The blackout of protests following the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri highlight a key deficiency in the establishment’s psyche – brushing problems under the carpet and taking them away from the public eye does not equate actually solving them. We have seen the rise of a unified security narrative, masterminded and directed by the state since the attack on Army Public School. Staying well within this narrative, the media almost celebrated 16th December rather than commemorating the day with tough questions about the status of inquiry, the grievances of the parents and the treatment of media personal who tried to do comprehensive stories on APS.
This unified narrative was deemed necessary by the state and accepted by the media that as national instruments do recognise the key role they have in maintaining stability within the country. And yet, by muting its inner critic on issues of such immense importance and by normalising censorship in the name of state security, we have arrived at a point where media stands to simply become a tool of propaganda.
In all fairness, one cannot hold the media blameless. The blackout following Qadri’s hanging would have met some resistance if the media enjoyed some credibility and support in the public’s eye. As it stands, even professionals within the industry knew that in absence of a strongly worded advisory, most of not all the news outlets would have acted with extreme irresponsibility, fuelling further hatred and sprouting violence in the country. It was the fear of consequences of the inherent irresponsible behaviours of the industry, which stopped most senior journalists and advocates of free speech from taking stronger and public positions against the blackout.
As it stands, if the powers within the industry do not collectively get their act together and come up with a self regulatory mechanism, that systemises a process of industry led panelties on ethical and professional violations, the media would loose its independence along with its credibility.
The magnitude of protests following Qadri’s hanging was such that the public is well aware of the radical resistance despite media blackout. In such conditions, the lack of coverage and debate on media has only exposed its own weakness. Attacks on media personal and media houses due to the lack of coverage go on to show that at least a certain segment of the populace now sees media as a biased party in an ideological war.
Failing to analyse how state control over media narrative has become so absolute, why the media lacks the moral authority to resist pressure from the state and how to regain trust and credibility amongst the public means loosing any chance of practicing independent and meaningful journalism in the country.