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Pakistan's Media Wars
A Journalistic Civil War in Pakistan

According to Amnesty International’s new report, 34 journalists having been killed in Pakistan since 2008, and the state affords the media little to no protection. You’d think that Pakistani journalists would be united in the pursuit of freedom from intimidation. Instead, after the assassination attempt on a famous TV journalist last weekend, a vicious battle has unfolded between rival media companies. Now the relative independence that journalists spent a decade fighting for is under threat. The New York Times reports:

At issue are claims aired by Geo News, Mr. Mir’s [the targeted journalist] employer and the largest station, that the military’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, was behind the April 19 attack in which Mr. Mir was shot six times as he traveled to a Karachi television studio. […]

But rival stations took the controversy a step further, using it to cudgel Geo and question Mr. Mir’s motives — one station even suggested he engineered the shooting as a publicity stunt — at a time when the ISI was formally trying to have Geo shut down for good.

The vituperative exchanges have exposed troubling aspects of Pakistan’s oft-lauded media revolution: Along with the military’s concerted campaign to muzzle the press is the heavy hand of querulous media barons who, driven by commercial concerns and personal grudges, may be endangering the sector they helped create.

But Geo’s rivals shouldn’t be so eager to make accusations that will give the military further excuse to shut the station down. The Pakistani media has come a long way since it was liberalized a decade ago. While there was once only a state-owned mouthpiece of the Pakistani military establishment, now the country has 40 news channels. The newly-robust media has begun to challenge the military’s long-held control over information. They have raised uncomfortable questions about enforced disappearances in Balochistan, former dictator Pervez Musharraf’s treason trial, and alleged vote-rigging by ISI during the 90s. Going after Geo may improve their ratings in the short term, but rival networks may find that they are next to be on the receiving end of censorship.

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