Venom spewing airwaves

Apparently, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s speech on August 13 at a South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) seminar riled up quite a few people. Rather than encouraging an arms race, Mr Sharif talked about peace and economic ties with India. Reactionary elements, both within the media and outside, flared up at his rational suggestions. A private television channel aired programmes on two consecutive days hosted by a certain female anchor who is well known for hate speech and inciting violence. The said host and some of her guests launched a diatribe against SAFMA. One of the panellists, Zaid Hamid, described correctly as a “so-called analyst”, accused SAFMA of being funded by Indian intelligence agency RAW and to be pursuing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Bal Thackeray’s agenda. SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam and other office bearers of various SAFMA branches in Pakistan have decided to issue libel notices to the concerned accusers “for their highly irresponsible and provocative conduct”.

A statement issued by SAFMA said, “What is quite despicable is that [Zaid] Hamid, the anchor of the programme, her team, and the owner of the private TV channel, did not have the decency to invite any SAFMA representative to rebut the atrocious allegations.” More than 50 senior Pakistani journalists expressed their concern at the “shameful accusations” hurled at a credible media body and condemned the talk show, which violated all journalistic ethics. Such allegations are not just defamatory and libellous but can be very dangerous as was seen in the case of Salmaan Taseer, against whom a media hate campaign was launched, which arguably encouraged his cowardly assassin.

The said programme was not just full of baseless allegations against SAFMA but also featured content full of anti-India and anti-Hindu rhetoric. Hate-mongering based on religious differences should not be allowed to be aired on our television channels. There seems to be no sense of responsibility in our media, especially the electronic media, when it comes to jingoism and hate speech. The accused are well within their right to take legal recourse but Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) should have taken notice of the content of the programme. In the past we have seen that a popular televangelist’s fatwa (religious edict) against the Ahmediyya community led to the deaths of a few innocent people. Had timely action been taken against the said televangelist, others would have been restrained from indulging in such abuse. Those who are using our airwaves to spew venom should be duly penalised. Pakistani society is fast becoming radicalised and intolerant, and such programmes make things worse. Pakistan’s media might be relatively free but this does not give our media license to abuse these freedoms.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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