- Another form of persecution
Someone’s cup seems to have run over. The frustration which had produced such curbs as preventing a newspaper from circulating in certain areas, preventing cable operators from broadcasting a particular channel, pulling certain interviews off a channel (the latest example being that of Gen (retd) Aslam Beg), has now boiled over into the threat of violence, as shown by the siege to a newspaper office in Islamabad over a news item it published earlier about the London Bridge attacker. The objection of the crowd of several dozen, who surrounded but did not enter the offices, was to a news item from the newspaper’s London correspondent which identified the attacker, mentioned that he was born in the UK of parents from Bhimber, and described his earlier conviction for terrorist conspiracy. The demonstration seemed to have gained viciousness from Indian media attempts to link the attacker to Pakistan, but if newspapers are going to be attacked merely for reporting facts, there will be a lot of attacks.
The attack has been condemned by all representative press organisations and opposition political parties. However, it represents another dimension of the creeping censorship that seems to be afflicting the media in Pakistan, and which is a new development after a period of relative freedom. However, attempts to impose censorship failed in the past, and were weathered by the media then. They will be weathered again, by the same methods of carrying out its task of reporting the truth to the public, so that it can make an informed judgement. It seems as if there are powerful elements which fear that judgement. Is it purely a coincidence that the newspaper had very recently carried a report on how the trending of hashtags could be manipulated on the social media? Does somebody fear the exposure of its shenanigans on the next frontier of the media (as well as of politics), the social media?
Will the attempt to control the media go to the next level, and are the crowd attacks of the past due for a revival? It should be remembered that such tactics have not worked before, and will not work again. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry should be in the forefront of the struggle to identify the culprits of Tuesday’s attack, and it should be mindful that its reaction will be watched closely.