Press: In chains of another kind -by Waseem Altaf

The first attempt on media and free speech in Pakistan was made by Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan and associates when they tried to black out some passages of the Aug. 11, 1947 speech of Mohammad Ali Jinnah before the constituent assembly. However, Mr. Altaf Hussain, the editor of daily “Dawn” came to know of this, and he thwarted their effort by threatening them that he would go to Mr. Jinnah. A month after Jinnah’s death, the Public Safety Ordinance was imposed and in the first 7 years of our independence, 31 newspapers and literary magazines including Naqoosh, Savera and Adb-e-Latif were banned for different periods.

In 1949, the Civil & Military Gazette(C & MG) was closed down when 16 West Pakistan newspapers carried a joint editorial by the title “treason” and asked the government to close down C & MG for a suitable period. However, the editors from East Pakistan did not join them. The illustrious paper was then closed down. Although the 1956 Constitution contained a specific article on the freedom of press, however, it lasted for less than three years when Gen. Ayub Khan imposed martial law and abrogated the constitution. When in 1958, Ayub Khan came to power, he detained Syed Sibte Hassan, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi who had a leftist orientation.

In April 1959 he took over Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) which was publishing progressive newspapers: The Pakistan Times, the Imroz and the Lail o Nehar. In 1960 Ayub Khan promulgated the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance to further reinforce repression. In 1961 the government took control of the principal news agency of the country namely APP, to ensure which news was suitable for supply to the media. In 1964 Ayub Khan established National Press Trust (NPT) which absorbed all the papers previously published by the PPL. In 1963 came the Press & Publication Ordinance (PPO), which harshly curtailed freedom of expression and any progressive development. This law could ban publications, allowed entry and search of premises and prohibit import of newspapers.

The “press advice” clause contained in the PPO was thoroughly applied during Yahya Khan’s martial law (1969-71).

When Z.A Bhutto came to power the editor “Dawn” Mr. Altaf Gauhar was arrested on the trumped up charges of forging a passport, possessing obscene literature and contraband liquor. Bhutto also imprisoned publishers and editors in the name of national security. The PPO and NPT remained intact during Bhutto’s democracy and the only other news agency PPI was also brought under the authority of the government apart from APP.

When in 1977 Zia assumed power through a coup d’état four journalists were flogged in 1978, within 90 minutes of a military court’s verdict. However, PPI was handed back to its original stakeholders.

During the democratic interludes of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (1988-99), daily “Jang”, “Khabrain” and “The Friday Times” plus several other publications and the editors faced their wrath. During Musharraf’s period live coverage on TV was banned and many private channels were taken off the air as they were showing the lawyers movement for the restoration of superior judiciary. Even today when we have a democratic dispensation we find that transmission from private channels is blocked, licenses suspended and those indulging in reporting of a sensitive nature are harassed and even kidnapped and tortured

Although the old tactics of harassment and torture are generally not employed in present times, barring a few cases like that of Umer Cheema of “The News”, Azaz Syed of the daily “Dawn”, Kamran Shafi and Marvi Memon who were subjected to third degree measures, this is however ,not the standard modus operandi.

Today the ISI has a senior officer designated to look after media management, whereby appropriate persons are purchased for a price to look after the interests of the security establishment. The ISI people simply ask their price and negotiate on a mutually agreed amount which is then disbursed to achieve political objectives. Some of those on the payroll are too open and stark whereas some promote the military’s policies in a more subtle way.

The psychological operations are effectively employed by the GHQ generally targeting their own people. The Abbotabad debacle is a case in point. No less a person than the Army Chief himself held meetings with media persons and advised them to toe a particular line. Having army’s complete monopoly over patriotism and national security the media persons were asked in the name of patriotism and national honor to eulogize and glorify the so called accomplishments of the military. Presently a large number of columnists are focusing on the failure and incompetence of the civilian government, whereas the fact remains that all matters relevant to defense and foreign policy and to a great extent even finance, are now the sole jurisdiction of the army. Presently a number of journalists and editors give preference to the statements coming from the army over those emanating from the Information Ministry. The operational wing of the army i.e. the ISPR, apart from ISI, is now quite a sophisticated machine having established different wings like one dealing with private TV channels, another with FM stations and yet another with print media. So on and so forth. The media is also given a clear policy line. Like they are not supposed to highlight the missing persons in Baluchistan and no coverage of mutilated bodies found in Baluchistan is allowed.

Ahmad Qureshi is a young, smart and educated journalist who runs a network of lies directly from the GHQ. On the other end of the spectrum is Mohammad Saleh Zaafir, aged and crude with questionable qualifications, yet a diehard spokesman for the ISI and the military.

Talat Hussain, once a respected media person has also been completely exposed. He is the one who in his program denied that Ajmal Qasab and his associates had anything to do with Pakistan and everything what happened in Mumbai was staged by the Indian establishment. Similarly a few days back in his program on “Dawn TV”, he was trying to create doubts about the US operation in Abbotabad by raising silly questions, like the compound in Abbotabad had a shabby look and could not belong to the billionaire Osama. Talat Hussain has recently purchased a house in street 73 I-8/3,Islamabad , estimated to be above 6 crore rupees. So far sources are not known.

Columnists like Hassan Nisar are all out to divert everybody’s attention towards the Indian threat and the military exercises being held in Rajasthan desert. All his guns face the civilian leadership whereas any word on the actual monopolists of our defense and security is a no-fly zone for him and his likes. Abbas Ather has taken a weird stance by denying whatever happened on 9/11 and 1/5 at Abbotabad.

South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) is an Islamabad- and London-based think tank rumored to be sponsored by the security establishment. Its Director General Maria Sultan is readily available to defend the military’s goof ups and its interests on electronic as well as print media whenever the need arises which does arise so very frequently.

The ISI regularly gives directions to the media moguls and editors as to which news is to be downplayed and which is to be twisted and highlighted. Look how the media was manipulated when the army did not like the disbursement of funds under the Kerry Lugar Bill. The ISPR violating all norms of the constitution issued a policy statement, and a number of media persons came forward to criticize the American government. All what the Americans wanted was the placement of an audit system over the military assistance they were offering.

The fake Wikileak story highlighting factionalism in Indian army and accusing India of sponsoring militant groups is yet another example of how our short sighted intelligence operatives tried to fabricate and flash nonsense through the Jang group. The story was leaked to the media by one Mohsin Beg who had his own dubious news agency by the name of Online.

Who funds such news agencies is an open secret. The newspapers of the Jang group and Express Tribune prominently splashed the story but the very next day carried apologies on their front pages.

Not only the security establishment but also the government of the day manipulates media by allocating newsprint quotas, official advertisements and disbursement of miscellaneous funds. Media persons are also bribed through official foreign tours, official pilgrimages, employments at PTV and other state owned corporations at hefty pay packages and allotment of official residences and other such incentives.

In 1990, to rid the nation of the PPP Government involved in bribery the General turned intellectual turned politician Mirza Aslam Beg directed the General turned TV analyst turned visionary Asad Durrani of the ISI to dole out Rs. 140 million of the taxpayers’ money to various individuals as bribe. The payments were made through Lt. Col Mir Akbar Ali Khan of HQ 313 Survey, Rawalpindi.

Mr. Altaf Hassan Qureshi, of Urdu digest fame, the great journalist cum sage, who wrote the serial mashraqi Pakistan say mohabbat ka zamzam beh raha hai at a time when full fledged insurgency was sweeping through Mashraqi Pakistan. The man with a red & white appearance and a proponent of Islamic renaissance received Rs. 0.5 million.

Two great champions of Islam with prominent beards, Mohammad Salahuddin of Takbeer and Mustafa Sadiq of daily Wafaq, received Rs. 0.3 and Rs. 3.3 million each. In vernacular terminology, all the maal-e haram was received as maal-e-halal.

The yaum-e-shuhada ceremony held at GHQ has been consistently aired on various TV channels to reinvigorate those special feelings of the ordinary people towards the special khakis, with Fareeha Pervez dedicating everything she has got to the shaheeds in general and ghazis in particular. On 9th May 2011, a quarter page advertisement in color appeared on the front page of daily “Jang” on behalf of veteran politician Haji Mohammad Nawaz Khokhar, currently running a Qabza group in Rawalpindi, and Islamabad. The ad read that all those ridiculing the army and the ISI were following the agenda of the enemies of Pakistan. The ad contained basic mistakes but had cost millions.

On 11th May 2011 a rally was organized in front of the parliament in Islamabad in support of the army and the ISI in which some children from government schools and a few workers of Capital Development Authority(CDA) carried placards and raised slogans in favor of the army and the ISI. The rally began at a time when Mian Nawaz Sharif was about to announce his party’s stand on the Abbotabad incident and ended when Nawaz Sharif ended his press conference. Interestingly the children did not know why they were brought to the venue and the leader of the rally a labor leader of CDA Ch.Yaseen said that he himself arranged the rally. Some of the slogans written on the placards were” We love ISI” “Pak army zindabad” and “ISI zindabad”

Chaudhary Yaseen, Haji Khusra and children of a model school chanting slogans in support of ISI would definitely raise the morale of our premier intelligence outfit.

Who paid for the costly ad and who arranged the rally is not difficult to understand.

In conclusion, the chains of repression referred to by Zamir Niazi are no more there yet the invisible ones targeting human weaknesses, stronger and more addictive have come all the way to enslave a large part of our media.

It also appears that today, armor and infantry, artillery and air defense, radars and aircraft are no more relevant as the external threat appears irrelevant to our security establishment.

Media management and manipulation, TV channels and FM stations ceremonies and rallies, eavesdropping equipment, lobbying and campaigning, psyops and propaganda comprise the new hardware and software quite relevant to our valiant armed forces for countering an internal as well as the external threat.



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