“Something Went Wrong”: The Chilling Effect Of State Terrorism On Journalism

Something went wrong

When Najam Sethi discussed the assassination of Sabeen Mahmud on his show, an interesting thing happened. The audio feed cut in and out during the program. Many viewers ignored the brief periods of silence, chalking it up to technical problems with their sets or with the the transmission. Only later was it realised that the missing audio was probably not an accident.

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Pulling the Plug: Is the Era of Media Freedom Over?

TV off air

The historical irony that a military dictator ushered in an era of journalistic freedom has not gone unnoticed. Gen Musharraf unleashed the media dogs, and the media dogs bit him squarely. For the next few years, the media served a purpose, though, keeping check on our new democracy by showing no restraint against any civilian politician. But as the curtain begins to close on Pakistani democracy, the era of media freedom too appears to be drawing to a close.

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White Elephants On Parade

circus elephants

Farrukh Saleem’s billion dollar gamble came up short last week, but rather than admit fault, he has simply doubled down. Only this time, he’s beginning to show his hand. After predicting that ‘the price of independent horses is bound to go through the roof’ following Senate elections that saw little evidence of horse trading, the columnist shifts from complaining about politicians being corrupt to complaining about them being ineffective – especially compared to that other power centre, GHQ.

At least Farrukh Saleem tries to be subtle, though. That much cannot be said for his colleague Shaheen Sehbai who rather ham-handedly calls for the military to take over…without actually taking over. Continue reading

Express Tribune’s Jailbreak Spin Helps Nothing

Gilgit District Jail

Militant jailbreaks are not new, but there was something unique about the way that Express Tribune reported the recent escape from Gilgit District Jail. The brazen escape, in which four jihadis managed to break free, has been widely reported as having been carried out with the help of the very men who were supposed to be guarding the hardened terrorists. On 1st March, Dawn reported that Gilgit-Baltistan police chief Zaffar Iqbal Awan ‘conceded that the jailbreak attempt by four prisoners had been assisted by some members of the security staff within the prison’.

Seven jail staff and three religious leaders were immediately arrested on suspicion of aiding the terrorists escape, and the investigation into how the escape could have happened has revealed that security officials at the jail had been recruited by the terrorists, and that ‘companions of the suspects were also in contact with jail officials and tried to take care of their “necessities”.’

Coming during same time as reports of arrest of a Punjab constable attending jihadi training camp in Afghanistan, the entire facts of the case points to a terrifying reality in which terrorists are infiltrating the police forces. So how does Express Tribune report the story? As evidence of success of military courts.

The fear of being sentenced to death by a military court is what spurred two suspects charged with the Nanga Parbat basecamp massacre, along with two other prisoners, to risk a jailbreak in Gilgit, investigators said on Sunday.

Even the headline, ‘Running Scared’, gives the impression that the terrorists were so afraid of their fate at the hands of security forces that they were willing to risk everything. However this ignores the facts. The terrorists were not attempting a panicked and desperate escape, they were leaving with the help of the very guards who were supposed to be keeping them under lock and key.

Express Tribune’s report gives the feeling that the event involved terrified militants and fearless security forces who launched a manhunt that killed one and captured another. The reality is that half of the terrorists escaped unharmed, and at least 10 jail personnel have been arrested in connection with helping them.

I have written before that premature declarations of victory can undermine success. Now is not the time to hide the truth. If we are going to defeat terrorism, we must face the reality, not cover it up.

Effort to Change Minds Faces Difficult Challenge

Page A3 of Daily Times of 21st February features the story, ‘NA committee for programmes on war on terror‘ about legislators calling for new initiatives “for changing the people’s mindset on war on terror”. The problem is larger than just creating new programmes to change people’s mindset, however.

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