Blasphemy & Channel Wars 

Media warsBy S. M. Hali 

While the Jang Group was being castigated for denigrating Pakistan Army and ISI, a sinister incident, which took place during a morning show aired by Geo TV, has shaken the Muslims of Pakistan. The earlier odious crime of targeting a Geo TV anchor by armed gunmen, injuring him in the process was condemned by all and sundry but the injured TV anchorperson’s brother publicly named the ISI as being responsible for the crime. Geo TV blew the issue out of proportion by constantly broadcasting the image of DG ISI, presenting him as “accused”, demanding his prosecution. This odious act is contrary to all ethics and norms of a civilized society, especially when a state institution is publicly castigated without any evidence.

Ministry of Defence took notice of the transgression and approached PEMRA to take action against Geo TV. Jang Group’s contravention to media ethics include: The joint venture of ‘Aman ki Asha’ between ‘Times of India’ and Jang Group was at best suspicious since Pakistan’s ideology and Two Nation Theory have been targeted. Terrorism in Pakistan has been promoted by Geo-led media glorifying the actions of terrorists and linking it with human rights and missing persons’ case, blaming Army and ISI. Separatists in Balochistan get all sorts of support from India but Jang Group failed to project Indian machinations but found faults with Pakistan Army and ISI.

When the Mumbai Attacks case erupted in 2008, Jang Group led the misinformation campaign to depict the only surviving alleged perpetrator of the heinous crime, Ajmal Kasab, to be a Pakistani.

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The main stumbling block in Indian agenda of destabilization of Pakistan has been the Pakistan Army and ISI thus becoming prime targets of Indian propagandists and their proxy in Pakistan, Jang Group. It is an Indian knee-jerk reaction that whenever an incident takes place in India, ISI is blamed. Lately, a number of attacks have been orchestrated by India but not only suspicion has been cast on the ISI but it has also been blamed directly by “planting” evidence to the effect.

The media group in question was also accused of promoting Indian culture in Pakistan, which unfortunately, other TV Channels mimicked. This again has been in accordance with a planned campaign. Sushma Swaraj, Indian Information Minister during BJP’s earlier reign, had declared that instead of Indian military invading Pakistan, the minds of average Pakistanis can be invaded through a bombardment of TV and Film content depicting Indian culture, norms and more.

Meanwhile, the tragic incident mentioned above occurred. It comprised a “Manqabat” being played in the background of a replay of wedding ceremony of an infamous actress. A Manqabat is a Sufi devotional poem, in praise of Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph of Islam and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or of any Sufi saint. In Qawwali, manqabats are sung to music.

The contentious program depicted objectionable visuals like waving shoes, dancing and depicting the bride and bride groom, in this case, the controversial actress Veena Malik and her husband, while the manqabat lyrics named members of the family of the Holy Prophet (SAW). Perhaps the blasphemy would have gone unnoticed if a rival TV channel had not focused public opinion towards it. Despite the fact that the host of Geo TV’s flagship morning show Shaista Wahidi apologized for the “inadvertent” airing of the content, Sunni Ittehad Council declared watching Geo TV ‘haraam’, religious scholars condemned the blasphemous act in Geo network’s morning show and PEMRA rescinded Geo TV’s license for airing the controversial content in “Utho Jago Pakistan”.

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To make matters worse, in the impending channel war, Geo TV struck back by citing instances where other TV channels had also aired the same manqabat in depicting weddings.  Two wrongs do not make a right. Some religious scholars have opined that it was divine retribution against the Jang Geo Group for belittling the sacrifices of the Army and custodians of Pakistan’s frontiers and sovereignty. Pakistan Army personnel and ISI sleuths have sacrificed their lives for the nation; disparaging them is abhorrent.

Meanwhile PEMRA took notice of Geo TV’s transgressions and has asked for Geo TV’s licenses to be terminated. Geo argues that the PEMRA meeting that took the decision, did not complete the quorum. According to the PEMRA Ordinance 8(2), one third of the total members shall constitute a quorum for meeting of the authority requiring a decision by the authority thus the quorum was complete. Accordingly, only four members were required whereas five members were present in the meeting. The Government intentionally stopped its memebres from attending the meeting. Prior to sending the case to the ministry of law, to delay proceedings. Now it is falsely claimed that only three members were present. EU is also condemning the incident and favouring the government but this is Pakistan’s internal matter.

Whatever the case, the Jang Geo Group higher echelon must apologize to the nation for hurting the sentiments of the people, conduct its own inquiry against the perpetrators of the atrocious crime of blasphemy whether it was “inadvertent” as claimed or preplanned and take appropriate disciplinary action against the perpetrators. More importantly, the channel wars must stop and the electronic media owners must devise a code of conduct for airing content. There should be checks and balances to ensure that the media does not become consciously or unconsciously the tool of vested interests to promote the machinations and abhorrent agenda of the enemies of the state. Whereas, state institutions are sacred and their sanctity should be maintained, a clause must be placed in the code of conduct to ensure that they are not flagellated publicly without evidence. Cases if any against them of wrongdoing or aberrations or abuse of power can be presented before the judiciary, which is free and fair.

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While the code of conduct is being framed, it must be ensured that blasphemy must be avoided at all costs. Blasphemy does not include only Islam or its Holy Prophet (SAW) but all religions and prophets and topics considered sacred or inviolable. Simultaneously libel laws must be strengthened to avoid vilification by media houses.