No need to let matters go out of hands
We are essentially an extremist society which consciously or unconsciously has abandoned the trait of moderation, preached and emphasised by Islam and aimed at building a conflict free society at ease with itself. It has almost become visceral to take an extremist view of anything happening within the society or the geographical boundaries of the country. With the pendulum swinging from one extreme to another it really becomes impossible to have a rational view of the situation and find an amicable and durable solution to the problem at hand.
The case in point is the reaction unleashed throughout the length and breadth of the country over the contents of the morning show of Geo TV ‘Utho, Jago Pakistan’ of last Wednesday, doused by an edict issued by the Sunni Ittehad Council. What transpired in the show was undoubtedly irreverent to the family members of the Prophet (PBUH) but it was certainly not a deliberate attempt on the part of the presenter or the management of the channel to hurt the feeling of the masses in disregard to their religious sensitivities, as being propagated. It was the result of a poor judgment on the part of the host and lack of proper editorial oversight of the content of the programme, an unintentional mistake that should have been viewed in the same context.
In my view the religious elements have overreacted on the episode by issuing an edict, demanding ban on Geo TV and holding demonstrations all over the country condemning and vilifying the management of the Geo TV, even after the host and the management realising their mistake had apologised to the people. Confessing the mistake or sin and tendering apology is also a permissible way of expiation for the wrongdoing in Islam. There are innumerable versus in the Quran on forgiveness which is extolled as a great virtue.
The most sordid aspect of this episode is that certain other TV channels repeatedly telecast the same footage and content to rub in the notion of it being a conscious act on the part of the Geo management, designed to give vent to their hostility towards the channel. It also constituted a serious breach of the internationally recognised professional and ethical codes of conduct and the regulatory rules and regulations of the country. Going by the rationale of the architects of the campaign against Geo, the offence committed by these channels was even severer than the Geo TV as it was done deliberately and with a well considered motive. Singling out Geo and neglecting the same offence by other channels, raises many questions about the motives and agendas of the proponents of closure of Geo TV. Putting Geo channels off the air by the cable operators is also an impulsive and undesirable action which smacks of similar intentions.
The extremist view taken by the religious organisations and PTI which has also jumped into the fray to settle score with Geo challenging the patriotic credentials of the owners of Geo TV and demanding ban on the channel, is regrettable. It is unbecoming of a politician of Imran Khan’s stature to hurl unsubstantiated allegations against the media house. The venomous streak that characterises his diatribe against Jang group and its owners is quite evident from his statements. In his zeal to malign and denigrate the channel taking advantage of the prevailing situation, he has become completely oblivious to the fact that his continued hostility towards the media outlet and his failure to prove the allegations would ultimately erode his own credibility among the masses.
In view of the sensitive nature of the issue, it ought to have been dealt with in a rational manner rather than relying on emotional streaks or trying to use the episode to further one’s own agenda. Reportedly, PEMRA, the regulatory body for the electronic channels taking notice of the development has already served a notice on the management to explain their stance on the issue. Some petitions have also been filed against Geo in the courts. In view of these developments, street demonstrations and smear campaigns against Geo must stop and the law be allowed to take its course.
The religious scholars have a great responsibility in ensuring that the matter does not take an ugly turn. Moderation is the best policy and the matter at hand also needs their moderating influence. They have indeed made a very positive contribution by taking notice of the occurrence and showing their determination not to allow any body or entity to repeat similar incidents. Their action has also jolted the regulatory bodies out of their slumber and made the media outlets more circumspect and careful in finalising the content of their programmes and taking care of the religious sensitivities of the people. It has also strengthened the voices demanding more responsible behaviour by the media and hopefully a more credible and effective regulatory mechanism might also be evolved with consensus to prevent the re-occurrence of such unintentional or intentional indiscretions in the future.
At this critical juncture of our history, politicians and religious leaders must realise their obligations towards the society and the state and refrain from any act that creates a law and order situation in the country and widens the fissures that already exist within the society. Dubbing the owners of the Jang Group as traitors and foreign agents is the most preposterous suggestion, to say the least. Jang Group, which arguably is the largest media organisation in Pakistan, has made a sterling contribution in promoting national causes, national integration and ideology of Pakistan.
Another aspect which is conveniently being neglected by the proponents of ban on Geo TV is that the majority of the people of Pakistan and major political parties, including PML-N and PPP, are against any drastic action against the media group, and very rightly so. Any such action, besides some unpalatable repercussions within the country, might also have negative fallout internationally. We are living in a global village and must therefore be mindful of the global sensitivities in this regard. The EU has already threatened to terminate GSP Plus status for Pakistan in case of drastic action against the media outlet. We need to shun our extremist propensities in dealing with issues and adopt a policy of moderation to earn a respectable place in the comity of nations. Under the prevailing circumstances penalising the host and production team of the programme could be the prudent and the most desirable course to adopt, instead of putting a ban on the media channel.