In the face of the storm whipped up by the BBC report, MQM supremo, Altaf Hussain has come out guns blazing; terming foreign media reports against the party as part of “media trial” and “conspiracy” to remove him from the party’s leadership. His claims find a lot of traction within his party ranks. In the environment of a zealous media, which carries out veritable inquisitions against politicians and officials, they may find traction outside Karachi too.

The “media trial” that Altaf mentions has been a constant feature of Pakistani news coverage; incidents such as the Memogate Scandal and the Saulat Mirza confession have been used by the media to condemn and convict individuals before waiting for an official investigation result or even the filing of charges. But a politically motivated and overzealous media cannot be used as a reason to refute allegations against himself, especially when the case against him is being investigated by several law enforcement agencies.

Despite of MQM’s claims, stories and coverage like this cannot be termed a media trial as the allegations against him are clear and based on facts disclosed by official investigations; as opposed to the speculation done by news agencies, which would count under a media trial. Similarly, he cannot term this a ‘conspiracy’ as the investigations against him and his organisation are being conducted by two separate nations, one of whom has no direct stake in the matter – making it almost politically unmotivated. What makes Altaf’s allegations miss the mark is the fact that they ignore the role the media plays in law enforcement. If the media was not breaking stories a large portion of criminal activity would have gone unnoticed and un-investigated by the government; it acts as a complementary force to the police – the camera is as sentinel as a police constable. This is one of the means available to civil society to demand accountability. The media is instrumental in creating pressure and spreading awareness and demanding truth; all necessary to maintain impetus and to cajole unwilling authorities to take up causes. Furthermore, media houses have internal checks and balances, which ensure stories, are credible and future defamation charges can be avoided. They open themselves to libel charges and lawsuits if they are lying. This is the BBC, not some youth activists on twitter.

Altaf and his party are implicated in serious allegations, he cannot wave them off by claiming ‘victimisation’ by the media. These allegations are serious, and their enormity requires extraordinary proof by the MQM of its innocence. “Is Altaf Hussain an innocent patriot?” This is a very valid question for any media house to ask after evidence against him keeps piling up.