Media Watch: On public suicides | Pakistan Today

Media Watch: On public suicides

It’s a dreadfully sad case. Retired Brigadier Asad Munir, a former ISI veteran, a former CDA officer and, ironically, a former NAB Deputy Director General, committed suicide in the wee hours of the morning, leaving behind a note addressed to the chief justice, in which he listed the misbehaviour that he had suffered at the hands of NAB.

I won’t stand being handcuffed and humiliated on national media, he wrote, also noting that the investigating officers didn’t even understand the case that had been initiated against him.

Even though one holds high the principal of staying calm and carrying on, of believing in the Universe, and seeking the support of one’s family and loved ones in trying times, and the mantra of this, too, shall pass, one still finds it difficult to be judgmental about someone that had chosen to end their life like this. Self-preservation is hardwired into our brains; therefore, if someone consciously chooses to end their lives, one cannot even imagine the demons and depression that the poor souls must have been facing. May his family have the courage to bear this loss.

How the media covers a suicide like this – much like how it covers anything, really – can be more reflective of the society than the incident itself.

Media historians immediately think of another suicide, one that altered the way live events were covered.

In the early 1980s, the US state of Pennsylvania discovered its state workers had overpaid federal taxes due to errors in state withholding. Many accounting firms competed for a multimillion-dollar contract to determine compensation to each employee. In 1986, State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer was convicted of receiving a bribe from the California firm that ultimately won the contract, a charge that he vehemently denied. He was scheduled to be sentenced on those charges on January 23, 1987.

On January 22, 1987, Dwyer called a news conference in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg where he killed himself in front of the gathered reporters, by shooting himself in the mouth with a .357 Magnum revolver. Dwyer’s suicide was broadcast later that day to a wide television audience across Pennsylvania.

Though the event was rebroadcast with the more gory bits censored, it still spurred a debate on how ‘live,’ live coverage should be. Schools were off on the day, on account of a snowstorm, and many kids were watching TV.

It was later decided that there should be a lag period of several seconds for the producer in the control room to have a sufficient response time to censor out offensive bits.

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Our hapless Republic, being what it is, has launched off into a series of conspiracy theories about the case. Some suspect foul play. Some say that those guilty of financial crimes are going to weaponise the incident against the NAB.

I eschew conspiracy theories in general and believe that the simplest explanation is (usually) the correct one. Foul play I do not suspect, but the prospect of the aforementioned weaponisation is not only a reasonable conclusion, it is also probably the intention behind the terrible act.

The fellow, generally believed to be financially spotless, was reportedly being hounded by men much lower in intellect, and probably much lower in moral standing, in the case against him.

As he explained in his suicide note, “I have remained Deputy Director General Special Investigation Wing Rawalpindi NAB and always treated all the accused with respect and the IOs under me knew the difference between criminality and irregularity, omission and oversight.”

One hopes this terrible incident spurs into action a way overdue correction of the NAB Ordinance or, perhaps even its repeal. It is a ghastly bit of legislation, dreamt up by a dictator, quite clearly for political victimisation, which the subsequent political class, ever mired in their squabbles, did not try to remove.

We are left with this draconian law that gobbles up carefully maintained reputations of honesty. At this rate, we are truly going to leave our bureaucracy only with a gallery of rogues to whom such allegations make absolutely no difference.

The Tube

Media Watch column is meant to offer commentary on the affairs of the media.



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