I recorded Imran Khan’s ‘phateechar’ comment and now I’m being threatened

Published: March 9, 2017
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Neither the PTI chief nor his media advisers restricted anyone from recording videos on their mobile phones or taking notes on their diaries or issued any directive about any part of the media talk being off the record. PHOTO: REUTERS.

In old times, there used to be an unwritten code of conduct about sending and receiving messages through emissaries across opponent camps, battlefields, and states. That code – “don’t shoot the messenger” – demanded that even if the commanders did not find the message to their liking, they must receive and send back the envoys of the enemy safe and sound.

A modern-day revision of shooting the messenger is to point fingers at the media for presenting bad news about a favourite person, cause, or organisation regardless of how authentic or true that news may be.

Experts of logic and philosophy describe ‘shooting the messenger’ as a type of ad hominem logical fallacy in which one tries to disprove an argument deliberately or unconsciously by assailing the character or questioning the intention or some other attribute of the person making the argument instead of addressing the actual issue at hand.

Countering an argument in such a manner is mostly based on personal inclinations and prejudice rather than facts or logical reasoning. The foundation of this prejudice can be political, religious, emotional, or any other form of association that leads to bias and favouritism towards a certain party involved in or connected to the argument.’’

One of the major downsides of shooting the messenger is that it discourages critical thinking. An emotional, knee-jerk reaction to unwanted news immediately blocks or at the very least, weakens the possibility of an intellectual debate over the main issue. As a result, it significantly reduces the opportunities to remain well-informed.

It also creates an environment of self-censorship and puts journalists off from remaining neutral while doing their jobs. The fear of hostile reactions and negative feedback gets in the way of the dissemination of true and accurate information. It does more harm than good because it unjustly allows leaders to remain self-delusional and deprives them of benefiting from suggestions and news that point out their mistakes.

If this practice becomes a norm, over time, leaders become inflexible and remorseless even when they’re wrong and instead of gracefully admitting their misconduct and correcting it, they waste their energy in actively defending their indefensible position.

For Pakistani politics in particular and for international politics in general, there are hundreds of episodes of unwanted news going public. Be it the matter of Wikileaks, Panama Papers, Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information, Donald Trump’s beyond obscene remarks about a woman, the sexism row in the European Parliament or any other matter of public interest especially the ones involving public figures. For example, Ed Snowden, Julian Assange, The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and hundreds of other journalists or whistle-blowers and their media outlets that brought these cases to people’s attention cannot be blamed for doing their jobs.

If anything, they do the public a huge favour by exposing the other side of a highly moral and pleasing rhetoric of politicians and public figures. Such audacious news reports also serve as a wake-up call for these public figures and offer them a chance to reassess their behaviour, positions, and courses of action. It is an effective way to hold public figures accountable and keeping them in check, preventing them from operating unrestrained and reminding them that they are answerable to the people who they claim to lead.

On Monday March 6, 2017, I along with other members of the Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) visited Bani Gala on the invitation of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan. Imran accompanied by his media advisers, talked on multiple issues including Panamagate, the Election Commission of Pakistan, and the preparation for the next general elections and his stance on the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final.

This media talk was held at the PTI Chairman Secretariat and was noted, recorded and reported by representatives of all major electronic and print media outlets. Neither the PTI chief nor his media advisers restricted anyone from recording videos on their mobile phones or taking notes on their diaries or issued any directive about any part of the media talk being off the record.

I filed my story and tickers and sent the recorded video clips to my news channel (Neo TV). Later, I uploaded a part of that video about Imran’s comments on international players in PSL to my Twitter account. I thought it was very relevant because the PSL final has been a subject of huge public interest and occupied a large part of TV transmissions and newspapers.

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: Screenshot

Later that evening, the PAS president issued a press release to take action against me. Besides the fact that PAS is a facilitator body of Supreme Court journalists and not their regulator, I am curious to find out what grounds the action against me will be taken, particularly when there was no breach of privacy, no violation of journalistic ethics, and no manipulation of facts from my end.

I conclude by asking these questions: Is self-censorship desirable over reporting real facts? If a public figure invites journalists for a media talk, are those journalist bound to report only the good parts of the talk? Is it not dishonest to report only the palatable and turn a blind eye towards deficiencies only because the leader might not like it? If some words spoken by some leader are unwelcome, is the journalist who reported them to the public responsible for it, worthy of abuse and of disciplinary action? Is it not against basic ethics, let alone journalistic ethics, to shoot the messenger?

Iffat Hasan Rizvi

Iffat Hasan Rizvi

The author is a writer, columnist, Supreme Court and Defense correspondent for Neo Television Network. She is the fellow of International Centre for Journalists, USA and Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. She tweets @IffatHasanRizvi

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.