Ernest Dempsey – Pakistan – When it comes to religion, the hollow claims of straightforward journalism put forth by Pakistani media are seen nowhere, except perhaps 7 feet beneath the ground, buried under fear and/or beneficial compromises. This has again been witnessed, painfully, no doubt, in the latest demand of a fundamentalist religious party that wants the Christians’ holy book Bible to be banned in Pakistan. No major Pakistani media bothered, or should I say dared, to cover the news even briefly, let alone host any discussion on the topic. Freedom of press? If not, who’s responsible?
Before commenting on our media’s audacity, first I must share that I came to learn of the JUI’s demand to ban bible through a blog post on Digital Journal. My search for the news led me to all foreign media reports, in fact a single report shared on my different news gathering sites. The religious party seems to be claiming that some parts of the Bible are blasphemous and hence the book needs to be banned in Pakistan. In other words, since a fundamentalist Islamic party doesn’t like a book that is sacred to Christians – a minority in Pakistan – they consider it their right to demand the book should be made unavailable in the whole country. Pathetically nonsensical is all what I can call this bigotry. But the point I want to make is here that Pakistani media is responsible for irresponsibly/cowardly ignoring this demand, silently passing over an issue that should have made front-page news. It didn’t make any news at all!
For one thing, Pakistani media, both major newspapers and TV channels, have recently been regarded shockingly audacious in covering issues of contentious nature (not much outside the political conflict I must say). But it’s more the individual journalists and political/social figures who paid the price of being daring, and not the media itself. These were people like Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti and their brave female equivalent figures, like Sherry Rehman, who stood for human rights, specifically for the right of the minorities to EXIST free in a country seemingly dominated by Muslim fundamentalists, despite a secular government at rule. Pakistani media, with very minor/few exceptions, never spoke for minorities’ rights against the intimidating fundamentalist aggressors.
The case of Asia Bibi’s death sentence was precariously discussed in media (again with few exceptions) because defying the infamous blasphemy law was akin to challenging two most powerful institutions of the country: religion and judiciary. Could media dare take this challenge? The answer soon came out when, after the cold-blooded murder of Salman Taseer in Islamabad, a TV anchor excused out of the discussion by concluding that one should discuss this sensitive matter with extreme caution.
Subsequently, no one from the electronic media and very few in print media defied the blasphemy law while its abuse continued in Pakistan, mostly in the crime-ridden Punjab province where churches were attacked, Christians were beaten nearly to death, and even Muslims were targeted for personal reasons while masking the aggression as the efforts of zealots acting to protect the sanctity of Islam’s holy concepts. On the other hand, when these Islamic sacred treasures were attacked in other countries inndividual capacities, e.g. Pastor Terry Jones’ desecration of the Holy Koran in the US, Pakistani media jumped to condemn the incident with anchors and writers finding no time to tire from blasting the act. These writers could justify an act of narrow-mindedness and bigotry against Islam but could not condemn similar bigotry against Christianity. One must wonder how this demonstrates the openness and clarity Pakistani media claims it defines.
Not only did Pakistani media fail to cover the abuse of the blasphemy law in detail, and neglect critical analysis (that it claims it can and usually does exhibit) the offensives against Christians, but that same media either gave no coverage at all or so limited as not to be visible to readers and viewer to the important proofs that exposed the abuse of the blasphemy law. We can thank Christian blogs and the few Christian publications in Pakistan that did let us know about the confession of a Muslim man who is reported to have burnt copies of the Holy Koran and then accused the Christian community of doing so, leading to a blast of anger and violence against Christians in Gujranwala. This manifest abuse of blasphemy law, which should have made headlines, was again ignored by Pakistani media. One wonders whether this extreme of selectivity in covering issue of religious conflict not speak for media’s siding with the aggressor.
Media is hailed as the voice of the nation, not just in the Western world but in countries like Pakistan. But when it becomes the mouthpiece of a certain group or mindset, it loses this title as a voice automatically. In case of blasphemy law and violence against Christian minorities, Pakistani media doesn’t deserve to be proud of itself, but to be repudiated for its lack of transparency and frank news reporting. This lack of audacity to speak for the oppressed, the apartheid, can’t be attributed solely to the intimidating power of the fundamentalist agenda that I suspect is the direct result of the long-lasting influence of that oil-rich country whose terrorists are down in protected areas in Pakistan, but also to the media’s policy of obeying “might is right”. Since it’s never too late, I can only hope that Pakistani media stops ducking before the aggressors and stands for truth. After all, it’s people like Saleem Shehzad who make history, not the Tom, Dick, and Harry, or whatever name the reader’s knowledge best suggests!