Half Truths And Misinformation During The PIC Attack Coverage
Ali Zaidi writes that there are many instances of misreporting and shoddy coverage by media of the attack on PIC by lawyers. Whether knowingly or under false impressions, rumors were sold as facts to create a false perception that only lawyers are guilty in this entire situation.
Last week, we witnessed how a heightened sense of victimhood can evoke violence in people. The disposition towards violence can take control of seemingly reasonable and educated professionals and lurch them into a frenzied fit of rage and savagery, turning them oblivious to the damning consequences of their actions.
A mob has its own mind and objectives, individuals in a mob trade their personal identities for a communal identity, and with it comes the lowering of inhibitions, which makes them amenable to act in a way they otherwise would not do. Like attacking a hospital and a provincial minister who had apparently came there to diffuse the situation.
Much is being talked about the sad events of last week and currently an investigation is underway to ascertain its causes and to hold those responsible for the attack accountable. However, so far in media trials much of the guilt and responsibility is being shifted on the lawyers alone. We live in a world that is flawed and imperfect, and runs on whims and regrets as much as it runs on shared sense of collective justice and responsibility.
In the aftermath of the unfortunate events at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology, we witnessed a largely one-sided and discriminatory action against the legal fraternity in Punjab. Lawyers were indiscriminately rounded up by the police irrespective of their involvement in the incident and whilst in detention, they were subjected to inhumane torture and brutality that has become the hallmark of Punjab police. Some of the detainees were brutally denailed (forced extraction of fingernails from the nail bed) while the others were left partly undressed in cold cells under speeding fans throughout the night.
Images of lawyers were plastered on TV screens that showed them being brought to the Anti-Terrorism Court bare feet and with covered faces, something that is only done in case of hardened criminals and members of banned outfits. This appears to have been done to further malign the image of legal fraternity, as if they didn’t do enough damage themselves, and it looks like someone in the government was exerting revenge by sending a message to the fraternity.
Last week, we also witnessed how some doctors, in negation of their Hippocratic oath, refused to treat the injured lawyers that were brought in by the Police for first aid and treatment. There were instances of government doctors refusing to conduct medico-legal examination of the lawyers held in police detention, never mind that this is among other violations a tampering of evidence and disobedience/insubordination of direct orders of public officers.
For the last one month, certain young doctors are receiving undue favours from some quarters inside the Punjab government. These certain doctors were allegedly involved in the fall out with the lawyers at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology about a month ago. Despite protests and demands from the legal fraternity for conducting fair investigation into the matter and holding those found guilty accountable, no action was taken against them, so much so that in spite of repeated reassurances from the IG police and Punjab chief secretary, no arrests were made and neither any attempts were made to present any of the accused in the court.
To add fuel to the fire, there are many instances of misreporting and shoddy coverage by the media of the whole situation. Whether knowingly or under false impressions, rumors were sold as facts and with the exception of a few media personalities most of the reporting was done with a view to create a false perception that only lawyers are guilty in this entire situation and they went there with the intent to attack PIC, when in fact they were there to protest against the video of a doctor which was insulting and mocking the legal fraternity.
The video became viral and prompted a protest that escalated into the unfortunate attack on the hospital.
No one showed what led the lawyers to react violently, who were earlier only chanting slogans against the doctors and administration of PIC. There are plenty of videos available online that show how stones were pelted from inside the hospital and how doctors and administration carrying sticks and batons attempted to charge the lawyers present within the compound, and which whipped up an emotionally charged crowd into a mob. These videos clearly present a different set of facts and provide a context to the entire situation.
Also, initially, it was reported that 12 people lost their lives, later the number was reduced to 3 deaths, not that it is good news, no one deserved to die on that fateful day, but this disinformation campaign cannot be ignored either as clearly systematic efforts are being made to fuel public perceptions that paint the entire legal community in a negative shade. An unbiased investigation into the factors of these deaths should be ordered to ascertain the actual cause of their deaths because right now most of the allegations against the legal fraternity are based on half-truths and ill intentions.
There are deep-seated problems that plague the political governance, bureaucracy and system of policing in Punjab. The sad and unfortunate events which led to the attack on PIC could have been altogether prevented had the police did their job in the first place. No form of intervention was attempted from the government despite successive strikes and protests by the lawyers. The lack of proper governance and foresight on behalf of the government and their failure to play a proactive role led to the sad and unfortunate attack on PIC.
For now, the two-member Bench constituted in the Lahore High Court under the Honorable Justices Mazahar Ali Naqvi and Sardar Ahmed Naeem took it upon themselves to settle this issue and has for the time being stayed any further arrests of lawyers in relation to this incident. The court is also trying to mediate between the two professional bodies with the hopes of striking some kind of truce between the two.
However, I am afraid that as much as this may diffuse the present situation, this is not a permanent solution but rather a quick fix for much deeper problems. The explosive tempers and bloated egos coupled with selfish intents are a ticking time bomb that can explode even at the slightest of provocations. We require statutory, structural and regulatory reforms as regards the various professional bodies operational in Pakistan and place measures to prevent incidents like PIC attack in the future. Otherwise next time it could very well be engineers versus doctors or any of the hundreds of other professional bodies active in the country.
The views expressed here are the contributor’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Naya Daur Media.
The writer is an Advocate of High Court based in Lahore and is the former Chairman of Human Rights Committee, Punjab Bar Council for the Lahore Cantt Division.