THE attack on the head offices of the Jang Group by charged protesters exhibits the kind of pressure that journalists in the country must work under. On Sunday, scores of people ransacked the reception areas of the Geo office in Karachi, and also beat up a cameraman and other staffers. The mob was said to have been enraged over some comments made by an anchorperson on a show focusing on political humour. Although construed as offensive by some, the remarks aired were evidently in the context of the satirical and tongue-in-cheek nature of the show. Every citizen of this country has a right to protest, but resorting to violence and destroying public or private property must be criticised at all levels. And more so if an apology has already been submitted, as it was in this case by the media house. What is even more surprising is the fact that the police did not stop the angry protesters as they attacked the offices of the largest media group in the country. They chose to do nothing, as according to a report in this paper, they assumed that the person leading the enraged mob would talk to the management and come to a resolution. The attack was roundly condemned by journalists’ associations, representatives of the Sindh, Punjab and federal governments and other high-ranking officials. Later, the Sindh Police promised to take action against the suspects after “collecting CCTV footage” of the incident.

In an environment where news organisations and journalists are already intimidated and routinely feel the necessity to ‘sanitise’ their work, such violent attacks expose the government’s hollow claims of a ‘free media’, making reporters, anchorpersons and others in the field even more vulnerable to outside pressure. One hopes that the promise of better security made by the Sindh government is fulfilled soon and that the inquiry ordered by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah leads to action against those responsible for the violence.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2021

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