By Qudsia Farhat
Media is often considered to be the fourth pillar of society; the other three being the executive, the legislative and judiciary. Ever since the days of Goebbels, spin doctors have endeavoured to use media to manage the perception of society. Media is a tool and depending upon the agenda, media can be employed for positive gains like social welfare and community service or for promoting negative schema. Currently traditional media comprising the print and the electronic elements has been supplemented by social media. The latter, comprising World Wide Web, Facebook, twitter, SMS and blogging is more popular with the youth and has been instrumental in affecting behavioral change, pushing agendas and even toppling totalitarian regimes, especially in the Arab world.
Pakistan, which is currently embroiled in strife between terror mongers and the law enforcing agencies, is being affected on the one hand by the trauma of the incessant assaults and on the other, the barrage of media attacks. It is no surprise that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has also become cognizant of the power wielded by media and is using it extensively to try and manage perceptions. The harbingers of doom and gloom have seemingly learnt the Chanakyan art of propaganda to distort the truth and tell a lie so often that it appears to be the truth.
The armed forces of Pakistan are a key force to reckon with, and the primary means to combat terrorism. It is a major advantage that both the government and the armed forces are on the same page in devising a strategy to tackle the scourge of terrorism. The freshly evolved National Security Policy recognizes the armed forces to be an important stakeholder in the process, while the army, navy and air force have been content to operate under the guidance of the government. Taking cognizance of the equation, the TTP has formulated a morbid subterfuge to drive a wedge between the government and the armed forces as well as appeal to the emotions of the masses by presenting false but heartrending allegations.
TTP has been claiming that their families including women and children have been kept hostage by the armed forces. The rationale behind this fabrication is on one hand to tarnish the positive image of the armed forces, which has borne the brunt of the terrorist attacks but managed to hit the TTP hard, and on the other, to gain the sympathy of the people. It is a calculated move, since the sinister and cold blooded slaughter of the people, including women and children through suicide attacks, had created the image of TTP being demonic. By presenting themselves as victims of the armed forces through fake, misleading and baseless claims, the TTP has partly succeeded in damaging the image of the armed forces.
The propaganda gimmick appears to be successful in creating the desired effects and managing the perceptions. Not only has media picked up the false claims and by repetitious presentations without verifying the veracity, caused even the political leaders to lend credibility to the deceptive claim by blindly echoing it. Take the case of a member of the Taliban’s negotiation committee, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Professor Ibrahim’s statement. Thoughtlessly and callously, he parroted the TTP demand that the armed forces, who are holding the women and children of the TTP hostage, should release them.
One would have expected the respected Professor to have been more responsible in articulating the false claim. Resultantly, his statement has tended to make an emotional appeal to the audience, creating sympathy for the TTP and developing a sense of compassion for the militants. The impact of the assertion was that the government’s spokesperson, none other than the respected Minister for Information, Senator Pervez Rashid, stated that Army will have to be included in dialogue process as some important matters (referring to women and children) are known only to Army. If only the honourable Minister for Information had paused to ponder before rendering the statement. He has played into the hands of the media pundits of the TTP, who have achieved in managing perceptions, totally misleading and confusing not just the public but also the government.
It is abhorrent to cast aspersions on the Pakistan Army, which has a very high level of prestige based on sound principles. It would never stoop so low as holding women and children hostages. The raison d’être of the armed forces of Pakistan has not only been to defend the motherland from external and internal threats but also respond to the call of duty, whenever Pakistan has suffered at the hands of natural calamities. Through earthquakes, floods, cyclones and famine, the armed forces have come to the aid of the people. Oblivious to the character assassination of its personnel, the Armed Forces of Pakistan, who have always remained in the forefront in helping the countrymen during crisis especially during natural calamities, responded wholeheartedly to the drought in Thar. In order to minimize the devastating effects of the famine and allay the thirst and hunger pangs of the hapless people, the armed forces reacted spontaneously in reaching out to the victims of Thar with rations, medicines and clothes. Teams of dedicated doctors and specialists established camped in the deserts and offered quality services to save lives. While the Army and Navy dispatched its personnel to provide relief, Pakistan Air Force transport aircraft airlifted much needed rations, food and medicines to the famine struck people. Whereas the missionary zeal of the armed forces was lauded by the media, the stigma of the false accusation of the TTP regarding the arrest of the women and children by the army persists.
At a critical juncture, when the government and TTP are locked in an intense dialogue to secure peace, it becomes even more crucial that the media indulges in verifying facts before presenting preposterous claims like the TTP’s women and children being held hostage by the army. Perception management using the media is the aim of all stakeholders but it is the media’s responsibility to verify facts.