the idea of trying Gen Musharraf (ref: Nusrat Javed’s TV discussion in Talat Hussain’s programme on Aaj / Prime TV dated 30th November 2009).

The tussle and cold war between Army and the president started in the last week of July 2008, when the then Advisor of the Government of Pakistan for Interior, Mr Rehman Malik, managed to get a notification issued from Cabinet Division saying that ‘the ISI reports would be channelised through Ministry of Interior’. In those days, Mr Zardari had not even taken over as President but the move was taken as alarm from PPP’s top command because Mr Rehman Malik was the personal friend, close buddy and intimate associate of Mr Zardari through American CIA in between as guarantor.

This notification was however withdrawn within three hours on the same evening after a disturbing call from the Army Chief was received.
Mr Zardari, through his another family friend Mr Hussain Haqqani, mighty ambassador of Pakistan in United States, got the same job of ‘taming ISI by civilian government’ by including alike clauses in Kary-Logar Bill which was duly processed and accented by the American Congress. The army command rightly understood that KL Bill, aiming to give only 1.5 Billion Dollars per year to Pakistan was got amended by Hussain Haqqani’s lobby in Washington just to keep the Pakistan army under civilians. The army command later pointed out that the President, Rehman Malik and Hussain Haqqani had purposefully managed to include these clauses so that all reports regarding strategic planning of Pakistan Army are sold to Americans on negotiable terms settled by this troika against Pakistan’s national interests.

After such deliberations on record, if the army is using the media stalwarts and top anchors to block the way of President’s wishes, let the time decide who is right.

Coming back to the philosophy of the whole episode, in Dr Mujahid Mansoori’s opinion, the states should provide adequate safeguards in their constitutions for freedom of information, speech and expression as most of the developed countries of the west have done. (In contemporary history it is rightly called as 5th pillar of the state) He sincerely believes that Pakistan has been labeled with stigmas of terror, frustration and corruption due to non seriousness of our leadership. In Pakistan the military dictatorship comes but to prolong its rule envisages such steps inadvertently which they believe would lead the nation towards brightness. Gen Musharraf’s dictatorship had also felt a similar vision in 2002 for freedom of press and media which element ultimately started ending his military rule in 2007 giving way to judicial revolution, general elections of 2008 and then democracy.

It is another saga of underdeveloped nations like Pakistan that when democracy comes, it happens to be so frail, weak and scrawny that the rulers soon tend to become another group of dictators of civil nature. They start doing mistakes, favour un-rational decisions while betraying their voters, penalizing their political opponents and trying to establish their rule through nepotism and corrupt practices. By this way they actually call for another military take-over, making a rosy way for them and, at the same time, the people also feel fed up with shallow slogans of democracy, though this democracy is only by name and not by character in nature.

Thus this circle is going on in Pakistan since the last 60 years.

There seems to be a ray of hope at end of the tunnel now. This hope is of responsibility felt by the press and electronic media. The circle of history cannot be reversed nor can one take the people of Pakistan in the same age of darkness, ignorance and blackmailing by pseudo-leadership. Now the live discussions on issues of governance, on the private and non governmental channels, have been acknowledged as effective remedial measure taken against corrupt practices of cartels of leadership and their peculiar interests. The expression and tones in the articles of open press have shaken the populace in streets to reconsider their visions about their family branded leadership ideals while pondering over well documented instances of their bad governance characterized by both PPP and PML(N) two terms governments.

The routine type waderaism, jagirdari systems, sardari nizams, peer parasti, religious misinterpreters and the politicians taking birth out of these sinful historical taboos are now fading away where enlightenment of the free press and media arrives. Family branded leadership when feels that their so called enlightened faces are being blackened by the facts brought up on surface by the media, they simply try to negate later’s existence by putting selective embargos of many kinds like they have now imposed on Geo’s ‘Merey Mutabiq’. The government machinery is then employed to propagate that private media is taking shape of dictatorial ghost and is bent upon to affect the general people’s thinking about their democratic leadership.

This is the point where they are wrong. Neither they are democrat leaders in shape and spirit nor is the media interested in doing politics. Media cannot aspire to take over the role of performing government nor can any such function be assigned to them. Media’s role is to say, discuss, comment and analyze what the government is performing or what the politics should be as per standard norms. They do comparisons of Pakistani politics and their roles with countries whose channels are already available to the people to view through Sky all over the globe.

In Pakistan, it has been the long practice that when the rulers, civil or military, are praised in the press and media, they are all good. When there is any news or discussion which unearths the wrong doing or illogical decision of the leadership, they are termed ‘a force against democracy’ or an agent of foreign power or simply an agency going against the government. We should be sorry over such state of affairs.

Ansar Abbassi, in an enlightened article published in Jang London of 30th November 2009 has concluded his opinion with:

‘President Zardari may not like it but he needs to change himself if he wants to secure his presidency. It may also not sound music to his ears but he also needs to change his company by getting rid of the tainted sycophants, dirtied courtiers, corrupt to the core souls and some ìknownî agents of MI6 and CIA, surrounding him. He has to act without any further delay to undo the 17th Amendment, implement the Charter of Democracy and check corruption. Otherwise, he would continue getting weaker and weaker with every passing day. But for his own follies and failings, there is no reason to blame others, particularly the media, which is the mirror, whom the politician always support and admire when out of power intoxication.’

(Aal e Hashmat from UK)

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