By Sajjad Shaukat
In the ongoing era, by bringing the bloody wars against terrorism in our bedrooms, especially, the electronic media have power to make it difficult for terrorists to continue the same at the cost of their own people and armed forces. So, terrorism and media are interrelated.
After the 9/11 tragedy, American President, Congress, public and media became one to fight a different war against terrorists. Even, US changed its laws to institute stringent measures to curb terrorism.
While, behaving with responsibility and showing mature approach, their media played a key role in condemning the acts of terrorists, and thus, discouraged terrorism in every possible way.
In case of Pakistan’s war against terrorism, the country is passing through exceptionally unusual circumstances and the situation after the Peshawar school attack warranted bold and firm decisions to deal the menace of terrorism, especially the threat of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its banned affiliated groups.
In this regard, the government, encouraged by the resolve of public opinion has responded prudently, and lifted the moratorium on death penalty awarded to the criminals according to law. Taking note of the delicate moment, on January 2, this year, political and military leaders agreed on a draft of legislative measures which paved the way for establishment of special military trial courts. It was unanimously agreed that the 20 points enunciated in the All Parties Conference (APC) Resolution of December 24, 2014 shall be acted upon expeditiously—the bill as 22nd (Constitutional) Amendment has been enforced soon after its approval from the parliament.
Unfortunately, the glorification of terrorists by some irresponsible media houses helps in motivating the innocent youth. They are referred to as militants or extremists instead of terrorists. These media houses offer time and space to terrorists in the print and electronic media to appease them and win their sympathies.
Recently, even after the 20-point National Action Plan was announced, and the distinction between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban was removed, some media houses showed scenes in which a hero-like welcome was being accorded to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a senior commander of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, as he was being brought to the courts from his place of detention. Thus, the media, without perhaps knowing what it is doing, has been playing a significantly more lethal role than the automatic weapons in the hands of these terrorists or their suicide jackets, in winning the hearts and minds of our misguided youth. Besides, extremist people like Maulana Abdul Aziz (Lal Masjid) were given undue space by the media.
However, let us take the example of the Karachi Airport operation against the terrorists. In this respect, the electronic media recklessly failed to demonstrate maturity in live coverage of the operation. Certain information including move of own echelons, different steps, used by own forces, supervision of operation by a particular tier of command, arrival of higher officials and reports submitted to Army’s high command etc. were required to be strongly censored, as the same information was also made available to the terrorists through live coverage.
As regards Pakistan, it is openly stated that terrorists are not invincible, and that they can be eliminated through power of the state, coupled with collective efforts of various entities of the country, particularly media.
For the purpose, contents of media reports must be properly monitored and strongly censored prior to broadcast. Media must follow a code of conduct and journalistic ethics, as envisaged by the profession of journalism and in accordance with the national interests. The official or self-control mechanism, related to the war against terrorism is essential for the Pakistani media, especially for the TV channels. Media must project that state is more powerful than the misled bands of terrorist outfits.
In this context, the electronic media should not buy the panic-ridden messages of the terrorists, and it should indicate that terrorists are weak; therefore, they undertake heinous missions stealthily. Media must exploit their vulnerabilities by projecting their fragile worth.
Especially, our media must be fully controlled in order to conduct successful counter-terror operations, and should be used as a support element of the state. It should not be allowed to conduct selective coverage of events such as showing mutilated bodies, severely injured people, destruction of property and brutally smashed scenes of surrounding.
Live coverage of operation should not be permitted. Besides, in crisis situation, lives are at risk. In this connection, media should not disclose names of victims, vital locations, security forces etc. It is also duty of media to create and maintain sense of hope among domestic audience, especially when the operation is still going on. In this connection, it is better that during counter-terrorism operations, media must be fully controlled and kept out. This will help all tiers of command to maintain their effectiveness against the terrorists, and achieve their objectives.
Now, Pakistan’s Armed Forces have almost defeated the terrorists, particularly of the TTP by clearing the areas of North Waziristan Agency by military operation Zarb-e-Azb. The operation which has been extended to other tribal areas needs support of the nation, especially of the media which must encourage our armed forces against these zealots.
And, Media anchors and commentators must point out that Islam considers killing one innocent person equal to murdering the entire humanity, while Jihad is a sacred obligation, but its real spirit needs to be understood clearly, as killing innocent women and children is not Jihad. They should also indicate that by playing in the hands of anti-Pakistan foreign countries, especially Indian secret agency RAW, the TTP and its banned affiliated groups are defaming Islam.
It is now time for our media to stop using any slant by glorifying terrorism for advancing their business interest, and it must treat each terror story on merit. While displaying responsibility and behaving maturely, media must know that in this war on terror, there is no other side. There is only one side and that is our side.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations