Express News, a privately-owned media group, came under attack in Karachi on Friday, for the third time in a matter of months. Previous attacks had left people injured, but the assailants meant serious business this time. They arrived on bikes, armed with 9mm pistols and silencer-attached guns, and opened fire on the staff present inside the channel’s parked DSNG van. Having murdered three individuals in cold blood as per their satisfaction, they successfully vanished into thin air. The usual suspects, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack. To further shred the myth of the presence of a state, TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, lectured the media on how it ought to behave, as Express News anchorperson, Mr Javed Chaudhry, assured him of satisfactory coverage, and pleaded on live TV to spare the rest of his colleagues.
The conversation between Ehsanullah Ehsan and Mr Javed Chaudry has to be one of the most notable exchanges ever aired on national television. A wanted terrorist, murderer of countless innocent civilians and security personnel, dictating terms to a journalist, while the rest of the country watches on, in a mix of curiosity and disbelief. He leaves no room for ambiguity over the fate of those who refuse to comply; death. Some people appear upset over Mr Javed Chaudhry’s apologetic stance during the already infamous conversation. Understandably, they feel that the usually blunt anchorperson should have cried resistance, and told Ehsanullah that the media will not back down in the face of such cowardly attacks. Easier said than done.
Firstly, the quest for 'a free media’ continues in Pakistan, and not in the sense that we would like to believe. There are media houses, some old, some new, which compete and even quarrel amongst themselves, albeit in the same medium. Had Mr Chaudhry been under the illusion that the following day will see the entire media community unite and rise against the gun-toting demons, maybe then, he would have risked being the hero that we all demand he be. It played out just the way he had imagined. Some couldn’t even find the resolve to name the channel in their ‘reports’, leave alone show solidarity.
Secondly, being an informed media personality, he was aware that responsibility of the security of the rest of his colleagues rested on the channel itself. Ideally, it is the state which protects, and holds accountable those who inflict violence. But, since our government is weak and cowardly, and can barely issue empty words of condemnation, the media houses are left vulnerable, and alone. Interior Minister, Nisar Ali Khan’s response to the tragedy is shameful, to put it gently. He will let us know in a few days what exactly he can do to keep us alive. Deepest condolences are extended to fellow journalists suffering the loss of their colleagues in Express News. Of course, we do wish that Mr Chaudhry had not taken the TTP spokesman on a beeper at all , let alone tried to reason with him.