Words that wound

Published January 1, 2015
A security official stands inside a temple that was attacked in March 2014. — Reuters/File
A security official stands inside a temple that was attacked in March 2014. — Reuters/File
Syed Arif Shah Owaisi, the guest cleric who termed Ahmadis as “enemy of Pakistan” on Geo.— Screengrab
Syed Arif Shah Owaisi, the guest cleric who termed Ahmadis as “enemy of Pakistan” on Geo.— Screengrab

THE past few days have seen criticism against content aired on a recent episode of Geo’s Subah-i-Pakistan programme — hosted by Amir Liaquat — in which clerics invited on the show made several unpalatable accusations against the country’s already stigmatised and persecuted Ahmadi community.

Following a show cause notice by Pemra, the channel apologised for its editorial lapse, stating that “In live programmes it is often difficult to control the crowd and the guests who speak their mind”.

Certainly, there are constraints in live programming which have, on earlier occasions too, resulted in hate speech being aired without check. However, there are ways to circumvent these constraints. One is by including a time delay in such programmes and by carefully vetting potential guests.

Also read:Geo apologises for hate speech against Ahmadis in Amir Liaquat’s show

At the same time, it should be pointed out in the interest of accuracy that on this particular show Mr Liaquat made no attempt to steer the discussion in another direction and instead, most regrettably, led the applause in what can only be interpreted as appreciation of the remarks.

By its very nature, the media has a multifaceted relationship with society: it reflects its mood, and also impacts the tenor of its discourse. Which is why, understandably so, there is much focus on the media’s role as part of the response to the collective realisation — post-Peshawar — that we as a nation have been drifting along a ruinous path.

In these circumstances, the media must be doubly conscious of its responsibilities, among which an important one is to lead and reinforce a counter-narrative that eschews divisive religious rhetoric, without exception and without any ideological bias.

In an environment bristling with many self-righteous ‘protectors of the faith’, words — even carelessly uttered — can have dire consequences. While there appears no direct link per se between the offending TV episode and the murder of an Ahmadi five days after it was aired, the oxygen that peddlers of hate speech have long enjoyed at various levels of society must be turned off forthwith.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2015

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