Hamid Mir knew one of the guests on his nightly television show had made a mistake the moment he blurted out the name of the country’s army chief without due deference.

“He just said ‘Raheel Sharif, Raheel Sharif’ without calling him general,” Mir says of a recent episode of his influential Capital Talk programme. “I knew immediately the words came out it would be cut.”

At a time of intense pressure on the media to cooperate with an army public relations campaign that is burnishing the image of General Sharif, channels routinely edit out or drop the sound on the mildest criticism of the military.

Even the country’s only Nobel peace prize winner, the schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai, was briefly silenced in early August when she said in an interview with Aaj TV that the prime minister had told her he was unable to spend more money on education because of pressure to fund military operations.

Mir fears that behind the pressure for self-censorship lurk “anti-democratic forces deliberately trying to undermine political institutions by giving more importance to the army.”

Leading journalists claim to have received indirect threats from army officials who warn them they are being targeted by terrorists or that their coverage is raising suspicions they have been compromised by the Indian intelligence service.

There is little doubt the military has rehabilitated its public reputation after the damage done to its popularity in the final years of the rule of Pervez Musharraf, the coup-making general forced from power in 2007.

Media workers say the current unbridled support for the army comes from the need to support the institution at a time when soldiers are dying in a war against Islamist militants. But it also reflects draconian new legal requirements placed on broadcasters. Last month the information ministry issued a sweeping code of conduct that made it a condition of a broadcaster’s licence to not air material that “contains aspersions against the judiciary or armed forces”.

Television stations were also required to have a “delaying mechanism” on live programmes to enforce the restrictions.

Last week the Lahore high court ordered Pemra, the country’s media regulator, to ban all coverage of the speeches and even photographs of the leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the country’s fourth biggest political party, which is reeling from an army-led crackdown in Karachi.

Altaf Hussain, who runs the MQM from self-exile in London, was accused in court of committing treason for issuing an incendiary speech in which he lambasted the army and hinted top generals were involved in corruption.

Most media companies need little encouragement to stay on the right side of the army given memories of all-out war with Geo TV in April 2014. The popular channel triggered military fury when it aired accusations that the head of the army’s intelligence wing had been behind the near fatal shooting of Mir, its star journalist.

Cable television providers were encouraged to drop Geo from their lineup while advertisers deserted the channel.

Mir said his bosses tell him to avoid controversial stories because it will “make trouble for colleagues”. “They say mysterious people call the advertisers and tell them to stop advertising with Geo and then we won’t be able to pay salaries on time,” he said.

The media has given little attention in recent weeks to a supreme court investigation of well-founded allegations of corruption within the army’s property empire. And there has been hardly any discussion of the slow progress in sending home the huge numbers of people displaced by operations against the Taliban in North Waziristan.

Courtesy: The Guardian