Just desserts: Dawn deserves what it Gets

If General Musharraf has done anything for the good of Pakistan it has been to put Dawn in its place. He has still not punished the paper in the manner individuals have been, in some cases, with death. But tears from Dawn’s squealing editors bode well for the future of journalism in Pakistan.

Most of Pakistan’s leading newspapers have imposed a degree of self-censorship on themselves. Dawn led the pack in this regard. It has remained faithful to every sitting regime. Apart from a few occasional apparently critical articles it has always toed the regime line and supported its policies.

Its editorial policy has been to reject any article that might jeopardize the paper’s fidelity to the government. The result has been obvious. Outsiders who accept Dawn as a leading and credible source of information are deprived of hearing the people’s voice and of appreciating the country’s real problems.

More recently the Musharraf regime seems to expect an excess of loyalty. Too bad for Dawn that it is unable to blind itself to reality and report that everything’s just fine when almost everyone within and outside Pakistan knows to the contrary. Dawn has found itself between a rock and a hard place.

It simply cannot continue with its obsequious policy. It must report at least some of the reality.

But the regime is not used to criticism from a loyal paper. Thus it has, for the first time, let the paper experience what other newspapers have been suffering for years. For example, both provincial and federal governments have withheld the Frontier Post’s funds for years. It withheld paper to print and advertising.

Dawn’s tearful editor appealed to the public on March 31 to write to the dictator-in-chief and a long list of his cronies to be kind to Dawn. It might sound unethical on my part but the truth is that Dawn is getting what it deserves.

Its CEO and publisher, Hameed Haroon, claims that Dawn’s “attempts to monitor a recurring tendency toward covert militancy among responsible decision-makers in government” was ‘irksome’ to the regime. What is monitoring by the way? Have we seen any investigative reports from Dawn exposing the crimes and corruption of the military regime and its cronies? To this writer’s knowledge the answer is: none.

Dawn’s CEO claims when the regime approached Dawn in September 2006 and attempted “to seek a news blackout regarding Baluchistan and the troubled FATA agencies,” the editors “firmly turned down” the regime’s request. And then what? Did Dawn conduct any investigations into the killing of Pakistanis by Pakistani forces? Did it produce a conclusive report to show that the General is claiming responsibility for the deaths of his people killed by the USUK occupation forces in Afghanistan? Concern is coming from countless sources elsewhere. What special role has this ‘credible’ Pakistani newspaper played?

Dawn is receiving a mild beating not because it has refused to submit to oppressive pressure from the military regime but for exactly the opposite reason. It has subjected itself to self-censorship for so long that it has become a compliant sheep by default. That’s why the regime cannot now tolerate its coverage of events –” a coverage which reaches the public from other sources anyway.

Dawn’s CEO and publisher sheds crocodile tears for the freedom of the press whereas the core concern is obvious from each line written in the paper. That concern is, in the CEO’s words, “the future financial viability” of the publishing empire. The public does not lose or gain by the demise of an empire that cannot call a spade a spade and muzzles the truth to be told by others through its pages.

The CEO’s detailed messages are an indication of utter desperation. It is not an attempt to change anything for the better. The paper never stood by any tortured journalist. It never truly investigated the murder of any journalist at the hands of the ISI. Did it investigate why and how Hayatullah Khan was killed by the ISI? Did it investigate why Sohail Walandar was abducted?

It simply accepted concocted stories that robbers and bandits abducted Sohail Walandar and kept him captive for weeks because he was writing about them. No sensible mind would accept this nonsensical explanation of an event which has never happened before. Not only Dawn but other newspapers accepted this cooked-up story which allowed the regime and its agencies to get away with its threats, intimidation, torture and the deaths of journalists.

Of what use are the more than three hundred journalists and reporters at Dawn when it refuses to expose the real filth of the regime, when it will not investigate the practices of the agencies responsible for the disappearance of hundreds of people?

After reading Dawn’s CEO’s message a reply that comes to mind for General Musharraf is: Mr Dictator, too little too late you are doing to your friends what you have been doing to your enemies all along.

Will you press them even harder to let your journalist pals learn what subjectivity and objectivity is really all about? Will you give them a really hard lesson so that they can get a real taste of the reality they have been denying and refusing a place in the pages of their ‘esteemed’ dailies under the pretext that the truth was “too subjective”?

Good luck to Dawn! It never let the people’s voice be heard in its pages. Now it appeals to the people it ignored in their suffering to save its skin. The wheel of fortune has turned full circle for Dawn. It is to be hoped that it will never forget this experience and the way it closed its eyes to reality under a policy of smug self-censorship.

For outsiders, this is a good opportunity to see Dawn, the torch bearer of “objectivity” is being targeted by the military regime in this way. Imagine the state of those in Pakistan who work is considered “subjective” by those who have a stake in maintaining the status quo.