Over the past six months, our media group has been attacked thrice.
In the first instance, two employees were injured. In the most recent
attack, which took place on a DSNG van of Express News in
January, three staffers were shot dead. The TTP took responsibility for
the last attack. We still have no clue about the other two.
While it is difficult to work under such circumstances, it is not
impossible. But as an editor, one has to be cautious about what appears
in print or online, more so for the safety of our staff.
While we have a duty to inform our readers, we also have a duty to
our colleagues to not put them in unnecessary danger. Being part of the
Coalition for Ethical Journalism, I have repeated time and again to
colleagues that no news story is worth the death of a journalist.
Stories cannot be killed. But people can.
After the attacks, we looked at our policy on the comment and opinion
pieces. On some occasions, we felt contributors went overboard. We did
not stop reporting on militant outfits. We did not censor incidents. We
are in the business of journalism, we know what our readers want. For
some reason, many have accused us of cowing down. I ask these armchair
analysts to come and spend a day in the field, like my staff do, and
then tell us what to do.
Working in the media in Pakistan is a fine balancing act these days.
We are one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. The
public’s expectations have to be balanced with those of different
players, some of whom are extremely sensitive on how we portray them.
We have worked hard to report on the real Pakistan. As an editor, I am
of the firm belief that Pakistan’s main issues are not what the prime
minister or president said that day but health, education, population,
poverty and yes, polio. We have consistently written about the plight of
religious minorities, marginalised communities, crimes against women
and on subjects as varied as human rights and poor governance.
I concede that the space for our media is receding. But Pakistan
still has one of the most vibrant media in the Muslim world. It is an
irony that under the dictatorship under Gen Zia-ul Haq, journalists were
routinely threatened and in some instances incarcerated by authorities.
Now that we are comparatively freer, we are still under threat and
adhere to self censorship as the state has stepped aside and non-state
players are threatening us.
It is somewhat misleading to assume that only the ‘liberal’ media in
Pakistan is under threat. All media houses are affected. What
disappoints me today is that the state has in some ways abdicated its
role of protecting the media. And if that is not enough, some media
houses are playing petty. Instead of rallying behind us when we were
attacked, the largest media house in Pakistan and its allies instead
chose not to run the story. That for me is the bigger tragedy.