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PIPS media workshop recommends balanced reporting on extremism

Pak Institute for Peace Studies organized a daylong workshop for print and TV journalists from Punjab, NWFP and Azad Kashmir. Forty journalists working in cities and far-flung rural areas took part in the workshop held to spread awareness about the need to counter extremism in Pakistan.

Minister of State for Defence production, Sardar Saleem Haider Khan was the chief guest. In his address he urged the media to discourage violence and promote constructive values as the integrity of the country depended on it.

He praised the media for playing a positive role in the war on terror and suggested that media should do more. He assured workshop participants that the government would take into account the recommendations formulated in the workshop when formulating policies on the war on terror.

Muhammad Amir Rana, Director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies while speaking at the workshop said that modern wars were won in the media and the war in Pakistan would also be decided at the media platform. He urged the media to realize the importance of its role in the current situation.

Shagufta Hayat, a researcher at PIPS, gave an overview of all media workshops organized by PIPS in a series of its awareness campaign. Similar workshops were held in Peshawar, Lahore and twice in Islamabad. Saba Noor, PIPS Coordinator of the Radicalization Program, presented an overview of Extremism in Pakistan since 1947 touching upon the issues of sectarianism, jihadi culture and terrorism in Pakistan during different phases.

Tracing the causes of extremism in Pakistan, most participants agreed that the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a major cause that effectively brought the so-called culture of Kalashnikov and heroin into Pakistan. However, some blamed the US policies after 9/11 for the rise of extremism in Pakistan. Absence of basic needs, unemployment, poverty and lack of educational facilities were other factors cited by participants as the main causes of extremism in the Pakistani society. Inability to properly rehabilitate the millions of Afghan refugees during the Afghan conflict and the Iranian revolution of 1979 were also tagged as the factors that caused extremism in Pakistan

However, when participating journalists were asked about the leading causes of extremism in Pakistan in a survey during the workshop, a consensus appeared to have been formed on poor governance, flawed government policies, non-delivery of basic needs to the society, political exploitation and misuse of the religious narrative by the extremist elements as the leading cause of extremism in the society.

In a discussion session on the Impact of Extremism and Personal Experiences of Participants, one view held that extremism was badly impacting on all spheres of the Pakistani society especially among the youth and children. Other views were as follows:  extremism tarnished the country’s image at home and abroad; due to extremism the society was becoming more violent and intolerant; extremism was emerging as a strong reason behind the change in culture (particularly the Pukhtoon culture), social norms and the value system.

In the survey on the Impact of Extremism, a consensus viewpoint believed extremism was promoting a culture of weaponization, it was changing cultural values, affecting trade relations, extremist leaders were becoming children’s idols and it was impacting on the attitudes of the people which was becoming more intolerant. A minority also said that extremism was destroying our economy and the relationship between society and the mosque were adversely affected.

Third session was based on group discussion on the current role of the media and recommendations on its role in countering extremism. Participants were divided into three groups.

Media persons were generally critical of the present role of the media in countering extremism. To sum up: the media was used by the state and the non-state actors, to pursue their interests which affected the authenticity of information and more so the media became a tool for spreading fear among the masses. TV channels were guilty of providing the oxygen of publicity to the extremist ideology and in a mad race for breaking news many channels reported events without verifying the facts and often exaggerated the events.

Participants recommended the following line of action for the media in countering extremism:

  • Present a balanced picture of factual news
  • Take initiatives for the development of peace and denounce militancy
  • Pay attention to the content and graphics of the news
  • Frontline reporters should receive training in “Conflict Reporting”
  • Avoid sensationalization in reporting
  • Promote constructive thinking among the readers
  • An independent media monitoring body should be set up comprising experienced journalists, civil rights activists, psychologists, strategy experts and teachers.
  • The State should ensure safety of frontline reporters
  • Media should promote patriotism in the people
  • Respect the social norms, values and ethics of the society during reporting
  • Revisit the media Code of Ethics
  • Bring accuracy in reporting events and developments, as the media should adopt mirror reporting on the issue.
  • Present the true picture of Islam so that the people are not mislead by those who use Islam for their self-interest

At the end of the workshop the chief guest, Minister of State for Defence Production, Sardar Saleem Khan distributed certificates among the participants.