KARACHI: After the East Pakistan tragedy, some communities in Pakistan are still being demonised with little attention being given to the Baloch population perhaps because it does not fetch electronic media good ratings, a national conference on media was informed on Wednesday.
“We are still demonising communities yet no activism on the part of citizens is there. Balochistan represents one such population which is not being covered properly because it does not guarantee good ratings to the media,” said I.A. Rehman, secretary general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in his keynote speech at the concluding session of the three-day national media conference.
The conference was organised by the Sindh Madressatul Islam University (SMIU) at a hotel.
He referred to the debacle of East Bengal in his argument regarding demonizing certain communities in a country composed of a variety of races, cultures and demographics. “We opted to remain silent in the case of Bengal and nothing is stirring us to open up now. We have learnt nothing from the history.”
Mr Rehman said there was no freedom of expression even in Karachi where the media was being coerced to print at the will of the pressure groups. “Citizens have played no role for the cause of democratic values, but I tell you, there is no other way around, we will have to strive for this.”
He said Mohammad Ali Jinnah said goodbye to the two-nation theory with the creation of Pakistan as the founder declared all the citizens equal irrespective of their religion, caste and creed, yet that did not happen and the role of media never proved helpful to keep the nation hinged on the Quaid’s vision.
Sharing his reflections on a famous headline published in a newspaper, he said the slogan ‘udhar tum idhar hum’ was not chanted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but it had been coined by a news editor.
He said there was a ‘loot sale’ of the national assets and unfortunately media was engaged in similar practices.
To a question about the inclusion of two journalists in the government’s committee to hold talks with a committee representing Taliban, Mr Rehman said it was not the first time when journalists were engaged in such activity.
“In fact they have been doing such activities for decades. The first such incident was reported in 1950s when a journalist had been used to manoeuvre for dissolution of the then assembly.”
Mr Rehman talked extensively about the lack of discourse in the society and the teachers whose freedom had been snatched. He called for declaring all the educational institutions enjoy autonomy.
In an earlier session on the regional media, Kazi Asad Abid, chief editor of Sindhi daily, Ibrat, said unlike many countries, Pakistan was not giving importance to its regional press. He said 90 per cent of 62,000 newspapers in India belonged to the regional media.
He said the languages of the four provinces had always been denied of their rights, which reflected from the attitude of Islamabad for the regional newspapers.
“Authorities in Islamabad think us as beggars, they use the government advertisements as a tool to dictate their policies upon us,” he said.
He said the papers of Sindhi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Pashto and Balochi had zero patronage from the government and private sector. As these papers heavily relied on the government advertisements, they often suffered greater obstacles in practising independent policies, he added.
He said with different political parties governing provinces and Islamabad, Sindhi papers here were not being given federal government ads.
Dr Fehmida Hussain, chairwoman of the Sindhi Language Authority, disputed the term ‘regional’ attributed to the provincial languages and suggested that a ‘different and respected’ term be used for the Pakistani languages other than the official ones.
Editors of Vatan Gujarati, Usman Saati, Munir Ahmed Baloch of Balochi newspaper, Nawa-i-Watan and intellectual Taj Joyo also spoke on the occasion and shared difficulties they were facing in printing their papers with meagre resource.
SMIU vice chancellor, Dr Mohammad Ali Shaikh, said the university was trying to reopen its Gujarati school section, a facility in which the Quaid had also been admitted.
The curtain was brought down on the conference with a declaration calling for the media houses to respect privacy of citizens, do not give undue coverage to militant groups and their acts and particularly avoid the rampant use of music in news stories about blasts.
“In a democratic, federal parliamentary Pakistan, aberrations like militant organizations and their militancy must not be given undue coverage,” declared the conference.
“And make it sure… the use of music in stories about bomb blast must be avoided.”
The conference, which deliberated on a host of issues related to all forms of media in its eight technical sessions during the three days, admitted that the media, electronic media in particular, had flourished to a great degree with around 100 TV channels and more than 150 FM radio stations cropped up within a decade.
However, in various sessions experts and critics complained about the lack of checks and balances especially on the content being presented by TVs and radios, which according to them, had led to grave social aberrations.
“We call for democratic role of media for national integration and respect for Pakistani diversity with all its regional colours.”
The declaration unequivocally highlighted the issue when it demanded the media to respect the privacy of citizens.
“Media shall not assume the role of administration by intruding into private houses and assume the role of judiciary by pronouncing value judgements,” it added.
It also drew attention to the deficit of training for the workers, which sometimes posed challenges of life and death.
“Media houses must organize in-house trainings for its staff,” it said, adding the owners should not just value their equipment but also people who work for them. “Along with equipment, the media houses must value the life and liberties of their staff. Journalism has become a dangerous profession in Pakistan and warrants mandatory insurance of media professionals.”
It said the use of language spoken on the two influential mediums was very poor and that too distorted the cultural values a great deal.
While it called for the implementation of certain recommendations for the formation of an independent media commission, it asked the media to come forward with an effective code of conduct.
The moot brought young scholars and researchers, students, academia, media professionals and politicians at one platform to dissect, debate and deliberate the media spectrum of the country with focus on changing and ever-evolving print, electronic, digital and regional media.