North Waziristan Blackout: Media Credibility Damaged Beyond Repair

North Waziristan Blackout: Media Credibility Damaged Beyond Repair
Murtaza Solangi argues that by coercing the local media into silence, the authorities have empowered the same foreign and social media that they abhor so much.

Since the tragic incident of Sunday in North Waziristan, the credibility and the reputation of Pakistani media have stooped to new lows. After the news of the death and injuries of PTM workers and arrest of MNA Ali Wazir, the national media represented by screaming news TV channels and newspapers have only pushed the narrative of the ISPR and mainly blocked the point of view of PTM and their supporters.

All reports suggest that the area after the incident is under curfew, internet and phone lines are not working and the independent journalists are being barred from reaching the area.

It is clear that Pakistani media has adopted this policy of blacking out PTM point of view under coercion by the state authorities. The PTM point of view is only available on social media. Only the international media looks balanced as it carries the perspective of all sides in the conflict, the military authorities included.

The authorities have forced the national media to carry just the ISPR version of events and hence hurt the credibility and reputation of the national media by blurring the lines between the military press release and independent reporting. The media by acquiescing has shot itself in the foot and damaged its credibility beyond repair. The authorities have also done a great national disservice by damaging the image of the national media and thus giving international media the power to shape the narrative, as people interested in knowing the facts are tuning into international media for reports.

This is reminiscent of the martial law days when people would throng to tea-shops at night to listen to BBC London and VOA to know what was happening in their own country. By forcing the media to carry only the version of the ISPR, the people wanting to know what happened there were left with no option but to rely on the international media to find the truth.

Veteran journalist Muhammad Ziauddin, who has headed two of Pakistan’s most prestigious English dailies, Dawn and Express Tribune, said, “It is clear, the coverage of the tragic incident is nothing but the self censorship under coercion and it has tarnished the credibility of Pakistani journalism built over decades”.

Former Editor of Dawn Abbas Nasir sounded the same. “The way the media blacked out coverage [of the North Waziristan incident] was evident of military pressure amounting to censorship. Sad day for [Pakistani] media”, he said.

Now the politicians from the opposition, and also some from the ruling coalition, besides the human rights bodies, have demanded impartial probe into the incident to find out the truth. In case the truth negates the state narrative of the incident and supports the claim of the PTM that peaceful and unarmed protesters were fired upon, killed and injured then, it will be a mortal blow to the reputation of the Pakistani media.

One thing is clear: The Miltablishment and the #SethMedia have hurt each other by one-sided and lopsided coverage of the tragic incident and will end up on the losing side at the end of the day. Despite the tirade of the Miltablishment against the foreign media and the social media, they have actually ended up empowering them beyond their imagination.
Executive Editor

Murtaza Solangi is one of Pakistan's top journalists, and former Director General of Radio Pakistan.