How the attack on Hamid Mir changed Pakistani Media
When I first started placing the journalists killed in Pakistan on the map, there were around 80 red markers – 80 little dots signifying a death each scattered across Pakistan. Recently, when the map was updated, we recorded 105 deaths across Pakistan. Most of these were targeted killings. So far, not one of those murdered have received justice. It is no wonder then that the number of killings has risen persistently. On 19 April 2014, an attempt was made on the life of a man who people see as one of the most powerful faces on the screen. Hamid Mir, whose show Capital Talk, is one of the most influential shows in Pakistan, was shot on his way to Geo’s head office in Karachi. He was targeted by two men on a motorbike, who gave chase to Mir’s car on the busiest road in Karachi, Shahrah e Faisal. By the end of the chase, Mir had six bullets in his body and was in a critical condition.
Today, a whole year has passed since the attack on Mir.
The past year saw frenzied consultations among civil society groups working on media rights, demonstrations and protests by PFUJ, crackdowns on the Geo, retaliation and resistance and a much awaited first verdict on Wali Khan Babar’s trail. And yet, the more things change, the more they remain the same. One year after the attempt on Hamid Mir’s life, nothing seems to have improved. The investigations, turned over to a judicial commission, have failed to identify or try a single culprit. The Prime Ministers’ visit to the hospital where Mir lay recovering often held up as a shining proof of governments’ ‘good will’ towards Mir and journalists in Pakistan, has failed to materialize into anything tangible.
By now, the protests have dwindled and faded, the promises long forgotten, the situation accepted as one that is ‘normal in Pakistan’. The acceptance of a mortal threat simply as ‘the way the things are’ is a dangerous thing and we appear to have internalized this threat as the norm.
And so, be it the journalists themselves, or media development groups, the attempts to work towards a secure environment for journalists now revolves in clichés. The discussions on a media safety bill keep circling around who actually is a journalist. Who should be protected under such a bill and who should be left to fend for themselves. On the governments’ side, the statements vary from ‘very soon’ to ‘the whole country is trying to fight the menace of terrorism’. On either side, a solution, a concrete step towards ending impunity doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
Pakistan continues to fare among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. At the same time, politicians, leaders in Pakistan continue to find excuses to explain away the situation – It is not the journalists only they say, everyone is being targeted, the country is facing the menace of terrorism – What they fail to acknowledge is that journalists targeted in Pakistan are not random victims of a culture of violence. They are being targeted specifically for performing one of the core functions of a democracy – they are being targeted for reporting, for bringing out stories that would otherwise go unheard, unnoticed and unseen. Journalists in Pakistan are not being targeted, they are being silenced. In a recent interview with CPJ, Mir says that he is ‘not touching some sensitive issues these days’, although he soon will. One year after the horrific attack on Hamid Mir, we see one of the most fearless journalists in the country still trying to regain the freedom that he once had. And this is the impact that those targeting journalists hope to see. If impunity prevails, if those trying to silence the journalists in Pakistan are allowed to get away with it, what we will see is a society hushed, suppressed and forced to survive in an environment where speech is controlled, information is restricted and opinions are carefully crafted.
Image courtesy: IPI