Media’s Reporting Of Matiullah Jan’s Abduction Could Have Been More Direct
Our society and media have been in a state of denial as far as the brief abduction of senior journalist Matiullah Jan is concerned. Everybody knows who kidnapped Matiullah Jan. During those 12 hours on last Tuesday, social media was full of disapproval, mainstream political parties turned against it. There was a disapproving murmur in the big cities against Jan’s brief “enforced disappearance” (as stated by Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah) and the violence that was perpetuated against his person.
And last but not the least, international opinion, as reflected in statements coming out from different capitals and civil society organisations, was showing signs of strong reaction. So the order of the day for ordinary mortals like Pakistani media was simple: don’t mention the names of demigods of Pakistan with the “enforced disappearance” of Matiullah Jan.
Why is Pakistani media particularly afraid to mention the names and identities of those they think— rather they are sure and certain— were behind the kidnapping or enforced disappearance of Matiullah Jan? I will never accuse Pakistani media men of cowardice as I personally know many of them have passed through more difficult ordeals than this one and have not shied away from their social responsibilities of telling the truth in the past. Pakistani media is passing through the most difficult times of its history, where speaking the truth is not simply physically threatening it can cost you your livelihood or relegate you into the abyss of oblivion. You simply become no one.
In the last days of military dictator, General ® Pervez Musharraf, he used to tell his political protégé in party meetings—who were under tremendous pressure from the independent media— that the security apparatus he was presiding over had developed the “technical means and methods” to control and browbeat the media that was causing so much trouble in the days of lawyers movement in 2007. Musharraf didn’t find time to use and implement those “means and methods”, but their implementation has been in full swing since 2014.
These means and methods found a natural house in the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Thousands of journalists—the multitudes who provide the backbone to media industry—have been rendered jobless, or working without pay and government decision to withdraw subsidy to the media houses is partially responsible for this state of affairs, many are working on the edge of dismissal from their jobs and criteria for retaining the job is not to be over smart and not to be too truthful, media industry is losing its readership and viewership fast and thus is facing a dwindling revenues, causing further uncertainty in the job market for the media men.
At present majority of the job openings are in media houses owned by pure businessmen—who have turned towards the media industry after earning a lot of money from other businesses— who are more vulnerable to the influence of state machinery and thus don’t carry a good prospect for any independent journalist.
So identifying the demigods of Pakistan in the stories about Matiullah Jan’s enforced disappearance is not feasible option for those journalists who otherwise would not have desisted or feared that this might cause them physical harm. This is interesting and ironic at the same time—there is no credible evidence that could easily identify Matiullah Jan’s kidnappers. Matiullah himself desisted from identifying them in his video statement. All he said was that he was kidnapped by those who don’t accept democracy and don’t accept rule of law and constitution in the country. This leaves much to imagination. Technically speaking if the victim himself is not ready to accuse anyone, can the reporter or the media in general speculate about who was behind the kidnapping? Well as a journalist I don’t think the reporter and media outlets can or should take this liberty.
But since Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, Athar Minallah has observed that Matiullah’s kidnapping was a case of enforced disappearance and not of kidnapping—this is enough evidence coming from highest judicial forum in the country that Matiullah Jan was not kidnapped by some ordinary criminals on account of some mistaken identity—as some of the anonymous government sources would have us believe. Pakistani media could have taken clues from this observation of Chief Justice Islamabad High Court, but it didn’t.
Handling crises is much more than simply managing the media. You can make the media shut up, you have the wherewithal and mechanism to give a shut up call to the media. But Matiullah Jan’s brief enforced disappearance is a very sinister development as far as civic life in Pakistani society is concerned. After all what could be more sinister than the thought that there are bands of people out there, controlled by no one—not at least by the government—who are unfettered by any law or constitution and they are after you.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.