Violent militant organization Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has officially declared the country’s media as fair game in their war against the Pakistani state. The TTP issued a religious decree or fatwa against some Pakistani media houses and prepared a hit list with names of two dozen journalists and publishers.
This comes as the Pakistani government has decided to pursue ‘peace talks’ instead of a ‘military operation’ against the banned outfit.
The 29-page fatwa accuses the media of continuously lying about the TTP and their objectives and attributing terrorist attacks to them that they had nothing to do with. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan explained to Pakistani daily Dawn:
For a long time, we have been asking the media to be impartial. We are not forcing it to change beliefs. We are simply asking the media to be fair in coverage …Despite the tall claims of truth and nothing but the truth, the media has been acting as propagandists.
Three people associated with the TV channel Express News were killed when their company car came under attack in Karachi on January 17, 2014. Following the attack, Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed that the TTP was responsible:
The reason of the attack is that in the war of ideologies all media channels… are acting as propagandist and as rival party.. We will attack all the media houses that are involved in carrying out propaganda against us.
Media caught in the line of fire
“If the focus was on news before, now it’s on views,” Mushtaq Minhas, co-anchor of Bolta Pakistan on Aaj News, said. “(The Taliban) want to dilute the growing state and society narrative against them and want to impose their own narrative.”Minhas claimed that the growing sophistication of the Taliban’s media operations – both in terms of putting out their own message and closely monitoring the electronic and print media in Urdu, English and regional languages – has meant that the Taliban are alert to growing public and media criticism of the TTP and the possibility of an impending military response by the state against the TTP.
Malik Siraj Akbar, Washington DC-based editor of the banned news site The Baloch Hal, which reports on Pakistan's restive Balochistan region, worried that such attacks can lead to paralysis of the media. He wrote in Huffington Post:
The Taliban do not only justify their attacks but they also demand equal air time for propagation of their extremist ideology in the news media. This is a bizarre expectation but completely snubbing their demand is likely to endanger the lives of several other journalists in the future. If one media group concedes to the Taliban wishes out of fear of being attacked, the free media will ultimately end up compromising its integrity and reliability among the masses.
Such statements, followed by attacks, tend to divide the country and society into two camps. While there are those who are frustrated by the government's inaction against the Taliban, others have a similar feeling but for a different reason. A number of young men and women I spoke with in urban centers of South Punjab sympathise with the TTP rather than their own soldiers. Their reason, as one young woman stated: “What's wrong with the Taliban asking for implementation of Sharia? If fighting is the only way they force the government to do what people want, then so be it.”
Our media has been flooded with dollars. You advocate dialogue and our media labels you a “Taliban Sympathizer”. #IKonJAAG
— PTI (@PTIofficial) January 13, 2014
Ever since media liberalization legislation passed in 2002, the Pakistani media, especially the broadcast industry, has become a powerful and independent institution. According to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, the number of private television channels has grown to 89, dozens of which are news channels.