Mainstream media’s response to radical extremism
There seems to be broad agreement among analysts that Pakistan has never witnessed worse manifestations of violence fuelled by radical extremism than it does today.
Against this backdrop I want to focus on the mainstream media’s role instead of talking about the fringe jihadi media.
It is obvious that the media cannot remain aloof from the developments taking place in society. We were taught in graduation studies that the media has the power to influence and shape public opinion. That role obviously attains added significance in turbulent times.
The current wave of violence by radical extremists and other terrorists has exposed shortcomings of the media on many levels. I would talk about some of the main ones.
Of course, media organizations lack the capacity to report from the conflict-hit area now with military operations going on in large swathes of the northwest, but when reports of violent extremism in the Tribal Areas and Swat first became known the media largely failed or chose not to give insight into the threat in a timely manner.
Subsequent coverage of the issues by the print and electronic media has for the most part been confined to reporting on the most recent suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, casualty figures, and the amount of explosives used in each attack. The media’s focus has been on breaking news first but there has been little follow-up or objective and in-depth analysis and only superficial comment, at best, about the dynamics of the Taliban-related terrorism. Until recently, most newspapers and TV channels seemed almost at pains not to dwell on the context of the emergence of the Taliban and other extremist elements seemingly out of thin air.
Many media experts would tell you that the newspapers and TV channels in Pakistan did not and perhaps still do not perceive the Taliban as a threat to the country or its people despite butchering thousands of men, women and children and flouting in the most blatant manner the rights and protection guaranteed by the constitution. Only a few months ago – before the launch of the military operation in Swat – countless newspaper reports and TV talk shows were opposing military action or justifying the illegal and unconstitutional demands of the Taliban when they had effectively ended the writ of the state in Malakand division and were quite literally slaughtering security forces personnel, public representatives and common citizens. At that time, there were many voices in the media either calling for reaching an understanding, or an agreement with the Taliban and ceding more territory to them, or generally writing and airing favourable reports, either out of fear or on the establishment’s behest. It is painfully obvious why elements in the establishment would still be interested in a favourable press for the Taliban and other militant extremists.
Generations of Pakistanis have grown up seeing India painted as the enemy and India-bashing is considered fair game by the media. Indian media’s portrayal of Pakistan is not substantially different. But when the Taliban were butchering civilians and security personnel they were not being publicised as Pakistan’s enemies. There was no Taliban-bashing.