I still remember the day when an English daily newspaper, owned by late Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, ran a front-page story that tried to hold me accountable for the murder of a former intelligence official. The officer was murdered on April 30, 2010, by the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan. Two weeks later, the newspaper printed a report that falsely implicated me on the basis of a fake audio.
No-one from the newspaper bothered to contact me. No-one, it seems, wanted to hear my side of the story. Troublingly, that night several TV hosts condemned me on their talk-shows without listening to my point of view. Others tagged me as an “agent of the American Central Intelligence Agency,” as “collaborating with TTP.” Even Faisal Raza Abidi, the then senator from the Pakistan People’s Party, endorsed the allegations on a TV channel owned by Salman Taseer.
Shortly after Abidi’s rant, the then president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, invited me to the Presidency. He wanted to clarify that the senator’s views were not reflective of Pakistan People’s Party. (Abidi was later expelled from the PPP for calling for the imposition of martial law). That same day at the Presidency, Zardari gave me another piece of advice: “stop highlighting the issue of the missing persons and extra-judicial killings in Balochistan.” Otherwise, he feared, something terrible could happen to me.
Over the time, it became clear that certain powerful quarters were involved in the campaign to malign me and my fellow TV anchors were doing their bidding.
Calls for an investigation into my links with extremist militant groups began to pour in. In 2007, the then president and military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf banned me from TV on similar allegations, although his government failed to prove any of them.
By the grace of Allah Almighty, none of these accusations could hold up in court. Forensic tests of the fabricated recording turned up negative. Some anchors, on a witch-hunt, eventually apologized to me for resorting to “friendly-fire.” Privately, they admitted to being under immense pressure from their paymasters and from some powerful individuals. Salman Taseer was assassinated in 2011 by a religious fanatic. I condemned his assassination in my TV show and again faced many threats.
One year later, gunmen in Swat attacked child activist Malala Yousafzai. I was one of the first and the loudest voices to condemn the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. In fact Malala Yousafzai was introduced in Pakistani media through my talk-show on Geo News and I felt it was my moral responsibility to defend her. In response, the then TTP spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan, issued a detailed statement labelling me as an “enemy of Islam.”
Shortly after his statement, a powerful bomb was planted under my car. Luckily, a bomb disposal squad defused it in time. The incident led to a new onslaught of attacks directed at me by some TV anchors who said it was a drama. Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the failed bomb explosion in a statement issued to the BBC.
I was shaken. That day I got a call from President Zardari. “Now, you are more vulnerable than ever (before),” he warned. “They will attack you again and blame it on the TTP. Please stop talking about the missing persons of Balochistan.” But I was stubborn. This is my duty. This is my job, as a professional journalist, I reminded myself.
In April, 2014, I was attacked for the second time in Karachi. I took six bullets that afternoon. While I lay unconscious in the ICU of the Agha Khan Hospital, my family suspected a spymaster’s (alleged) involvement in the shooting. Geo News aired the statement of my brother and then the victim came under attack by a big brigade of TV anchors.
The public airwaves were replete with all kinds of charges against me. Anchors abused Geo Television’s management and me. They insisted that the TTP, in cahoots with the Indian intelligence agencies, was behind the assassination attempt. Some said this attack was also a drama. The treason charges soon morphed into charges of blasphemy, following an unfortunate incident that took place during the telecast of Shaista Wahidi’s morning show on Geo Entertainment channel. The whole world watched as the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa held rallies, raised slogans and burnt my pictures carrying the Geo logo.
It was evident who could have orchestrated the campaign. I, as well as the news network I work for, had to pay a very heavy price for not listening to the powerful quarters.
And this wasn’t the end of it. In June 2016, in response to a column I wrote against honour killings in the Daily Jang, a blasphemy application was filed against me by those linked to the Lal Masjid in Islamabad. For four months, I faced blasphemy charge in the court, even though not a single FIR had been filed. Baseless stories against me were published in Islamabad-based Urdu-language newspaper, which I launched in 1997. On the other hand, surprisingly, the person who had filed the application against me was not only appearing in different talk-shows on Geo TV, but his article against me also being carried by my channel’s Urdu publication, Jang. He even submitted his article in the court as evidence against me. The court dismissed the charges. But then a so-called host of talk-show took up the accusations on his show. I never responded. I decided it would be best ignore the tirade.
The so-called host attacked many others, including the owners of Geo TV. He also attacked those who once targeted me. Last month, Pakistan’s media regulatory authority – PEMRA – banned the anchor. The Supreme Court later directed the news channel to pull the plug on his show, which got a relief order from the Islamabad High Court. It is a well settled principle of constitutional law that if there are two orders the order of the highest court will prevail.
A million-dollar question is: What is the future of the anchorperson who was inciting violence against his colleagues only to please his paymasters? Has the media learned any lessons?
One thing we journalists should take from this is that do not submit to any immoral and non-professional orders from your paymasters. The more journalists stay neutral and professional the more they will emerge powerful and stay unhurt. Stay away from powerful quarters as much as possible.
Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. But this freedom is not unconditional. If you read the article 19 you will realize that there are limits to this right. The freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the interest of the glory of Islam, defense of Pakistan, public order, decency, morality or in relation to contempt of court or incitement of an offence.
No paymaster can guarantee success of TV anchor or journalist.
The editor who published the front-page story against me in 2010 later quit his job, when he was ordered to “do more” against others. Recently, he endorsed my views in a seminar where I said that Pakistani media is facing unannounced censorship. Some TV anchors who attacked me in the past not only apologized privately but one of them publically said that “you were right, I was wrong”.
Those in our profession who are ready to blindly submit to their paymasters are not professionals. They are damaging journalism. I must say that one of them was created by Geo TV. He even used this TV channel to spread hatred but at that time his objectionable attitude was ignored because he was minting money for the channel. I hope our media will not repeat its blunders again. We must safeguard the public interest. We should become people’s voice, not our paymaster’s voice. A future with a bright and prosperous Pakistan can only be achieved if we respect the supreme law of the land.
The author is a senior journalist, who hosts his talk-show “Capital Talk” on Geo News channel. He tweets @HamidMirGEO
DISCLAIMER: All blogs carried by Freedom Network reflect the views of the author(s) only. The blogs are carried in good faith and aimed at supporting pluralistic perspectives on issues related to media and its practitioners. The organization does not have to necessarily agree with views of the authors.
Picture Courtesy: Google Images