The political pliancy of the Pakistani media

Four senior TV journalists with anti-Imran Khan and anti-military leanings have been fired in the last two weeks.

WrittenBy:Umer Farooq
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Pakistan’s television screens have suddenly become politically pliant—with no one to taunt or criticise the military, no one to push the narrative that Prime Minister Imran Khan is the product of the military and its intelligence services’ machinations to engineer the last parliamentary elections, and to bring a politically biddable government in power in Islamabad. That’s because those pushing this narrative have been fired. Many still haven’t found another job yet.

In the past two weeks, four anchorpersons and senior journalists with different degrees of anti-Imran Khan and anti-military leanings were kicked out of their jobs from their respective television channels. Talat Hussein, Matiullah Jan, Murtaza Solangi and Nusrat Javed don’t share any political ideology and have vastly different politico-cultural backgrounds. Talat Hussein comes from a family of intellectuals with a penchant for writing on foreign affairs and security affairs in the early days of his career. Matiullah Jan comes from a military family with a long career of court reporting. Murtaza Solangi is a Sindhi intellectual who served as head of government-owned Radio Pakistan, and Nusrat Javed is a senior journalist with a long career in parliamentary reporting.

All four, however, share the inclination to blame the military and its intelligence services for engineering the July 25 parliamentary elections to bring Imran Khan to power.

Matiullah Jan and Talat Hussein were more vocal and directly said the elections have been stolen, and that Imran Khan was brought to power in Islamabad riding on the shoulders of military top brass and the intelligence services functioning under them.

Although Nusrat Javed and Murtaza Solangi were no less vocal in pushing this narrative, they expressed their views in more careful words and idioms.

The past two years have seen the Pakistani journalist community sharply divided into two groups. The first group identifies itself with the military and blames the country’s deteriorating economic conditions on the financial corruption committed by political leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. The second group blames the military for the machinations that cause political instability. The four anchorpersons were the most vocal and most visible members of the latter group.

One by one, they were shown the door by four different news channels during the past two weeks. Matiullah Jan was simply laid off by Waqt TV without being given any plausible reason. Murtaza Solangi announced he was parting ways with Capital TV. Nusrat Javed was shown the door by the management of Dawn TV citing “financial crunch” as the reason for the dismissal. Talat Hussein was terminated by GEO TV as a result of a “mutual understanding”.

There is a general consensus in the journalist community in Islamabad that the four were expelled from their jobs because of the government and military’s pressure on owners of media houses. “A month ago there were two meetings—one between the owners and Prime Minister, and the other between owners and military spokesman, Major General Asif Ghafoor. Immediately after those meetings, we were sure that this was coming,” said a senior journalist to Newslaundry on condition of anonymity.

In the first meeting, Imran Khan refused to release advertisement revenue to the media houses, which serves as a subsidy for them. In the second meeting, the military spokesman told the media house owners that the criticism of military on mainstream media is unacceptable.

There has been a wave of on-the-record public statements as well as anonymous campaigns on social media against journalists expressing independent views on the prevailing political situation in the country. Even top military officials have been vocally speaking against those “elements”, which, in their opinion, were working against “national interests” in their writings and television programs.

This is a time in the Pakistani media industry when media houses are laying off their staff in hundreds. The ouster of these four anchors has generated a kind of fear among the junior staff that if they (senior members of news teams) could be shown the door, the management would not tolerate the junior staff for much longer if the financial crunch continues.

Anticipating a panicked response from the media community, the government has decided to release the withheld cash payments to the media houses against the advertisements it had run in private print and electronic media during the past few years. Media houses managements are now hopeful that the further laying off of staff members will now stop.

However, there is a bleak future for the free expression of opinions and information in Pakistani media. A glaring example of the bulldozing of anti-military and anti-Imran Khan opinion and information was witnessed on October 30 this year when a local rights movement, Pushtun Tahfooz Movement (Pukhtun Protection Movement), held a rally in Bunnu, a city in the northwest of the country. It was a mammoth gathering but its coverage on the local media (both electronic and print) was completely blacked out. Pakistani television screens didn’t utter a single word on the event. This is because Pushtun Tahfooz Movement is a non-violent, political movement which has emerged in the northwestern part of the country where the Pakistani military is carrying out military operations against militant groups. Pushtun Tahfooz Movement is demanding a stop to arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances. Their criticism of the state machinery and its highhandedness includes the military. It’s little wonder that the Pakistan media is, therefore, turning a blind eye.


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