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Media’s obsession with the military

Published Nov 29, 2012 08:11pm


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– Illustration by Abro

ISLAMABAD: For much of Pakistan’s existence, the media and military lived separate lives.

The media did not comment on internal military affairs, the military establishment did not issue press statements on its matters.

All that changed in the 80s, when newspapers started to carry reports on closed door meetings of corps commanders.

Hot on the heels were press releases written by spin doctors at the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), to propagate the Afghan war, which ultimately led to an unintentional lowering of guard against the media’s inquisitive eyes.

And with every passing decade, the media has become brazen about its relationship with the military, so much so that for the last couple of years there has been an unusual spike in the reporting on the military.

Merely a whiff of military-related developments in domestic and foreign affairs leads to full-fledged stories.

Throughout 2011, media was awash with stories on the Memogate scandal. Every single move of the army high-ups was explained from a different perspective. The media hype had the public believing that the military would move in any time and wrap up the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government.

The Memogate saga reached its climax in December, 2011, when a story was reported about ex-DG ISI General Shuja Pasha’s secret trip to the Middle East to seek support for a coup against the Zardari-Gilani set up. The story was first carried by a British newspaper and then passionately reproduced in the country by all and sundry.

In October this year, right after the Malala Yousafzai incident, there was hardly a newspaper or television channel that did not speculate about a military operation in North Waziristan. In the end, nothing happened.

Most recently, this week, all newspapers splashed stories of Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani dismissing the need for a military operation in Karachi.

In reality, the COAS had been asked by a media person at the D-8 summit about whether the military was planning some action in Karachi, which the COAS refused to answer.There was no follow-up confirmation by the ISPR, but the statement was played up as a major development of the day.

Commenting on the unbridled interest in the military by the media, General (retired) Talat Masood, a reputed and well-known defence analyst, said it was due to a combination of different factors.

“Yes, it’s a legacy of the past when the military establishment had dominated and many believe it still dominates the power centres of the country, therefore, the media doesn’t miss an opportunity to report on generals,” he opined.Secondly, he added, there is lack of professionalism and maturity on part of journalists, who are either unaware of the issues or don’t want to understand ground realities.

“At times, I read and watch stories on the television about the military which absolutely don’t make any sense, but are being shown as breaking news,” he  said..

Above all, according to General Masood, it was the on-going cut throat competition among media houses to attract audience that made them report on affairs of the security establishment without any context.

“Who doesn’t not know that stories on the military will always make headlines in the country,” he reiterated.

On the other hand, veteran journalist, M Ziauddin, when enquired about the media’s obsession with the military, replied: “We have reached this stage, after 60 years, and it will take time before we can unwind the media from this obsession.”

He said initially only the foreign office would provide any necessary information about the General Headquarters, and that too in background briefings.

Mr Ziauddin said the responsibility to discourage this practice lies equally with the military establishment and media: “First, the military will have to be willingly to take itself out of the public domain, and then the media would have to stop unnecessary reporting.”

Meanwhile, a PPP member of the National Assembly, who didn’t want to speak on record, claimed that it was democracy that had brought this change.

“It is because of democracy and the parliament that you people (media) have picked up courage to talk about both deeds and misdeeds of the military generals,” he remarked.

The lawmaker was hopeful that with the continuation of democracy and strengthening of civil institutions the media hype which at the moment gets triggered with a simple statement by a general or ISPR would die down in the coming years.

“Once supremacy of the parliament is restored in real terms, other state organs will have to go back to their constitutional roles,” he said conclusively.


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Comments (15) Closed

S. Qureshi Nov 30, 2012 02:00pm
US forces do not destabilize the democratically elected governments as always happens in Pakistan after the partition. Any wrongdoing by the US forces is always highlighted by their media (either in Iraq or in Afghanistan) and actions usually took place thereafter.
Joe Nov 30, 2012 06:25am
(Quoting the article): "In October this year, right after the Malala Yousafzai incident, there was hardly a newspaper or television channel that did not speculate about a military operation in North Waziristan. In the end, nothing happened." (end quote) That is a strong question. Many have waited. But "nothing happened". One cannot do business as usual after Malala. It's an issue the nation confronts. Must things stay the same, waiting for the next tragedy? With the outrage of that crime and the damaging background Pakistan faces across the world because of it ... the government's silence and inaction are deafening. The public has been waiting, waiting. The world has been wondering. Silence from the government sounds like confusion across the world. Malala's moment of terror is a huge event that captured the world's awareness, not only of that brutal gunshot blast but also of what is happening in parts of Pakistan. If there were ever an event that should finally spark government policy towards terrorism, Malala's was it. Taliban shot a bullet into the head of an innocent girl who wrote for hope of education. There has been worldwide condemnation of that act. What more could the government ask for, before taking action? Through Malala the world cries for Pakistan. Yet the government just slides along. Malala's tragedy is universal to all mankind. So is her hope. .
Sajid Nov 30, 2012 06:15am
The media has to be responsible. The freedom of expression is recoganized but it has to have limits. For sake of ratings etc mostly media goes out of proportion thus unwittingly doing a job that foreign media should be doing against us. How much of criticism do we hear from CNN against US forces and by BBC against their institutions. Media has to be a tool not the master. Infact they have to draw a line between journalism and power sharing. If we have any other medium to criticise media itself, you would know what people realy opine about them.
karim Nov 30, 2012 03:24pm
When was the last time US forces overthrew their government and hanged their president ? Don't make ridiculous comparisons between Pakistani military and those of mature nations.
ImmI Nov 30, 2012 03:19pm
We are living in a country in which a peon when finds some power,tries to misuse it.The same principle applies to every individual of this country.We are talking here two important pillars of the state,Military and Media.In our past history when one group thought that they are the only wellwisher of this country and the others are dull and ignorant,do not have the ability to decide the future of this country.They imposed their decisions and altered our national doctrine.Now our media finds some space at present, so same mindset exists and misuse of power persists.We are waiting for that time when our institutions get matured and will work in their own circle of influence.They should understand that their country's interest comes first not theirs.
Waqas Nov 30, 2012 04:50pm
I guess the question goes back to the all the media outlets , are they the 4th column of the nation or 5th column of the enemy? I have never seen such polarization as we see in Pakistani media including Dawn.The policies of Dawn are forcefully pushing the agenda of Extreme Liberal Fascism and completely ignored the very core of the nation. As far as the army is concerned, they have made some mistakes , as they among us, however crucify the army leadership,do not provide any coverage via media outlet ports for the sacrifices which our soldiers are giving everyday for this paper to run ,to me is very close to act of treason and open injustice in the name of liberal garbage. Media has to be responsible and act as supporting the nation not going against its interests and giving your enemies chance to hit on they have been doing for quite a while....
JackStrap Dec 02, 2012 08:06am
Lot of comments posted by people who have no idea what is going on.
Ahmed Nov 30, 2012 03:28pm
Only dictatorships declare the military to be off-limits for media comment. Someone needs to remind the author that Pakistan now has a democracy.
Sikandar Nov 30, 2012 04:42pm
Very well said Sajid. Balance is the key essence for every organ of the state when they express themselves.
M. M. Ali Dec 02, 2012 08:05pm
Media is a real evil
Cyrus Howell Dec 02, 2012 12:59pm
"To criticize one's country is to do it a service .... Criticism, in short, is more than a right; it is an act of patriotism - a higher form of patriotism, I believe, than the familiar rituals and national adulation." -- U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright
khanm Dec 01, 2012 06:15am
So now you know who is winning. Why do you thing taliban are not interested in any negotiations, In my opinion they are holding the high ground
Aj Dec 02, 2012 06:55pm
Thats a funny statement "Meanwhile, a PPP member of the National Assembly, who didn
Mahmood Dec 01, 2012 07:07pm
Like Malala there are so many girls getting killed especially in Karachi by Taliban and different groups everyday,why media does not care.and quiet about there news, also everyday poor Shia's are getting killed, yesterday also husband and wife both Doctor's got killed, why because they are Shia. Doctors are assets for the community and society and these people are killing them and other notable Shia's and how come Media is blacking the news
observer Dec 01, 2012 01:58pm
With so much money up for grabs, most media is sold to one force or another. So, some appear to be masters instead of tools. The media of Pakistan (especially TV talk show hosts) is doing things it does for money.