Why the Pakistani Media Did Not Cover the Mashky Operation

The Pakistani media is not known for extensively covering the conflict in Balochistan. It has repeatedly been criticized for taking sides with the government on critical issues such as military operations and human rights violations. The media’s complicity in hiding the rights abuses committed by the security forces in the troubled region was once again deeply felt last week during the military operation carried out in Mashky area of Awaran District.

A complete blackout of the operation, its motivations and the outcome has generated enormous anger among the people of Balochistan. A voluntary refusal by most media outlets headquartered in large Pakistani cities to run stories related to the Mashky operation is a classic example of professional dishonesty. This also serves as a painful reminder how limited freedom the Pakistani media, including the so-called liberalized broadcast channels, enjoy when it comes to illegal operations the armed forces conduct against civilians.  While people were being brutally killed and their homes set ablaze, the media did not care for human lives in Balochistan. The stories that topped the rundowns of producers were about the family fight of a popular Pakistani singer with her husband and a cricket match between India and Pakistan.

Highlighting the plight of common people is a secondary job of the media. Our first and foremost goal should be to bring out the truth to the people. It should be left for the readers and the viewers to decide which side is justified. It is unfortunate that the media did not make an effort to dig out what had been happening in Awaran District. Media’s silence further facilitated the objectives of the Frontier Corps (F.C.) and the Pakistani army given their choice of a tricky timing for the operation. The forces moved in Mashky at a time when the Balochistan government is undergoing a constitutional crisis because of the tug of war between the Speaker and the Chief Minister. The occasion of December 25, which is a national holiday as it marks the birthday of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was soon followed by December 27th, the death anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The cost of ignoring Balochistan in the national media is extremely high.

By ignoring thee reports, editors and directors at private news channels are not only criminally keeping their audience in darkness but they are also contributing to a hostile atmosphere for local journalists who work from remote areas of the province.

Media’s partisan role is encouraging desperate reactions. In the past, the supporters of Baloch nationalists had boycotted Pakistani news channels by forcefully shutting down cable services because they complained that the networks were not honestly reporting the situation in the province. In some other cases, they have also boycotted major newspapers on the same grounds. What is at stake is the personal safety of journalists and stringers who work for major news outlets in Balochistan. It makes it hard for them to justify their profession before the local communities when their reports are not aired or published by their media organizations.  In the past, journalists have been threatened by armed groups for not sufficiently and professionally doing their job.

In a more desperate measure, the Lashkar-e-Balochistan carried out a bomb blast in a parked bus in Karachi which killed six civilians. The attack seemed to be intended to draw more media attention toward the Mashky operation. This was an absurd tactic which will decrease public support for the Baloch nationalist movement. Even if it has nothing to do with support for the Baloch, such violent acts should not be carried out in the name of nationalism because nationalism should look clearly distinct from Talibanization.

In the backdrop of a blackout of the news, Baloch political activists have extensively used social media to share information about the operation. Meanwhile, it turned out that social media could not fully replace news media nor could it always be reliable. Some activists went overboard and circulated fake and outdated pictures of the operation whichcaused embarrassment for writers and journalists who truly wanted to highlight the issue. The job of news gathering cannot be transferred from professional journalists to political activists. By sharing fake photographs, disinformation and exaggerated statistics, Baloch political activists are also damaging their own cause and integrity. Their misleading attitude further complicates the situation and the senior leadership should take notice of such irresponsible activism.

Instead of blindly buying only one version of the story, the media should  keep trying to honestly report  the situation in order to clear confusion.

This editorial was originally published in the Baloch Hal on December 30, 2012


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