PAKISTAN: Furore Over Leaked Tape Cause for Media Soul Searching

  • by Zofeen Ebrahim (karachi, pakistan)
  • Monday, May 31, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

An audiotape in which Mir was purportedly speaking with an unidentified Taliban about a former intelligence operative was released earlier this month on a blog believed to be run by the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), of which Mir had been known to be one of the more vocal critics.

'It’s a very serious allegation and shows how vulnerable we all are,' said Kashif Abbasi, host of a current affairs show on the private TV channel ARY News. He has called for the 'setting up a committee of credible journalists' to investigate the accusation against Mir prompted by the audiotape.

Abbasi’s sentiment appears to resonate with other members of the local media.

'If the tape is genuine,' said senior journalist Huma Yusuf, then Mir 'has gone well beyond the ethics of his profession.'

She added: 'Ascertaining the veracity of that audiotape is essential, and the journalistic community should demand that it be done by an impartial, international organisation.'

The alleged conversation between Mir and a Taliban member revolved around Khalid Khwaja, formerly with the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's military intelligence agency, and who was kidnapped and killed last month by a little-known Taliban-linked group, called Asian Tigers, a few days after the alleged conversation.

The controversial tape was uploaded to an online site called ‘Let Us Build Pakistan,' which claims to be a 'project of critical supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party.'

Mir was alleged to have instigated the Taliban to kill Khwaja, whom he referred to as a former 'CIA [Central Intelligence Agency of the United States] agent.

'My conscience is clear,' Mir told IPS, vehemently denying such conversation ever took place.

Former secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal of Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Mazhar Abbas said the release of the supposed recorded conversation reeked of defamation. 'The right way (to deal with the issue) would have been to take the legal course,' said Abbas.

Asma Shirazi, also a TV anchor, said, 'The feeling that my every word may be taped and listened to makes me extremely uneasy.' 'Pakistan's problems with conspiracy theories that arise from suspected foreign interference at every step and rising intolerance [toward alleged enemies of the state] are contributing to the violence we witness every day,' said Yusuf.

Incidents of terrorist violence in Pakistan have exceeded those of neighbouring Afghanistan, according to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies.

Others in the local media seemed convinced, however, that the tape was authentic and that the controversy in which Mir now finds himself embroiled merely exposed the bigger ills confronting the Pakistani media, notably those involving its professional conduct.

Badar Alam, editor designate of a current affairs magazine called ‘Herald, said the press was already suffering from 'a crisis of credibility,' made worse by what he called the 'sordid Mir affair,' before the alleged conversation surfaced.

It is time the media did a 'serious soul searching on their own accountability,' he said.

Of late, 'We have seen some business people entering the media world as a means to protect their business interests, he said, adding that all this certainly compromises media's role and raises questions on its credibility.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based defence and political analyst, pointed to the 'hazards of playing on different tracks in the murky world of Islamic militancy and intelligence apparatus.'

Alam said it was no secret that some journalists have raised doubts about their political, social, and religious affiliations, which have cast doubts on their professional integrity.

Mir was 'hobnobbing with different militant groups and Pakistani intelligence agencies,' Rizvi alleged.

'I’m just a journalist and have interviewed many militants and I have confronted them and even exposed their real faces,' said Mir, adding that his interaction with them had been purely 'professional.'

He blamed 'some people' in the ruling PPP 'for hatching this conspiracy,' referring to the controversial audiotape. He said he was targeted because of his 'unrelenting criticism of the government that had angered some individuals within the PPP,' he told IPS.

Mir has been described by his colleagues in the press as a 'loose cannon' for his often belligerent and controversial positions on certain issues.

I. A. Rehman, chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the 'intelligence agencies are washing their dirty linen in public,' believing they were behind the leaked audiotape.

Rehman said Mir had been targeted by intelligence groups for pursuing the cases of missing persons, referring to enforced disappearances carried out by military spy agencies. Such practices are conducted routinely to quash political dissent, intimidate and terrorise opponents, he said.

But to Abassi, the question remained: 'Who taped this, if it is an actual conversation. And if it is a doctored one, who put this together and why?'

Unlike Rehman, Ayesha Siddiqua, a defence analyst and newspaper columnist, maintained that Mir only had himself to blame for his current situation. 'Journalism is risky business,' she said.

'Many [journalists] get fed stories… and when [it happens], there is always the risk of being used or sacrificed by the suppliers of information,' she said. 'People who are in the media business should understand the risk of sleeping with the devil.'

While many journalists reporting on defence and military have to keep their contacts, Yusuf said there should be guidelines to clarify 'what level of contact is appropriate to keep information flowing, and what borders on inappropriate allegiances.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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