Whether the country was ruled by democracy or dictatorship, media in Pakistan has always been expected to positively portray the narrative of every political party, religious group and other institutions. Failing to subjugation, defiant media persons and media houses were subjected to threats – from verbal to physical abuse and life threats.
Zamir Niazi in his book, The Press Under Siege, traced history of threats on media persons, editors and attacks on media houses till 1991. In the era, print media was the dominant source of information with a state run television channel PTV.
Niazi’s book can be more comprehensive by dividing the society in four sections while talking about dissemination of information:
- Journalists who disseminate information
- Unions like PFUJ, KUJ, APNS, CPNE, APNEC, APNEF, and 18 others to protect the rights of journalists
- Political, religious, and other groups whose narratives are being disseminated
- General public – the ultimate recipient of information
The book contains countless incidents of suppressing media to curb the free flow of information to general public if it harmed the reputation of any body – the holder of the narrative. Political parties who are the bearers of democracy were no exception – the real dilemma. Political and religious parties demanded front page coverage on the newspapers to restricted the justified coverage to the events and incidents and expunge the remarks which go against their positive image. Each party equally contributed in violence. It didn’t matter whether the slogan of political party was democracy like PPPP or PML-N; or parties formed on ethnicity causes MQM or so called religious causes PAT.
Niazi illustrated verbal abuse to lesser extent and physical abuse to larger degree including severe beating of media persons for withholding the demands. Photo Journalists and cameramen were the easy prey of the hooligans. They were beaten and their equipments were smashed to pieces.
Various incidents in the book revealed the support of Unions for journalists and media houses. They took stand for the injustice and inhuman behavior with them but the opposition was too strong – at times – to end up with compromise.
Various journalists have sacrificed their lives while performing their duties. The promises to support their families by Unions and political parties were in vain. However, in one incident, Muhammad Salahuddin, the editor of Takbeer, received compensation from government after the media house was smashed and the machines were broken.
For better understanding of Pakistani media’s history, Zamir’s book is a good read.