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ISI and media infighting

Published Apr 24, 2014 06:17am


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IN the bizarre, whiplash-inducing fallout of the Hamid Mir shooting, an alarming new twist has occurred: the Ministry of Defence — really, the army/ISI leadership — has petitioned Pemra to cancel the TV licence of Geo News while also calling for action against the Jang group’s flagship newspapers under the defamation and press laws of the country. Cloaked in indignation, outrage and outright fury at the allegedly scurrilous coverage of the ISI, the army’s move — and the government’s acquiescence — is deeply troubling because it takes aim at the existence of an independent and free media. Certain basic issues need to be reiterated first. To begin with, Hamid Mir was shot in a targeted attack because of his work as a prominent journalist — and there seems to be little to no concern any longer about who may have been behind the attack and why. Next, the wildly emotional, over-the-top and accusatory coverage by Geo News after the attack on Mr Mir was clearly misguided and far from the best practices of a responsible media.

Yet, for all the missteps and violations of responsible conduct by the Jang group, the army itself seeking to shut down the country’s largest media house because of direct allegations against ISI chief Gen Zahirul Islam is a step too far — and ought to unite the media and the public against this step. For decades, anti-democratic and authoritarian elements have kept the public from choosing who it wants to lead the country and muzzled the media from holding the state to account for its deeds and misdeeds. Now, when a transition is under way and democratic continuity is on its way to becoming irreversible, there is more of a need than ever to have an independent and free media that can operate outside the still-present shadow of anti-democratic forces. The ISI and the army leadership may be rightly aggrieved, but seeking the cancellation of a media group’s TV licence is also a hostile move that can have a chilling effect on the media far beyond just the Jang group — even if Pemra in the end only slaps the group with a fine.

There is though another sad spectacle playing out in the midst of this clash between the state and media: the media at war with itself. Fuelled seemingly by ego, old and new rivalries and, surely, commercial interests, the electronic media has cannibalised itself in recent days. It has been unseemly and worse. With several media groups falling over themselves to denounce each other while simultaneously swearing fealty to the ISI and the army, the core journalistic mission of informing the public and holding the state to account has all but been forgotten. It is time for representative bodies of print and electronic media to come together to defuse tensions and lay down the rules of ethical journalism.

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Comments (45) Closed

khalid Apr 24, 2014 08:05am

Is the media above the law?

Amjad Wyne Apr 24, 2014 08:43am

There is a difference between independent media and irresponsible media. Irresponsible behavior must be punished if we are to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. Without it, we are only going to create rumor mills and chaos.

tab Apr 24, 2014 09:30am

...lay down the rules of ethical journalism. Really!

Abbas Zulfiqar Ali Apr 24, 2014 10:49am

Geo should be handed a fine or reprimanded for irresponsible coverage and be set an example for all media houses. The news channels are the ones who create perceptions of a country, in the entire world, and they have a great responsibility for that matter.

Mahmood Ghaznavi Apr 24, 2014 11:00am

I am surprised by your editorial suggesting that the reference to PEMRA by the Ministry of Defence would lead to something fatal for the Pakistani society. Pakistani nation at large and nealy all the sane media men have not only citicized GEO for their baseless and reckless campaign against the national institutions but also demand legal action in the light of PEMRA rules and constitutional provisions. When media demands rule of law, first they must implement it on their own people and their organisation. Absolute freedom is dangerous for any society, may it be freedom of expression. Living in a vibrant society yet demands an ethical code and implied restraints in consideration of our cultural, traditional, religious and moral values. Freedom of expression has to follow certain conditions which suit our enviroments and demands of our society. It might be true for a western society where a son may express his wedding night story to his family but the same can not be expected in our environments. When we demand the rule of law to regulate the affairs of a society, we must not be reluctant to implement the same against a media house since its powerful and may have a backlash. Probably this is too far fetched an idea for the PEMRA to handle the case lightly. We expect PEMRA to deal with the case at merit and implement the its rules and regulations in letter and spirit.

Atif Apr 24, 2014 12:05pm

Is this a Dawn editorial, seriously? "......ought to unite the media and the public against this step" why in God's name you are so concerned? Has army attacked the channel? They have only exercised a legal right. When you engage in power politics and refuse to correct yourself, you can except someone else to correct you!

SR Khan Apr 24, 2014 12:09pm

Very well written indeed. It is Dawn news once again which has given the nation the hope that it can maintain the crucial and challenging balance between commercial interests and responsible media. Though some of the media groups have got popularity at the level of the masses by appealing to their emotions through sensational coverage, yet Dawn group has maintain a balance. That is why many Pakistanis receive news through some of the "big" media groups but ascertain its authenticity through DAWN only.

Atif Apr 24, 2014 12:46pm

@Mahmood Ghaznavi Very well said. But I would like to add that this is not only absolute freedom. This is more than that. The media house has become so powerful that they were involved in sackings and appointments of chairmen of SECP and PEMRA and even pressurised the governor of SBP. Their nexus with ex CJ made it virtually impossible for the previous government to excercise even its rightful authority. And their love affair with the sitting government is also an open secrete. This is dangerous to say the least. Which country can afford this? Now when someone is trying to limit this through constitutional ways it is being interpreted as an attack on media by none less than Dawn's editor. This is really disappointing! Take a moment - What has army always been accused of? Of hiding behind national interest and national security, right? When someone pointed out their wrong doings they would just say 'okay, pointing out such things will harm national security. So let's just keep mum'. Now the same argument is being used by overdosed freedom preachers. 'Okay, a media house engaged itself in something outside the boundaries of responsible journalism but correcting that will harm freedom of media. So, let's keep mum'. Disgusting!

Ekbal Hussain Apr 24, 2014 12:52pm

@khalid is ISI & Army above the law ? Did anyone in as 66 year try to hold army & ISI accountable for mistake they might made in history. Media should behave ethically but some people should not be declared so Holy that no one even can ask them a question.

Usman Masood Apr 24, 2014 01:06pm

If Hamid Mir is given the keyboard on Dawn's desktop, that's the kind of editorial that'd come out!

Uza Syed Apr 24, 2014 01:34pm

No doubt that we need a free & independent media here like anywhere else where there's democracy. However, do we really have democracy here, just holding of elections (no matter how unfair and no matter how irregular) with choice of electing some criminal history sheeters or actually active criminals fulfills the needs of us the people? Doesn't democracy ensure equal opportunities for all citizens? Where's "Free media"? Aren't they in the clutches of owners who use it as instrument of winning favors and who or which journo can really truly claim independence or freedom here, aren't most of them just paid 'models' to promote interests of their 'feudal lords' the owners. And come to think of it, even this seeming freedom of speech is not achieved really by any struggle or sacrifices by anyone, neither the journalistic community nor public at large did a thing to get what we got and for this we must thank a regime which was headed by a dictator by the name General Musharraf. Anyone wants to bet that with a democratic dispensation and the quality of political class here we would not have seen anything even close to whatever freedom this media got right now.

zad Apr 24, 2014 01:43pm

i think no one can declare Geo as responsible or ethical news channel, same goes to Mr. Meer.

Falcon Apr 24, 2014 01:57pm

While Geo's coverage was irresponsible as pointed out by the author, Army & ISI are shooting themselves in the foot by asking directly for cancellation of Geo's media license. If my hands are clean, I would be more worried about being misunderstood and focus on clarification rather than trying to muzzle accusing voices by force.

Misquoted Apr 24, 2014 02:10pm

This editorial is yet another example where some Media minds stands today: Nation has overwhelmingly rejected rogue media but again they are calling to unite against Army. No Nation can survive like this introvert behavior; Unfirtunate .

AL Apr 24, 2014 02:24pm

An excellent editorial. The days of the sacred cows are over.

rashad Apr 24, 2014 02:32pm

I totoally disagree with this editorial peice. This country is going to burn because of this free media. it is becoming a curse. Media thinks it self above the law. they have done nothing positive for this country. we demand the shut down of the useless geo tv and the so called bully mediia. it has gotten way out of hand and this needs to be done for teh sake of country

Shahid Apr 24, 2014 02:38pm

What a twist by Dawn! The ISI demand is within the ambit of the Pemra Ordinance 2002. The Geo itself is responsible to force invoking the provisions of the law by its own irresponsible coverage.

Shahid Apr 24, 2014 02:39pm

@Atif: Well-said!

Qasim Ali Apr 24, 2014 02:55pm

"It is time for representative bodies of print and electronic media to come together to defuse tensions and lay down the rules of ethical journalism."

For time being BAN the geo jang group....then lay down your rules of ethical journalism...then get them approved from irresponsible geo jang group....and if they agree, then we'll think now what to do next!!

For time being SHUT THEIR MOUTH!!!

Khalid Apr 24, 2014 02:56pm

@Usman Masood: very right

excalibur Apr 24, 2014 03:09pm

Media is no sacred cow either. GEO has manipulated and influenced many issues. Many petitions are pending in the SC for hearing since long but the judiciary is covering up

problem is Media houses are politicised. Also no qualification is required to be either a journalist or a politician hence the rot.

Amjad Apr 24, 2014 04:14pm

I'm surprised that the author is asking the media and public to gang up against the possible shutdown of Geo in spite of grave allegations leveled against a state institution. You should have a principled stance to see the issue in right perspective. And if this is the fruit of responsible media giving to the public under the garb of freedom of expression and democracy, then i'm very confident that we the public would be much happier and well contented not to have such mence and see Geo and the likes off the air. Job of the media, both print and electronic, is to inform the masses and not to act as a tool in the hands of state enemies both cis-trans frontier on the on hand and further their own hidden agendas on the other...

Fact Apr 24, 2014 04:43pm

The war between Geo and ISI is actually a proxy war between Nawaz sharief and Parvez musharaff

Amjad Wyne Apr 24, 2014 06:27pm

@Ekbal Hussain Who said that Army or ISI were above the law but approaching PERMA is the legal option available to them. This is called law abiding and working within the constitution limits. You and people like yourself have a different agenda. You do not stand for the law or upholding the law, you dislike these institutions and that is a different issue.

Amjad Wyne Apr 24, 2014 06:35pm

@Falcon No, Army or ISI are not shooting themselves in the foot. They are pursuing a constitutional approach available to them Geo should have never done that. That said, however, Geo can approach the courts but because they opened their mouth without proof, they will have to do two, they will have to prove that they had no bad intentions and two, that they indeed had some proof of what they said. Understand that when we blame someone, then it becomes our responsibility to prove it.

Reader Apr 24, 2014 06:38pm

No one above the law either jang group, media, PAKArmy or ISI. MoD has taken legal course and dawn should wait for the conclusion instead of publishing biased editorial.

sk Apr 24, 2014 07:08pm

@Mahmood Ghaznavi: Why gods of ISI are so much hell bent upon a armless and defenceless organization? Why wer they silent when Reymond Davis attacked and killed 2 of their persons in day light in Lahore?

Rumi Apr 24, 2014 07:48pm

Dawn, once again, stands up to its high reputation. A very balanced editorial. About time the army and the ISI learn that they don't have sole proprietorship over defining national interest.

Last Word Apr 24, 2014 09:04pm

There is nothing wrong in calling spade a spade and that is exactly done by Geo TV who should not be crucified but given a fair chance to prove their allegations in the court of law. Pakistan is heading for an Egypt like scenario which should not be allowed to happen and NS must step in to stop the situation going out of control. The media at large is fighting at their own peril and arming those who carried out this heinous attack with the licence to kill. Either media should stick together or get ready to be sorted out one by one and that is the bottom line...

DR.MOHAMMAD FAREED Apr 24, 2014 09:19pm

Its a very balanced article and very much expected of Dawn.As a physician I can say if we understand the true meaning of the word "balance" and put it into practice in our lives wherever we are and whatever we are doing in this world it will immensely help.I noticed over the last few years the GEO group went above and beyond the norms of criticisms of the Politicians making a mockery of them and now they are trying to do the same to the Army and the ISI as a result defaming our own institutions and individuals for the pure purpose of creating their own hegemony in the electronic media and also at the cost of curtailing the freedom of expression provided by none other than a " so called dictator".Please have "balance"back in our lives with civilized behaviour.

Aamir Nawaid Apr 24, 2014 11:11pm

Objective journalism demands balanced and unbiased truthful reporting. We have all our sympathies with Hamid Mir, but when he demands genocide trial against Pak Army, why does he condone the genocide committed by Mukti Bahinis who were supported by Indian Army? So, why doesn't he demand similar trial against Indian Army officers and Mukti Bahini terrorists? When he raises his voice about the excesses of Pak Army in Balochistan, why he doesn't raise the voice with same intensity against those BLA terrorists who are killing non-Baloch Pakistanis and are receiving funding and support by the enemies of Pakistan. I would have considered him a big name in journalism if he had been balanced in his reporting. Unfortunately, we cannot give him this accolade. Is he a journalist or a foot soldier in the 5th generation war against Pakistan?

Akhtar Lodhi Apr 24, 2014 11:59pm

Rubbish. The media in Pakistan enjoys limitless freedom but has repeatedly failed to demonstrate that it can use this freedom in a responsible manner. Very often this freedom is abused to the detriment of the national interest. This irresponsible media has to be reign in and limits have to be put on its freedom. In a situation where we are fighting terrorism internally and are under threat by external forces on both Eastern & Western borders, any attempt to sabotage our army or ISI must not be tolerated.

John Apr 25, 2014 03:49am

@khalid Where is the law? What is the law?

unbelievable Apr 25, 2014 04:43am

Nice Editorial. It's a shame that many Pakistani's don't seem to understand that criticism of military, govt, or judiciary is a fundamental right associated with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press - more importantly it's the only way that these institutions are ever going to improve. If you don't agree with an article, speech, or TV broadcast there are many ways to show your disapproval -- killing a reporter or closing down a TV channel isn't an appropriate response.

Life Apr 25, 2014 05:52am

I love Pakistan and want it to prosper. I want its institutions to be strong and answerable to the people of Pakistan. There must be no sacred cow. Everyone should come clean.

Jalaluddin S. Hussain Apr 25, 2014 06:38am

The following excerpt from the above article makes a lot of sense:

"...It is time for representative bodies of print and electronic media to come together to defuse tensions and lay down the rules of ethical journalism."

For the sake of democratic and effective fourth estate our media people need to practice ethical journalism.

Muslim Khan Apr 25, 2014 07:19am

Pakistan's survival is more dependent upon justice, fairplay , enlightenment, and democracy than on ruthless power plays by whoever has the brute power to suppress and silence the people; The downward slide of the nation from the comparative position we enjoyed in the comity of nations in early to mid 1950s,before the advent of bonapartism, is a clear indicator of the situation. When shall we ever learn?

Ameer Apr 25, 2014 12:18pm

You scratch my back, I scratch yours. This is the state of our media. All of our media houses are private entities, that have ZERO accountability for what they report and are normally controlled by a handful of dubious people. So much power cannot be put at the mercy of the whims and wishes of a few individuals without any oversight.

Yet, any time there is talk of making one accountable, FREEDOM OF SPEECH is cited.

Ban GEO. Most Pakistanis are not confused.

Jawad Apr 25, 2014 01:03pm

Yes i'd love an answer too. Is the media above the law?

Arvind Apr 25, 2014 08:04pm

Well Controllers Intelligence Agency never be in favor of any nation, KGB was the example of that ,

Arther Apr 25, 2014 11:34pm

@Falcon Brother! Its their constitutional right to ask for a ban on a corrupt channel like Geo, do you know even our constitution protects our armed forces. Of course they are not holy cows but let me remind you that every country's constitution protects its armed forces not only Pakistan's. Why Geo doesn't speak regarding miss-treatments of Indian Mil in Kashmir? Isn't it amazing? They believe in hijacking complete nation project their malign agendas.

Ram Apr 26, 2014 01:18am

Congratulations! Pakistan your media and democracy is matured enough to take first swipe at Army and powerful ISI, it does not really matter who is right, Media should have freedom to write because end of the day people will decide what to read and what to believe, Media persons such as Hamid Mr uses there Pen and not the AK-47 or kalishnikovs.

Army/ISI needs to stay barrack and they will as there main sponsors USA is no mood to deal with dictatorship,

Khaled Apr 26, 2014 12:05pm

Reproduced are the extracts of a column 'Needless distraction' authored by Mr. Abbas Nasir in 'DAWN' ( 26.04.14).

"The intense rivalries, in the quest for ratings and revenues, have meant a downward spiral where some sections of the electronic media, one fears, may disappear down the gutter. In the more recent context if Geo has made me shake my head in anger and disbelief at the lack of editorial control leading to on-air anarchy, some of the other channels

Aziz Md. Apr 26, 2014 12:16pm

Is it not the role of Army and ISI that the country is put in the present situation. Can't the media or the people criticize these security agencies on the issue of disappearance of thousands of people in Balochistan and Sindh. Is there no role of security agencies in everyday murder of persons in Karachi.

SMQ Zaman Apr 26, 2014 06:19pm

@Khaled Thank you, Sir, for your comments and quote; although, I didn't feel that way, but was appalled at the lack of legal editorial advice (at least internal) by GEO and the programme by Mubashir Lucman (on Mon.) and ARY's suit against Geo.

I used to watch his programmes regularly and also other current affairs' programmes on ARY, but I am disgusted by them and and they have lost integrity, professionalism, and credibility in my eyes (with their spiteful, uncalled for, and most ugly behaviour) and would be more selective to watch ARY News, despite the fact that I had serious reservations on Sat. after watching the defamatory re-runs of the story implicating DG - ISI (but, I do not agree with the MOD's application for the revocation of Geo's license; but would have preferred if they had appealed to PEMRA seeking a fine and serious censure of GEO, should have be no more than necessary, in my opinion)!

From: A British-Pakistani professional