Media’s Irresponsible Coverage of the Gunman

 By Sajjad Shaukatskindar

Terror-related incidents such as bomb blasts, suicide attacks, abductions, target killings, ethnic and sectarian violence including assaults on security forces and law-enforcing agencies have enveloped Pakistan, especially Karachi, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Regrettably, these security forces and law-enforcing agencies are not only targeted by terrorists, but are also under strict scrutiny and criticism of media and political elements including so-called NGOs. These internal entities are creating impediments and confusion which have been discouraging the law-enforcing and intelligence agencies thereby, negatively influencing their performance.

In this context, small incident of July 15, 2013 in Islamabad, in which a lone gunman, namely Sikandar Hayat who along with his wife and two children drove into the Red Zone by challenging the capacity of administration in the capital city, should not make us think passively and lose sense of respect for law-enforcing agencies. The armed man, sitting in a car had been firing intermittently at the Constitution Avenue, Islamabad and police did not go ahead.

The police also rushed towards Sikander and tried to convince him to lay down the arms, but Sikandar asked for police high-ups to come in for talks. When they did, he made a demand for establishment of Shariah (Islamic Jurisprudence) in Pakistan. Many senior police officials including SSP (Operations) Dr Rizwan, and renowned politician Nabeel Gabool were also present at the scene to control the situation and persuade the man to surrender peacefully, but he refused to give up.

Although after six hours, the episode ended when PPP leader Zamurd Khan played pivotal role in capturing the gunman and got injured, yet a debate has continued between the ruling and opposition parties regarding the lone gunman, putting a number of questions marks.

The incident kept us all engaged for couple of hours, because it was within the capability of Police to handle it silently and quickly. In this connection, especially media played the role of real game-spoiler by muddling with the task of law enforcing agencies in allowing them in doing their job and handling a simple case of disarray, having potential of fuming outburst. Though Police had worked out a strategy to negotiate with the gunman whose two little children and spouse were at risk, yet due to hindrance by media, Police seemed to lose time in its rational response.

At this critical moment, media anchors also negatively criticized the Police, thus facilitating disorder and chaos to take place. So, the entire nation was embarrassed before the world which was watching the entire drama. It further tarnished the image of Pakistan in the eyes of international community in wake of continued terror-related incidents.

There is no doubt that live coverage of an event has its own merits, as it dependents upon the occasion or any development. But live coverage of the gunman has indicated media’s irresponsible approach. During this sensitive situation, instead of become a support element of state by facilitating the state organs to perform well, media started impeding the task of security and law enforcing agencies which were engaged in handling the issue.  Media confused the scene with reporters and cameramen, and by making telephone connections with the suspect to negotiate in awkward manner.

Media may criticize the institutions for their betterment, but they must not taunt on their performance in an avenging manner. Negotiations with the suspected gunman by anchors were also not approved by any government authority, while for showing efficiency; some media analysts even did not felt shy in denouncing the media intrusion into Police domain. It seemed that media commentators were promoting the cause of the lone gunman. Besides, they left no stone unturned in defaming the vital state organs like Police and law-enforcing agencies by misinterpreting the scene.

While accepting responsibility for prolonging the operation for so long, on August 16, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan held the media responsible in this regard. He stated, “It was hardly a 30-minute operation. I ordered the authorities to approach the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and stop the live coverage for conducting the operation; however, this was not ensured.” In another statement, he said that the episode did not go on for five hours, “rather it still continues” due to our media. Nisar pointed out that he had given three orders about the incident. “First, there should be no fire, if he has not held anyone hostage, second, there should be no violence in front of the children, and third, he should be arrested alive.”

On August 20, Senators termed the Jinnah Avenue incident as a total failure of the government, and criticized the interior minister’s statements, terming them full of contradictions. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Raza Rabbani presented 17 questions regarding the Sikandar incident. He asked, “How did the gunman enter the high-security zone of the federal capital? Who was the in-charge of the operation? Why did not Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar return to Islamabad after the incident?”

Rabbani explained that the interior minister initially stated that Sikandar was not a terrorist, but on August 19, he said that Sikandar had links with ‘foreign handlers.’ He also regretted that no minister spoke a single word over the incident on August 15, as the entire world watched the drama for more than five hours. The PPP leader also questioned as to how the government planned to disarm hundreds of Taliban when it had failed to disarm a single person. Other opposition parties also criticized the government for its inability to handle the issue properly.

Former interior minister Rehman Malik disclosed that there were internal and external enemies of the country, who wanted to destroy the nuclear capability of Pakistan. He elaborated, “The Sikandar issue may be a preamble of future incidents”, and asked the government to form a collective counter-terrorism policy as soon as possible.

In response to the debate over the August 15 episode, Chaudhry Nisar said on August 21 that the opposition raised 17 questions over a single incident, but he could raise hundreds of questions over the last five-years-tenure of the previous government.

He stated, “Do not raise the status of Zamrud Khan to that of a pir (religious leader) as you did in the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.” He regretted that as to how the opposition members could say the state had failed just by pointing at one incident, which was under full control of the law enforcement agencies.

Nisar elaborated that the matter was not as simple as initially perceived because investigation into the episode exposed international connections of Sikandar, with some traces leading to Abu Dhabi. He further indicated, “During the previous government’s tenure, 8,514 major terror incidents took place, in which around 9,600 people died and more than 25,000 were wounded, but we never criticized the government.”

Earlier, interior minister revealed that some arrests in Azad Kashmir and Punjab had been made in relation to the Islamabad incident. The minister said a religious personality from Hafizabad had also been arrested, and the literature recovered from him was alarming. Some analysts opine that Sikandar has links with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

However, our media not only manipulated the debate between the government and opposition parties, but also created hindrances in controlling the lone gunman through live coverage.

On August 16, while hearing a suo motu case about violence in Quetta and Bolan, even Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chaudhry Iftikhar Mohammad expressed anger over the irresponsible coverage of the private TV channels, and directed PEMRA to take action against their management. Criticizing the reporting of the TV channels, he remarked, “The live coverage of Jinnah Avenue’s like incidents are against the norms and cause panic among the public.”

Nevertheless, the government seems determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism, as it has hastened its efforts for preparation of a comprehensive strategy for the purpose. But the situation demands that the entire nation must unite against the militants and cooperate with the security agencies.

Media must create a sense of hope and optimism among the viewers and keep the nation united by building confidence in the capabilities of law-enforcing agencies. During crisis situation, media must become a support element of the state organ, and must avoid live coverage as in case of the gunman in Islamabad.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations


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