Peace talks and MediaPeace talks & media impact 

By S. M. Hali 

The major news item on all media outlets is the progress on the peace talks being conducted between the government appointed team and their counterparts nominated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Unsurprisingly, foreign stakeholders in the prospects of peace in Pakistan like the US, EU, KSA, Afghanistan, Iran and India are also keenly observing the developments. While the nation was bracing for impact of the inevitable military operation to strike hard at the safe havens of the TTP and its possible backlash, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif decided to give peace a final chance. The rest is contemporary history.

In consonance with John Lennon’s 1969 hit song “give peace a chance”, which had become the anthem of anti-Vietnam protest movements, the Pakistani nation too welcomed the talks with TTP. Unfortunately, “Doubting Thomases” abound in every society and Pakistan has more than its fair share. Their pessimism and lack of faith in peace through dialogue process spill over into the civil society via the free, fair and vibrant media. The detractors of the negotiations leave no stone unturned to confuse the nation about the outcome of dialogue, envisaging that talks will fail. Some freelance analysts, who vie for space on the national as well as international media, do not tire from conjecturing and spelling their two cents worth bluntly that dialogue with TTP is meaningless. They surmise that neither the Taliban nor the Government are serious regarding the talks and are only buying time.

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Little wonder that such disparaging pronouncements dishearten and discourage both the nominated mediators as well as the public, which has borne the brunt of the terror attacks.

Media, which is not only a stakeholder in the process but has also become a target of the terror mongers, is minutely monitoring the progress of dialogue and projects even trivial details which provide space to the detractors of the peace process to spin their web of speculation and spread despondency. Consequently, secrecy of the dialogue continues to be compromised. In a bid to project “breaking news” the electronic media is in a rat race of hasty coverage of the proceedings, becoming oblivious to the confidentiality of the contents.

The road to peace is thorny and bumpy but that is the “road taken”. One cannot doubt the intent of the government or its appointed interlocutors nor the mediators nominated by the Taliban, who appear to be earnest to run to and fro between the government intermediaries and the TTP, and are perhaps serious in the entrusted task although one cannot comment on the mindset of the terror groups.

The TTP of today is more media savvy than of yester years. Realizing the impact of the media, it has made ample headway in both the social media and the vast network of worldwide web. It has access to all media houses and prominent media practitioners. One lesson that the TTP has derived from the process is that targeting the media is likely to attain greater attention. On the other hand, it has announced a code of conduct for the media. After paying a toll of precious lives and fearing for its own safety, the media too now is obliged to abide by the rules of engagement being dictated by the TTP.

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As the peace talks move on, the government as well as media house proprietors must ensure that the media is not targeted deliberately by the terror groups. Simultaneously, taking cognizance of the impact of media on the peace talks, the media itself must adopt some “Dos and Don’ts” of coverage of the negotiating process.

Being a stakeholder in peace as well as the peace process, the media should endeavour to facilitate agreement and ensure peaceful settlement. The natural urge to immediately share information irrespective of the sensitive phase of the dialogue will have to be curbed. The TTP militants are not ordinary adversaries and negotiating with them is fraught with uncertainties, thus maintaining secrecy of the dialogue till an agreement is reached is essential. There are bound to be impediments, incongruity in opinions and sensitive demands. The premature disclosure of the details or half-baked ideas will incapacitate the process before a meeting of the minds takes place. Both sides will bargain hard for concessions but every detail of the dialogue process is not required to be covered through media. The nation is interested in positive outcome of peace talks and earnestly desires to see that dialogue process succeeds.

Media, which generally has the front seat in the formation of history, must realize that the state is confronted with the complex predicament of terrorism. An opportunity has emerged to give peace a chance. Let us avail this chance and create history to secure the elusive peace but without the race for “breaking news” and besmirching the delicate process.