The attack on the Aaj TV office in Karachi left two people injured and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has already claimed responsibility for it, which raises many fears. While the attack may not have been as devastating as most other TTP attacks, the fact that a media group was targeted is exceedingly worrying. Already, Pakistan has been declared the most dangerous place in the world for journalists but most of the risk has been borne by those who report in the tribal areas, far from the urban centres. With this attack, the TTP has declared that it is at war with the media and will not hesitate to use violence to get its way. There are two ways the media can react to this: either by becoming stronger and reporting even more fearlessly on Taliban atrocities or by succumbing to a justifiable fear and toning down the coverage. Obviously, the former reaction would be preferable.
There had been a lull in Taliban attacks in major cities this year but the short period of idyll has come to an end. This attack served as a reminder that militants are poised to attack at will anywhere in the country. By choosing a major media house as their target, they have also shown that they will not take kindly to perceived negative media coverage. While objectivity has always been a golden rule in journalism, when the country is at war with a foe that shows no concern for life, it is time for journalists to pick a side. For too long, sections of the media have shown a willingness to downplay Taliban atrocities. This attack should change that.
Media owners also have a role to play to assuage the fears of their employees. Now that the TTP have shown that they consider all journalists legitimate targets, it is incumbent on media barons to provide conflict reporting training to their staffers. All journalists should be given life insurance and the assurance that their families will be looked after should they be caught in a militant attack. The role of journalists in reporting critically on the Taliban is too important for them to be left exposed.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2012.