Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The already deeply worrying events in the media landscape have taken a frightening turn with the reaction in several quarters to the Geo morning entertainment show debacle. The Geo programme, Utho Jago Pakistan, made a critical error of judgement by trying to fuse sensitive religious material with crass entertainment.
Arguably though, it was an accident waiting to happen. With no real professional editorial control at the channel and owner-management dictating what goes on air from another country, the channel is always likely to trip up now and again. Realising its error, Geo issued a serious and unreserved apology to its viewers — which is where the matter should have ended. But the lapse occurred at a time in which the media house’s rivals are trying everything to cut the channel down to size, perhaps even see it taken off air permanently.
Yet, for several media groups and their on-air and in-paper henchmen to deliberately, repeatedly and violently inflame religious sentiments in a country with an already alarming extremism problem has shown a shocking escalation of hostilities. The alacrity — some may say glee — with which the religious right has pounced on the Geo morning show debacle is impossible to miss, and ought to alarm even those media houses, led by ARY and Express, that have vigorously fanned the flames of religious hatred and bigotry.
The religious right would like nothing better than to have a veto over the Pakistani media, to decide what can go on air and in print and what must remain unseen, unheard and unread. But that dangerous and dark place is precisely where the national media seems to be dragging itself, oblivious apparently to what it would mean for everyone involved.
Certainly, Geo/Jang is far from blameless: for years, the group has given space to ugly and hateful views in the name of freedom of speech. Now, those very views and many of their rabid proponents are being used against it.
Two sets of actors must bear primary responsibility for events leading to what, arguably, is the logical conclusion of years of irresponsibility and a free-for-all in the TV news industry. The first set is the publishers and news channel proprietors themselves. While there is often a tendency to romanticise the past, there is a case to be made that once upon a time proprietors were more aware of the news business being different from other businesses and media ownership being a public trust of sorts.
Gone are those days. Now several media barons seek to use their media outlets for increasing their power, influence and wealth. And they do so by structuring newsrooms and programming operations in a way that they personally dictate what goes on air, and even in print. The recent wretched events in the media are a direct result of the excessive editorial control proprietors have accumulated.
Yet, the senior professional journalists working in the agenda-twisting media houses must surely bear some of the guilt, and shame, too. Powerful as the proprietors may be internally, a united journalistic front could surely put up some resistance. The proprietors need the aura of legitimacy professional journalists endow a media group with and so they cannot afford to totally alienate or lose that journalistic core and still hope to stay relevant or credible as a news organisation nationally.
But far too many senior professional journalists seem to have simply abdicated their basic responsibilities to their profession and their peers. Despite all its problems, despite the many controversies, the Pakistani media had grown to be a national institution that many could be proud of. But what dictators, anti-democrats and right-wing extremists could not achieve in decades, the media seems to have done to itself in a few short weeks. It is time for the few good men and women left in this profession to stand up and be counted.

Monday, May 12, 2014


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Some named it D-Chowk (for reasons unknown), few called it Khuni Chowk and last but not the least ‘Sheikh-ul-Islam’ Allama Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri ahead of his long March on 14 January, 2013 promised to convert this avenue into Tehrir Square (a major public town square in Downtown Cairo, Egypt).No one really knows how, when and why this place is named as D-Chowk, neither anyone has the knowledge enough who for the first time ever staged protest and Sit-in (Dharna in local lingo) at the very spot. 

Once remembered for an annual graceful congregation of National Armed Forces jawans, marking Pakistan Day (23rd March) with full-fledged display of armaments, Parade Avenue aka D-Chowk (on Jinnah Avenue) in the red zone area adjacent to the president House and Parliament House, now has become a Hyde Park for the protesters of in and outsiders of Islamabad, perturbing the office goers and other travellers.
The increased understanding about the right to freedom of expression amongst the people of the federal capital is a step to form the basis of a true democratic state. But this does not mean exercising the right at the cost of inconvenience to hundreds of employees working in public and private offices, including PNCA, PTV, PTCL, PTA, Awami Markaz and other private offices and residential area of Gulshan-e-Jinnah in F-5. It is not ideal for a democratic society to march on the roads to glorify the show of dissent over various social, economic, religious and political issues.

Instead of staging protest at Parade Avenue, National Press Club (NPC) in F-6/1, Super Market (F-6 Markaz) and Aabpara Chowk (G-6) are the other favourite picking spots for the demonstrators.

This trend has gained momentum with the series of protests organised by lawyers to seek justice for the chief Justice in 2007. The sufferers might be justifying but the sole aim should be to record their protest in the media so that it could be conveyed to the government.

The wave of terror that has swept the people with fear was the point of discouragement for the people to come on the roads amid the alarm of terrorist attacks, especially for Islooites, but in recent months, every now and then people are in a move to show disapproval on the national and international issues. The police officials cordon off the chowk once protesters reach Parade Avenue, causing traffic jams and flow of traffic becomes slow.

The people feel that marching on the road in front of the presidency is a way to inform the government of their sufferings. On almost daily basis, protests-cum-sit-in demonstrations are held at Parade Avenue by various private, public bodies and NGOs. The other hot spots for such protest rallies are Aabpara Chowk and National Press Club (near Super Market). The sits-in and rallies are held by FDE employees, OGDC, PTCL, NEF, NCHD and political as well as religious parties and university students on regular basis these days here at Parade Avenue.

The residents of the nearby localities often complain that these protests on daily basis have hampered their routine activities. “I am a student. Whenever I go out with my family at evening time for shopping, I have to wait for hours wasting time and fuel,” said Ahad Ahmad. He urged the authorities to arrange a single spot for these protesters to register their complaints without disturbing others.
Talking to this scribe, spokesperson for ICT Chief Commissioner Khalid Mehmood said a comprehensive policy was being devised to make arrangements for protests in red zone area of the city and other spots like Aabpara and National Press Club near Supermarket. “Under this policy, a spot will be fixed for protesters to hold rallies, sits-in and demonstrations to register their protest against the authorities concerned. “This policy is being drafted under the supervision of Deputy Commissioner to solve the problems of commuters, patients, students and office goers,” Mehmood said.

My mentor Imran Naeem Ahmad also adds for my blog in his crispy write-up under the title ‘Siege mentality Islamabad facing change’: Keep reading, here it goes!!!

Where people once roamed free, the markets were crowded, businesses thrived and life seemed untroubled – Islamabad may never be the same again, so believe the residents.

Such are the security concerns that police, paramilitary Rangers, guns and pickets are now the significant features of a town that was known for its peace and quiet.

Gone are the days when people said 'cheese' and had their photos taken in front of the landmark buildings along the Constitution Avenue. Gone too are the pleasure drives on the wide and inviting roads and so have the evening strolls at the Parade Square.

Police pickets today dot the down and concrete barricades and steel barriers are up virtually everywhere. Traffic has to weave past these obstacles as the cops look for a prize cache, without much luck though.

There is a sense of fear among the residents who have had an overdose of bomb blasts and suicide attacks for many years now. The assault on Marriott Hotel in 2008 was the bloodiest of them all.

In the wake of security threats the talk seems to be about walls, big and small. Already some of the United Nations offices have fortified their offices by erecting such walls. The government too has plans of walling the entire Red Zone.

How extensive such precautionary measures need to be ring on everyone's mind but residents think that the government needs to go for enhancing the capabilities of its intelligence agencies to thwart terror.

"Putting the town under siege is not the answer, do not alienate the people," stressed Tahir Shafi pointing out that more money should be spent on intelligence gathering.

Agreeing to his suggestion, Abdul Jabbar said that shutting off roads and streets only means inconveniencing the public. "Please do not trouble the locals while trying to catch terrorists," he pleaded.

The residents recall with fondness the free movement in places like the Diplomatic Enclave, the lovely drives on the road leading to the Quaid-e-Azam University and a string of other spots that are now under siege.

MK Sufi, who has seen Islamabad in its infancy, remembers the days when as a youngster he used to cycle through the areas that are today completely fenced.

"Islamabad is being turned into a civil cantonment and it appears that in the days ahead, the movement of residents would be restricted to the very sectors where they live," he said.

A member of the Islamabad Citizen's Committee, Sufi thought that all the barricades and police pickets had been set up only to harass the people. "These posts are manned by burly security personnel who have no concept of security," he claimed.

Muhammad Abid, an Islooite for three decades said this town wouldn't be the same again. "Because of flawed government policies, we are being made to pay the price," he said.

The business community too is suffering as a result of recent terrorist strikes with an office-bearer of the Aabpara Market Traders Union pointing out that they had to endure big losses. "Security fears and load shedding have forced people to stay away from markets," he said.

Although security in the Capital was first enhanced during the Lal Masjid operation, it has continued to be more or less intense due to events that followed. Among them were the emergency rule, the lawyers' movement, the general elections and a spate of suicide bomb attacks.

Largely the people are unhappy with the state of siege and feel that security does not mean cordoning off roads and building walls all around. Rather, they stress that it is all about intelligence.

The writer is an Islamabad based Journalist who can be accessed at