The CEO of media group Dawn, Hameed Haroon, has made some far-reaching claims in his interview with BBC HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur. In his opinion, on the eve of general elections there has been ‘an unprecedented assault by the military on the freedom of the press’. This is not the first time Haroon has expressed such views. Rather, he has been a strong advocate of the protection of the press on social media for quite a while now.

Haroon started off the interview by arguing this very point:

“If you’re going to play around with the institutions of democracy, you’re going to do a grave damage to its possibility under a new political dispensation.”

Furthermore, he pointed out that there is an ‘obligation to keep a vibrant press active’. In saying this he speaks mainly for Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest publication that has spearheaded this ‘vibrancy’ of media reporting. However, things got a little messy once Sackur steered specifically towards the direness of Haroon’s claims against the military.

When pressed to provide hard evidence, Haroon talked about the ‘massive intervention in the distribution system and the blocking of television broadcasts’. For the past few months, it is true that there have been reports suggesting newspaper hawkers being warned by officials to stop distributing Dawn. Furthermore, the reports of disappearances and ‘abductions’ were also mentioned, such as that of journalist Gul Bukhari.

As president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Haroon says they appealed to the Pakistani government, the Supreme Court, the Chief of Army Staff, and the caretaker Prime Minister:

“And surely if you were not involved you would look into the matter and give some sort of report as to why these incidents are happening on such a perpetual basis.”

However, Haroon’s line of reasoning was not enough to satisfy Sackur curiosity about why he was pursuing the matter so obstinately and with such surety. This led him to pressurize Haroon about whether his journalists really are ‘living in fear’ or not. To this, Haroon could not provide a definitive response, instead, he claimed journalists had been deeply complaining about ‘self-censorship’.

Some are convinced Haroon is absolutely correct about the threat posed by the military – and are not afraid to say it.

The severity of this attack against journalists remains a murky concept: contrarily, Major General Asif Ghafoor has said the military has never tried to intimidate the media and does not want to be ‘dragged into politics’. These two claims are very far apart from each other. But at the same time, with the way the general has tellingly connected media repression to politics give some validity to Haroon’s belief that the recent intimidations may have a lot to do with upcoming elections.

But the question that needs to be asked is, what are the consequences?

Sackur: “The army has a duty to secure the country – do you not think the inflammatory language you are using is undermining the ability of the military to meet that duty?”

Furthermore, he connects it to the army’s safeguarding of the election process – ‘the seed of doubt’ planted by Haroon may also result in people thinking the legions of troops present at polling stations have been appointed so that it may be possible to fix election results in some way. At this point, Haroon loses some of his credibility: not only because of the legitimacy of the security question but also because of Dawn’s apparent recent partiality to a certain politician – that is Nawaz Sharif.

Prominent personalities including PTI chief Imran Khan are taking a hard line against Dawn.

DawnLeaks for example – during and following this, Sackur says it seemed as if Dawn had a ‘hotline’ of sorts to Nawaz Sharif. How can Dawn explain this wave of blatant partiality? The publication is being accused of opposing the arrest of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz who have been branded as criminals. Is this another effort to examine both sides and remain objective in a sea of subjectivity or is it something more than opposing what is thought to be ‘selective justice’?

Furthermore, according to Haroon, there is ‘an attempt to favor second-level string leaders and a patch-up coalition which would rule with direction from the deep state’.

Quite daringly, Haroon admits that yes one of these leaders in his opinion is Imran Khan, whose index he implies goes up from time to time accordingly with the approval of the ‘security state’.  PTI supporters will surely take up issue with this statement, as it suggests support for Imran Khan is nothing but the work of the state. Despite all his strong statements, however, Haroon insists he is not trying to make a case against the state – he is only trying to get it to ‘conciliate itself with the press’.

Haroon’s careful maneuvering has incited strong reactions amongst the public.

There were certainly some major holes in Hameed Haroon’s arguments. But perhaps holding expectations of total objectivity is too far-fetched. Events leading up to general elections have only confirmed that nearly everyone has an underlying agenda.







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