Electronic media downplay mob attack on Ahmadi centre

Updated December 14, 2016


ISLAMABAD: The mob attack on a worship place of the Ahmadi community in Chakwal on Monday was downplayed by the electronic media due to a self-restraint as well as apprehensions of strict monitoring by the regulator.

The only coverage of the incident by the electronic media was through the display of tickers.

Though the mob grew and became violent, occupying the Ahmadi place of worship, most of the channels claimed that they sensed the sensitivity of the matter and observed self-restraint.

TV channel officials say they maintained self-restraint to avoid any untoward incident when Eid Miladun Nabi rallies were being held across the country

“The electronic media is becoming mature enough to shift from popular journalism to responsible journalism,” said Iftikhar Sheerazi, the Islamabad’s bureau chief at DawnNews. “Primarily, it is our duty, not Pemra’s, to judge the sensitivity of the news.”

This is not the first time that all the TV channels irrespective of their policies or operational styles exercised restraint from covering a sensitive issue.

“Last time, a similar responsible attitude was witnessed after violence broke out in Rawalpindi during the Ashura procession in 2013,” said Aun Sahi, Islamabad’s bureau chief at Channel 24.

He said any news coverage that could trigger a spiral effect should be placed at the low priority.

Meanwhile, a senior official of another new channel requesting anonymity said religious sentiments were a serious issue and airing anything sensitive on Rabiul Awwal 12 (Monday) could have been catastrophic.

“There were rallies and other activities on the streets. The main procession in Rawalpindi passed through an Ahmadi community centre on Murree Road. Simple news about the Chakwal incident could have triggered random riots across the country,” said the official.

However, some channels displayed tickers stating there was a clash between two groups in the Chakwal area.

“First we filed tickers about skirmishes between the participants of 12 Rabiul Awwal procession and the followers of the Ahmadi community from their centre,” said the official. “But the head office directed us that the tickers should not be specific or sensational.”

This created suspicion that Pemra might have asked the head offices of news channels to censor the news of the attack.

However, Pemra spokesman Mohammad Tahir denied that the authority had directed any channel to exercise restraint over the coverage of the Chakwal incident.

“Though it was a public holiday and the Pemra office was closed, our monitoring continued. Like emergency plans in all the sectors, we have SOPs and if any channel overplayed or sensationalised any incident or news, we do intervene,” he added.

A senior official of Pemra told Dawn that one or two channels did play strong tickers but they were called immediately and the focus remained on the Eid Milad processions and activities.

Shakeel Anjum, the president of the National Press Club, said the restraint by the electronic media was a positive sign.

But he cautioned that such practice should not be adopted as a tradition to censor news.

“Any news is restricted if it is feared that its widespread coverage can create a law and order situation.”

However, he said in routine news about mob attacks on any place of worship or public installation should not be restricted.

Published in Dawn, December 14th, 2016