December issue 2006

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 18 years ago

The government’s public relations cell in Islamabad, assigned the task of deflecting criticism and projecting Pakistan’s soft image, is taking its job very seriously. Last month, Newsline received several letters to the editor, under different names, which harped on a single theme: Newsline’s November 2006 cover, with an image of demonstrators protesting against the bombing of a madrassah in Bajaur. The letters said it did not behove a reputable magazine to project a negative image of the country, more so since we Pakistanis were being branded as supporters of extremism all over the world.

Further, as a sequel to that, the national carrier suddenly stopped carrying Newsline on all its domestic and international flights. Earlier, we’d been bumped off from all Presidential and Prime Ministerial briefings.

Surely, the government does not need Newsline to project a negative image to the world. It is doing that job rather well, thank you. Every jihadi that is arrested in any part of the world confesses to having some links with Pakistan — a story that is flashed across the world press time and again. So how does the government deal with those incriminating headlines? Ban the internet editions of the respective papers or jam all foreign satellite channels?

Jihadis aside, there are other stories that have been a source of embarrassment to Pakistan and made it appear to be a police state.

Amnesty International, HRCP and the national press have been crying hoarse on the subject of missing persons — engineers, doctors, political activists — who’ve disappeared without a trace.

The government feigned ignorance till the Supreme Court ordered that they be produced. And so they were, but only 20 of the 41 reported missing. They recounted gory tales of harassment at the hands of intelligence agencies.

How does the government justify this fundamental violation of human rights to the world? Additionally, how does the government explain the killings of 20 journalists between 2000 and 2006 in Pakistan and 318 cases of violence or intimidatory action against the media.

In some instances, government agencies have been accused directly of foul play. In one of the most brazen incidents, a Dawn reporter was picked up, detained and roughed up — allegedly by intelligence sleuths. In another case, a Sindhi-language channel was taken off the air for doing a spoof on the country’s top guns.

Is the government going to shoot the messenger each time the message is not to its liking?

The media does not exist to promote the country’s image, by telling lies or covering up. That is a task best left to the country’s spin doctors. The media’s role is that of a watchdog. And that’s the role Newsline intends to play. In this latest issue, we turn our sights on the army’s corporate world — a follow-up to our exposé on the army’s land holdings. The worth of its financial empire is currently estimated at 200 billion rupees.

No doubt an excellent balance sheet for the armed forces whose professional performance has lost us two wars and half the country. Need one say more…

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.