Not fake news

  • Islamabad journalist roughed up and threatened

Two issues are taboo and frowned upon in the comity of nations, governmental restrictions on right of free expression and rough treatment meted out to minorities, and unfortunately Pakistan’s global image is at such a low ebb nowadays that it is widely perceived guilty on both counts. Not that other countries, including in the neighbourhood, are pristine in this regard, and indeed in Pakistan the concept of freedom of speech is carried well beyond the bounds of decency or fairness, at least where scathing criticism of civilian governments’ flaws is concerned. The ‘troubles’ with local journalists arise when their writings display a pattern of criticality infringing on matters the military considers sensitive, national security as practiced by intelligence agencies and ideological misstep of an overly keen desire for closer ties with existentialist threat India. The suspicion grows if a journalist works for a foreign channel, is known for close links across the border and expresses views disparaging to security forces, especially on social media. But, ‘false flag’ operations to denigrate the forces cannot be completely ruled out in such cases.

The regrettable beating, death threats, attempted kidnapping and fortunate escape on Wednesday of journalist Taha Siddiqui, Islamabad bureau chief of World is One News, an online paper based in New Delhi, and also a reporter for France 24 television channel, from the clutches of about a dozen armed men on an Islamabad road has rightly invited the wrath of the world journalistic fraternity and local news bodies. So far absolutely nothing is known of the attackers’ identity but it is troubling that Siddiqui had a brush with the Federal Investigating Agency in May 2017 also. It has been stressed that alleged transgressions by activist-reporters should be properly pursued in law courts, with the assistance of concerned regulatory bodies, avoiding arbitrary methods. The long unknown whereabouts of ‘missing persons’ has badly tarnished the country’s reputation and unsurprisingly Pakistan was ranked 139 out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. In the present context, police case has been registered and the government should leave no stone unturned to identify and punish the perpetrators. But then, easier said than done.