Abusing freedom of speech 

hate-speech-is-not-free-speechBy Qudsia Farhat

Freedom of speech is considered to be one of the basic human rights and is included as indisputable in all major international conventions and national laws. Due to the role they play in informing the public and creating public opinion, mass media and journalists are often said to be the ‘fourth pillar’ of society. In this age of information, media plays a crucial role in informing people and it is imperative that it enjoys the freedom of expression but it should use this right judiciously.

In Pakistan, media has suffered at the hands of totalitarian regimes to win its “freedom of expression”. It has sacrificed tremendously to win its freedom. In the days of a certain military dictator, media practitioners, found straying from the laid down parameters, were even flogged publicly and endured long periods of incarceration. Once freedom of speech was achieved, the founders of the press freedom movement behaved in a mature and prudent manner, lest they endanger their new found freedom.

Unfortunately, a new breed of media practitioners has evolved, which had not been exposed to the roughshod treatment meted out to their seniors. Considering the “freedom of expression” as their birthright, they indulge in the abuse and misuse of the power of the pen or their audio-visual message on the electronic media.

Proponents of developing peaceful societies advocate tolerance but the media have increased their capacity in material, technical and personnel agenda, so that today they can independently, or, in alliance with a broader factor of political or external power, participate in creating a milieu of intolerance and violence between certain groups, but also promote tolerance and anti-discrimination as the basic values of a well-regulated society and preconditions for the personal development of each individual in that society.

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Unfortunately, the retrograde trends of such abuse of their freedom of expression are a stigma on the institution of journalism. Abuse of freedom of expression, or rather abuse of media as its derivative, has long-reaching consequences on human rights. This is especially so in cases when the media promote war conflicts and violence, or, in other words, in cases of the abuse of media for the purpose of absolving war conflicts and violence, but also for the purpose of relativization of evil and inconceivable crimes.

Abusing their freedom of speech, media has been meddling in conflict situations. During the Lal Masjid episode some media anchors tried to become mediators, disrupting the process by the government negotiating team. During the siege of Islamabad by the deranged Sikandar, some media persons became couriers between the siege taker and the police prolonging the agony of the people and the law enforcing agencies, bringing shame to the nation.

In the event of the malicious conferment of the “Friends of Bangladesh Liberation Award” by Bangladesh to some Pakistani journalists for their surreptitious support to the insurgents in 1971, again a TV anchorperson from Pakistan went to Bangladesh to accept the award. He echoed the malevolent suggestion hpw of the Awami League regime that Pakistan Army had engaged in rape and genocide of the Bengalis in 1971. The anchorperson not only accepted the false charges but also demanded that the Pakistan Army render an apology to the people of Bangladesh. Even neutral Bangladeshis have poked holes in the charge and absolved Pakistan Army of the extent of the crime.

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The same anchorperson has been badmouthing Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in his TV shows on trumped up charges. In 2012, the same individual choreographed a drama, claiming that his car had been rigged with explosive devices meant to kill him. Although the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the failed attempt, yet the anchorperson continued to blame the ISI.

He continued to spew venom against the army and the ISI and even contributed to the breakdown in the civil military relations. The ISI became a target of choice. The “missing persons’ case” was blown out of proportion with the blame being leveled against the ISI.

Good sense prevailed in the higher command of the government and the army and hatchets were buried but a fresh and more macabre plot was hatched to bring the ISI in the dock. A drama was staged in which the anchorperson was shot in the leg and as if on cue, the media group of the TV anchor started flashing the mug shot of the Director General of the ISI with captions of guilty and murderer and demands for justice being flickered continuously. Nowhere in the civilized world, a state organization is so blatantly charged without presenting evidence but here abusing the freedom of speech, the media house became judge, jury and executioner till the government decided to take administrative and legal action against the media house.

It had assumed that the sympathy of the masses will be drawn towards the injured anchorperson. However, rationality prevailed among the viewers as they realized that if the ISI were actually responsible for the heinous attack, they would have succeeded in eliminating the target rather than missing the body, head and torso and hitting only the legs. Perhaps the drama script dictated non fatal and non serious injury. It is a relief that utilizing their freedom of speech, the remaining media groups saw through the furtive attempt to deride the ISI and have started demanding that the media house render an apology to the state institution.

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The main protagonists in this heinous stage show should realize that state institutions take extraordinary efforts to be established. To prepare, train and organize the ISI, which is the first line of defence against the ideological frontiers of Pakistan, it took herculean effort, years of planning, preparation and groundwork to make the institution operational and a force to reckon with. It is no ordinary matter that CIA, Mossad and RAW have acknowledged the strength and potency of the ISI. The attempt to disparage and destroy the institution at the behest of Pakistan’s enemies under the pretext of freedom of speech is grave crime and should not be condoned.