By Rashed Rahman
Hamid Mir, a prominent TV anchor, has seen fit to respond to a story carried by Daily Times (May 16, 2010, “Hamid Mir’s terrifying indiscretions”, plus a transcript of a purported telephone conversation between Mir and an unknown militant of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan) with a vicious campaign against the publisher of the paper, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. In his latest column in Jang (May 17, 2010, “Aasteen key saanp”), he has continued his canards against Mr Taseer, including implying he was an “aasteen ka saanp” (snake in the sleeve) of the PPP. While the language and tone of Mir’s campaign against Mr Taseer is deplorable, he also needs correction on a number of other counts.
DT’s story that has aroused the ire of Hamid Mir had been circulating on the web and in the new media for days before DT picked it up. The allegation in the story was that the above referred to a telephone conversation, if genuine, that showed Mir giving information on Khalid Khwaja that might have led to his execution on April 30 by the Asian Tigers extremist group who had captured him. Now that the story has been aired, Mr Mir, instead of becoming apoplectic and missing the point, should consider the following.
The publisher of DT has a track record of not interfering with the policy of the paper. It remains one of the few newspapers that adhere to the safeguarding of the institution of a professional editor and editorial autonomy. If Mr Mir has a bone to pick, it should be with the editor, not the publisher, and that too while adhering to civilised norms and language. Tilting at the publisher betrays some preconceived prejudice, if not depreciating and denigrating the editorial independence enjoyed by the paper’s editor.
In DT’s editorial “Shocking revelations” (May 17, 2010), we argued: “There should be a thorough investigation into the matter by the security agencies. It should first be ascertained whether it was actually Hamid Mir or an impersonator on the audiotape.” We did not pass judgment on the genuineness or otherwise of the audiotape, but left room for the possibility that it was a forgery, as Mir has subsequently claimed amidst his loud protestations of innocence. In an inadvertent admission, however, he says the audiotape is an amalgam of bits and pieces of other conversations (innocent journalistic exchanges, according to him). Even if this is conceded, there is sufficient in the ‘bits and pieces’ to arouse alarm. Surely Mr Mir should welcome the opportunity to clear his name if the tape is indeed a forgery. On the other hand, if it turns out to be genuine, Mir has a lot to answer for and the law should take its course. The country is in the middle of a life-or-death struggle against the homegrown jihadis who have declared war on the state. Journalists, who are engaged in an increasingly precarious and dangerous profession in conflict areas, may be required for professional reasons to keep lines of communication open with the ‘enemy’. However, this does not give anyone, journalist or not, room to transcend the law of the land or the ethics of his profession. If the tape is genuine and Mir did say the things about Khalid Khwaja that are on the tape, a prima facie case is made out for his arraignment on charges that could include being an accessory before the fact to the murder that followed, as well as in possible violation of the Army Act (applicable to civilians in times of war). The statement released by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan denying the contents of the tape and trying to clear our intrepid anchor’s name has done more to muddy Hamid Mir’s case than anyone else could have. With friends like these…
Unlike Hamid Mir’s personalised diatribes since the storm broke around his head, which we do not wish to dignify by stooping to the same level, we advocate a thorough investigation to allow Hamid Mir a chance to prove his innocence or otherwise. Whichever way it goes, let the wheels of justice be set in motion to get to the bottom of a sordid and murky episode that reveals nothing more than the possible hidden links of the extremists at war with Pakistan with certain sections of our ‘free’ media. The turn from the pro-jihadi policy of old to open conflict and war against the cancer within our body politic that threatens the state may have left such ‘linked’ parts of the media nostalgic for the past ‘good times’ and desperate to see these enemies of a civilised democratic society succeed by hook or by crook. History, however, appears to have passed on and left these antediluvian warriors whistling in the wind. *