THE attack on the premises of Aaj News this week for lack of coverage of the Taliban is a worrying assault on media freedom and moderate points of view. It is unclear how strong the links are between the attackers and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and it is possible the attack was carried out by local elements. But the TTP’s claim that it was behind the incident and that another television channel will be targeted for the same reason are an indication of the threats the media faces in trying to report responsibly in Pakistan today.
These threats stem from the vital role the media has to play at a time when extremist views are eating into the country’s social fabric and leading to violence against civilians and the state. Reporting terrorist incidents is important, and should continue. But by refraining from airing extremist views the media can help limit the spread of these, and therefore also the loss of life that can result when people carry out attacks based on these views or support those who do. Second, by not giving airtime to violent extremists, or by speaking out against their methods, it takes a stand against their ideology. This is critically important at a time when such groups are trying to portray themselves as legitimate organisations that deserve to be covered on an equal footing with the state or political parties. Restricting their coverage is therefore entirely justified, and broadcasters should not need to provide apologies or explanations for doing so. More and improved security provided by the state would help. But ultimately, the media will have to continue to take a stand based on the principle that by refusing to propagate violent extremism it is doing the country a necessary service.