By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Doubts, one by one, are melting to intense electioneering heat. It seems that they would after all be held on July 25 notwithstanding former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s boycott of NAB proceedings against him anticipating his conviction, possible earth-shaking revelations in Imran Khan’s ex-wife Reham Khan’s waiting to be launched Memoirs and of course threat of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry to seek PTI leader’s disqualification on grounds of adultery. No doubt, these are interesting and excruciating times for the media facing threats to its freedom by forces that could easily be called alien without exposing my editor of consequences that could be lamentable for him.
Sitting so far away from home I don’t have direct access to means of news that could be called authentic. It seems lambs have taken to silence or opted to sleep comfortably with the enemy. Social media too is not counter tweeting the master tweeter near the Red Mosque. It seems they have reconciled to the idea to chill. Obviously in this age of engineering when political parties come about through test tubes, dwarves are made giants-though it took him one years to struggle with the old ball. Last year blackout of Faizabad Dharna news that laid siege to the Federal Capital for nearly a month was signal good enough to let the wise know that things were getting rotten in the state of Denmark. Passing away of cash envelopes by a army general to the ‘poor protestors’ who had no means to qfeed themselves or go home, made things easier to understand about who strategic assets are.
Suspicious developments regarding strangulating free media and voices of dissent have been trickling in. Either it was through social media or their failure to appear in newspaper columns that one felt axe was being applied selectively but effectively on writers or TV analysts if their views were at cross purposes with those of the establishment.
Having lived a long period of my career as a journalist I know how traumatising it is to be ruthlessly censored. However, many senior colleagues would remember how tenaciously we fought to by pass censorship and succeeded in carrying our message to our readers in between the lines.
Those were the days of General Ziaul Haq’s Draconian Martial law when newspapers were not allowed to Quote from Holy Quran, Ahadis, sayings of the Quaid and Alama Iqbal. Journalists were not only imprisoned for violations but some were publicly flogged to inflict terror in others and castrate public from raising any voice of dissent. Notwithstanding all the prosecution, persecution and intimidations we found our ways to convey to the masses what is required to be done in such a qqsituation of oppression. Among dictators General Zia was favourite of American President Ronald Reagan. When somebody in America contemptuously called him ‘illegitimate’, President Reagan shut him down ” So what–he is our child.” I remember how a furious General Mujibur Rehman blew his top when we mischievously headlined President Reagan’s quote-“Martial Law is War against people” urging nations not to pay taxes during martial law. It was not a violation of censorship and yet the message was also for the people of Pakistan not to pay taxes.
That being a digression, the message here is that we have seen bad times and people in power who think they could do worse, let them know that truth always triumphs. Through use of dirty tricks, high handed intimidations and oppression they could suppress dissent for a little while. What we are concerned here is that it is ‘the Aliens’ who are hell bent in giving a perverse colour to elections to engineer a government that they want to trot on the tunes played by their band-pipers. It is time caretaker Prime Minister (former CJP) Nasirul Mulk wakes up to what is happening to our media at a time when it should be freest to help in the evolution of a free and transparent election process.
Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi before relinquishing charge too had expressed concern over the encroachment on free expression and warned of serious consequences detrimental to national interests. We have been pained to see how country’s largest TV network has been browbeaten into submission. When one tunes it now one sees a poorer version of PTV, its anchors seems to be beating about the bush with some of those ex-army generals who have been laundered into analysts holding the idiot box under their siege justifying every wrong committed by their former masters. It is said that finally feeling the financial squeeze round its neck and defaulting in payment of salaries, the Network was left with no other option but to sign a surrender deal.
That was not enough for the results powers that be wanted to achieve. The other thorn in its back was the newspaper founded by Quaid-e-Azam. Independence and objectivity of Dawn could not be accepted by the powers that be. Regretfully many would not like my saying it that had the Dawn when founding fathers were alive and its own editor was one of them, taken a stand against Governor General Ghulam Muhammad’s dismissal of Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin’s government, imposition of martial law in October 1958 and later submission to Doctrine of Necessity-Pakistan’s history by now would not have been so chequered and dismal.
That sadly is the state of affairs of Pakistani media world. Gold rush of TV channels and opening up flood gates of assortment of means of income has given sound financial sustenance to some of the journalists but not all of them. Professional hazards too have increased alarmingly. Pakistan is rated as one among the top dangerous locations for the profession. More journalists are beaten up, killed or kidnapped such as recent case of journalist/analyst Gul Bokhari kidnapped while going to her office following pin pointing of 8 journalists identified as mischief mongers on social media by the official tweeting master. Competition for rating among the channels too has become a rate race.
These challenges that have become alarming for the profession demand a sound rethinking to be united. I would like to conclude with my favourite quote, very relevant to the state of Pakistani journalism and rising threat to freedom of expression unfolding as we wobble to elections. Martin Niemöller, a theologian was a German anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor during the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler. He is best known for a widely-paraphrased statement which he made in different versions, one of which is “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for trade unionist.. I did not speak since I was not one of them…then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.” Pakistani media owners, journalists and other related should wake up before there is no one left to speak in their defence.
(The Writer is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)