Defamation of national institutions 

 By Qudsia Hali 

The unfortunate incident of the assaults on media practitioners makes Pakistan a dangerous place for practicing journalism. Fifty four journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, which is a fairly high number but does not tell the whole picture since more than a hundred were injured in various attacks. The dastardly assail on columnist and anchor person Hamid Mir in Karachi however drew tremendous attention and his own parent media group, despite the remorse and condemnation expressed by all sections of the society, kept up the hype. Only a month earlier, another renowned journalist Raza Rumi was attacked in Lahore, he escaped with minor injuries but lost his driver in the attack. The same media group of Mr. Hamid Mir only made a passing reference to the attack on Raza Rumi and treated it as a non event. Media houses are charged with presenting news in an objective and unbiased manner.

All types of terror attacks, merit condemnation and create a deep sense of remorse and grief for all segments of society. In the past twelve years, ever since Pakistan became an ally of the global war on terror, the Pakistani society has become a prime target for terror attacks. More than fifty thousand innocent lives have been sacrificed in this incessant war. The casualty list includes the armed forces, the law enforcing agencies, students, teachers, women, children, judges, lawyers and persons from all walks of life. Every death is the loss of a precious life and must be mourned but the resilience of the nation is commendable that it has not buckled under the heinous assaults, which would have crippled any other society.

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Journalists indeed face the brunt of the terror attacks since they occupy the front seat in the unfolding gory drama of death and destruction launched by a faceless enemy, who strikes with impunity and hides among common folk. The sad aftermath of the Hamid Mir incident is that nary a moment had passed since the occurrence of the odious deed that his own brother and media group came out strongly alleging the ISI to be responsible for the act and demanding the resignation of the Director General of ISI. If Mr. Hamid Mir’s brother or his parent organization, the Jang Group had any evidence linking any individual or organization to the crime, the best recourse would have been to resort to the judicial process. An FIR could be lodged naming the prime suspect and proof if any should have been shared only with investigating officials, rather than the media group instantly assuming the role of judge, jury and executioner, all rolled into one.

The ISI, or for that matter any other national institution, which acts under the supervision of the government, merits respect and not becoming the target of baseless allegations on public forum. The nation and the media have been in the forefront in the struggle for achieving media freedom. Numerous sacrifices have been rendered to unchain the Press and operate under an unfettered environment. The Jang group has been a major part of the struggle for freedom of expression. The operative lesson is that one’s own freedom is valid only if it respects the freedom of others. The ceaseless barrage of unverified and unconfirmed accusations through the powerful electronic and print media created a tension in the minds of the common people. When a powerful media group attacks a respected national institution, which forms the bulwark for the defence of the sovereignty of Pakistan and which has had its fair share of trial and tribulations, especially the attacks by its arch rival and enemies of Pakistan, who have tried to denigrate the ISI and reduce the confidence of the masses on this premier institution, then it leaves the people bewildered. ISI is a thorn in the side of India, as it has time and again thwarted frontal and oblique assaults by our hostile eastern neighbour. ISI has crossed swords with the Indian spy agency RAW, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Israeli Mossad, whenever they have tried to invade the psychological and sovereign boundaries of Pakistani intellect. Any tirade coming from them to disparage and malign the ISI is to be blocked and countered but when a renowned national media group takes it upon itself to belittle a national institution, which was created with sweat, toil and blood and has become a guardian of the people, then one is left wondering, whose game is the Jang Group playing? No wonder that Indian media sources pounced upon the opportunity to attack their favourite Pakistani institution, the ISI. Indian government, media and analysts have found it opportune to blame ISI for any incident on their soil. Be it the Mumbai Attack or terror assaults, reportedly self-inflicted ones, ISI has been blamed without an iota of evidence. When the Jang Group, which is running collaboration with an Indian media group, titled “Aman ki Asha”, leads the battering of a Pakistani national institution, its credentials to be a bona fide Pakistani institution is definitely becomes questionable.

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The ISI has responded by approaching the PEMRA through the Ministry of Defence to question the onslaught against it by the Jang group, which was the rational approach. Other media sources came out in defence of the national institution. Like any other government organization, the ISI too may have its share of rogues but the system of its internal accountability is such that they get weeded out.

If the Jang Group has any notions of being a king maker, which can topple governments and disparage national institutions according to its own whims, then it should think twice. This nation has not sacrificed its lives in vain to let the custodians of its sovereignty be ridiculed and sneered upon by those who have numerous skeletons hiding in their cupboard. The government itself should stop being an innocent bystander in the episode of ISI bashing at the hands of a media house and let the judicial process take its full course.