Rule of law & double standards of Geo 

ban geo tvBy S. M. Hali 

Media pertains to the means of communication and currently includes newspapers, magazines, radio, television, World Wide Web and elements of social media to inform and influence people. Media has come a long way from the days of using drums, smoke signals and heliography to warn people of impending danger, disseminate news and make announcements. The uses of media have differed with time but in the twenty first century, mass media has become a powerful tool, which can be used to advocate brands, mould public opinion by focusing on the same issue at the same time like we saw in the Arab Spring and can topple governments as well as install new ones.

The users of media as a weapon reach out to masses to influence the minds of people as a propaganda tool sometimes to achieve heinous ends. We saw Mullah Fazlullah of Swat in 2007-8 use a mobile FM Radio to spread his brand of Islam and venom against Pakistan.

While media can be used for community service, bringing focus on entertainment, education, information, health, poverty, hunger and other social issues; it can also be used for gaining nefarious ends. Politicians use it to garner public support for their electoral aims and development projects. Media can also be used for slander, mudslinging and accusing targets, especially in countries with weak libel laws. In Pakistan, the media struggled to attain freedom but once it achieved it, there were no checks and balances to ensure its judicious use. To add insult to injury, certain media groups acquired unbridled power by having access to cross media ownership, which provided them corporate financial strength to such groups as well as endowed them with rampant power to blackmail individuals and organizations.

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Neither the government of Pakistan and its organs regulating media, nor the media owners themselves learnt any lessons from the advent of Rupert Murdoch, the owner of
150 years old newspaper chain the “News of the World” in United Kingdom, when he himself decided to shut down his paper voluntarily when he was found to be involved in taping public conversations. Although the crime committed by “News of the World” was unscrupulous and unethical yet the owner’s closure decision saved its reputation and image.

In Pakistan, when the media genie was let out of the bottle, one group, specifically the Jang-Geo group became so powerful and ruthless that it attained monstrous attitudes. It has launched campaigns against organizations, institutions, individuals and groups in accordance with its own agenda or whoever paid it for their slander, defamation and denigration.

The people of Pakistan cannot forget how the judiciary was targeted by the Jang-Geo group when the movement to acquire judicial freedom from the shackles imposed by then military dictator General Pervez Musharraf was launched. Later it turned on the hand that was feeding it i.e. General Musharraf. It started focusing media attention on calls for indicting the General for treason and labeled him as the accused well before the judicial process had taken its course and the General had been formally indicted.

The same group allied itself with an Indian media group in the garb of “Aman ki Asha” to soften public opinion in Pakistan against India. Presenting Indian songs, dances, films and dramas; it even went to the extent of depicting Ajmal Kassab, the alleged perpetrator of the Mumbai attacks as a Pakistani. This was playing right up the alley of Indian machinations.

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To make matters worse, in the near past, this media group decided to target another state institution, the ISI in a direct confrontation. One of the anchors of Geo TV was injured in an incident of firing by unknown assailants, which is a despicable act but the TV Channel and its editorial board committed the acts of libel and defamation against the ISI and its Director General, naming them as culprits and the propaganda campaign unleashed continued for over eight hours. The situation could still have been diffused if the media group had admitted the lack of responsibility of its editorial managers and rendered an apology to the grieved party. Unfortunately, basking in the glory of its unrestrained power, which this media group has enjoyed heretofore, it refused to express its regrets. True that the heinous act of attacking a media person is worthy of condemnation but to accuse any state institution and its head so blatantly, is contrary to all norms and ethics. If the media house had even an iota of evidence implicating the state institution in the odious crime, it should have approached the judiciary, which is free and fair despite the slander campaign run by the media group in 2007. This only exposes the hypocrisy of the Jang-Geo media group. On the one hand it presents itself as the champion of freedom of speech and advocate of media freedom while on the other, it ruthlessly targets a state institution without any proof and becomes the judge, jury and executioner.

Now it is trying to present itself as the accused party where the ISI has moved the judicial process to redress the slur and vilification barrage against it. Jang group is using paid content displayed on its own media outlet to depict that it enjoys public support in taking on a powerful institution and that Jang-Geo group’s patriotism is unquestionable. To start with, if there were other media groups or unbiased or neutral testimonials to Jang-Geo group’s stance, it would have been valid. Moreover, when a group starts to bring in evidence to bear witness to its patriotism, then the very act makes it doubtful. A true patriot does not tout his patriotism nor brings testaments to support it, since such an act smacks of double standards and hypocrisy.

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The solution to the present imbroglio is that a well articulated and thought out code of conduct should be charted out by the media groups themselves. The code of conduct must ensure the enhanced role of editorship and strict adherence to a sound editorial policy.