Guilty until proven innocentAs the unofficial fourth pillar of the state, the media has a sensitive job – perhaps even one of the most sensitive: telling the truth as it is. In a world where truth no longer sells, the media has its job cut out for itself trying to juggle various stakeholders in the complex equation of the nation state. There is the aspect of accountability, ensuring unbiased dissemination of news and allowing other arms of the state to function together in fluidity. The media throughout is the glue that joins together the official arms of the state and therefore its responsibility towards these arms is also immense.  This alone is enough to understand why it was wrong of GEO to blame the Inter-Services Intelligence, the premier spy agency of Pakistan, of a terrorist attack on its journalist Hamid Mir.

The question of national interest has been vilified to the extent that it holds no longer holds a meaning. An anarchic state of reason has begun to dominate the prevailing national discourse, wherein, the constitutional authority of the state’s monopoly over violence is challenged, branding militants and law enforcers with the same mark of villainy. It is in the midst of these state of affairs that we look for someone to blame such assassination attempts on. When blaming security forces for such attacks becomes easier to believe than the militants they are charged to fight, we know we’ve made a complete curry of national interest, throwing the whole balance of the state into disarray.

GEO interestingly was alone in its campaign to waggle fingers before the dust had even settled. Every other news agency checked its sources. Senior journalist Raza Rumi of the Express News was attacked only a few weeks ago. No one pointed fingers at state elements back then. The Lashkar-i-Jhangvi stepped forward soon after accepting responsibility for the attack. No one waited for a militant organization to make such claims in this case. No one even considered the possibility that the assailants could have been the people who had been threatening every single media house for months now. GEO stood solidly behind Hamid Mir’s brother’s allegations in this regard and broadcast these allegations as the truth without any prior checks or investigation into the matter.

Media trials are an ugly affair. They happen often and are always with impunity. The subject is portrayed as guilty without a trial, without a chance to explain themselves or a judicial warrant or ruling. This trial then becomes branded in the nation’s conscience. The masses believe what they see and they condemn the subject to a punishment most vile without offering to hear them out. The punishment is isolation. The subject of such media trials finds themselves cornered. And who doesn’t like a good conspiracy? We Pakistanis prefer conspiracies to the truth any day because it is such a scandalous delicious departure from the mundane everyday news about poverty, explosions and deaths that we have in abundance.

The news channel owes the armed forces an apology. It was quick to vilify it and is standing behind its claims since its credibility is on the line. The nation cannot expect an arm of the state to bear the brunt of the onslaught of terrorism, to gather all the bruises and cuts, lose its fingers fighting the forces of extremism and militancy that plague this country and still be termed guilty for attacks. Last year in November, Jamat-i-Islami’s Munawar Hassan said that Pakistani soldiers killed in battle against the Taliban couldn’t be considered martyrs because they fought on America’s behalf. Hekimullah Mehsud, who was killed that month in a U.S. drone strike, was a martyr he said. Then too the Army demanded an apology for the callous statement but got none.

If it’s the Army the nation wants put to trial then a trip down memory lane would be in order. The Pakistani army has lost roughly twice as many soldiers in the conflict with Taliban fighters as the US.  The price ordinary Pakistani soldiers pay in the struggle against Taliban fighters is real and high. Since Pakistan’s army began moving into the tribal areas along the Afghan border to confront the Pakistani Taliban in 2004, more than 4,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed and more than 13,000 injured, according to military statistics.

Of those injured, hundreds are paraplegics and crippled, consigned to relive their glory days in their memories alone.

The nation needs to realize that it is not that easy to point a finger and pull the trigger of denigration. There is so much riding on the back of these statements and gestures. The media too needs to realize the power it wields. As mentioned earlier, it has the power to corner the subject of its ire by the whole nation. Media holds the strings of our national consciousness and in that must exercise restraint. Hamid Mir is one, there are so many other journalists who have died in the line of duty. The men fighting their murderers deserve the acknowledgement if not gratitude and they most definitely do not deserve to be labeled as murdering fiends.