Media and Terrorism
By: Osman Khan


The last decade would be remembered as one that transformed peoples’ psyche on fear instincts. After the 9/11 terror attacks on ‘World Trade Centre’ in New York, the frequent terror threats and strict scrutiny of peoples’ lives by the state authorities, instilled perpetual fears in their peoples’ minds as they were incessantly led to believe by America’s influential media moguls that terrorism haunted them everywhere they moved on to. Such was the reminiscence of last decade. The same media moguls are now working overtime to reduce that imbedded terror fear in their peoples lives to reason out their winding up of Afghan war. The US may quit Afghanistan as per timeline in 2014 but the legacy they will leave behind in Afghanistan will continue to haunt the people of this region. The psychological war conducted by CIA to transform American minds on terrorism ala its war on terror and in Afghanistan is seemingly on the ebb now. However, media in Pakistan remains entrenched in covering the terror related events with same zeal and fervor as was the mantra of yesteryears’ of western media. The unlimited media freedom afforded to the media industry by the state in Pakistan however, draw flaks by the general public and other agencies on their crude coverage of terror related events when the reporters start drawing their own conclusions based on hearsay and not on evidence. In their over exuberance in reporting the violent acts they even do not desist in pointing out fingers on personalities and state institutions.

A Vienna based media watchdog established in 1997, International Press Institute, has quoted a figure of 119 journalists that got killed this year so far. The Institute cited Syria as the most dangerous place for journalists as 36 journalists have lost their lives covering various events in their country. Pakistani journalists have also been subjected to terrorists threats and attacks, some fatal and some not so serious or were hoax. A media personality Hamid Mir, an outspoken journalist who never balks away from saying whatever he personally believes is right, specially on subjects related to state security and related agencies, has also probably been warned on his stance towards terrorist causes, albeit the wrong way. An explosive device was attached to his vehicle few days back that remained unexploded. Had somebody really wanted to detonate whatever explosives were attached to his car, there is no doubt in my mind that he had the ability to explode that too. Why was Mir Sahib warned? Reasons could be many. Hamid Mir is known for his strong contacts with the top leadership of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Sipah-e-Sahaba. His unappreciated coverage of Malala incident by extremist elements, his routine onslaught on the security establishment for its alleged brutalities in Baluchistan wherein Mr. Mir somehow always left an impression as if the army was acting as a ‘Deep State’ with different links with different militant organizations in FATA and Afghanistan, his invitations to dissenting clerics on his ‘talk shows’ pitching them against each other affecting their respective followers’ beliefs and faiths, his casual satires and aspersions on sensitive personalities and state institutions questioning their integrities are some of the reasons that might have irked those who probably wanted him to be rationale and avoid creating dissentions in the society and state institutions. Mir Sahib however, appeared undeterred after the incident and declared, “They want to stop us from speaking the truth but I want to tell them that we will not be deterred.” He did not name any group or agency on the occasion that might have been behind the warning.

Nevertheless, the warning signal to Hamid Mir for his typical, some even categorize his journalistic acumen as controversial, irked the minds of our new found breeds of opinion makers and commentators who without going deeper in the dynamics that led to that warning, tried to point fingers at the agencies. Later on, Mr. Mir and Najam Sethi, a strategist and a think tank in himself, blamed the state actors for planting the device on the car. However, both of them failed to convince their avowed listeners and readers of their columns on the issue for being devoid of logic and reasoning. People in the streets appeared to be more rationale on the issue and bore more logic in saying that the act could have been carried out by some religious organization. Militants affiliated with various organizations are battle hardened fighters, firm believers in their misguided ideology and are used to adopting innovative ways of getting to their targets. The respective insinuations by the two journalists without any concrete evidence however, has once again brought to fore their mind-sets on security establishment and the army. And have raised questions about them being part of an agenda of bigger game.

As the 2014 dateline for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan draws nearer, the terrorists and extremists have started looking to avenues that may keep them in the news. They have discovered the power of media and consider it as a medium that can keep them relevant in the state matters. Accordingly, they carry out their terrorist activities in a manner drawing maximum attention of the people around the globe. The natural journalistic instincts attract journalists to cover the events that make news for their respective channels. These events majority of which are terror and violence related, unfortunately attract attention of a large number of viewers and leave a lasting impact on their national moral.

The spread of public terror, fear and feelings of chaos in our society largely depends on the images and messages about the terrorist acts and threats being shown on the electronic media or reported glaringly in the print media. Our journalistic community must be very careful as their terror related reporting frequently multiplies these effects out of proportion resulting in restlessness in general masses. Instead of outdoing each other in gaining the status of ‘most popular channel’, media must help the state by suggesting formulation of laws to eliminate terrorism and extremism from our society through frequent public debates on their respective channels. The current parliament, despite nearing its five-year tenure has failed to deliver on this count so far. Let us hope that media can fulfill its responsibility in this aspect of nation building.