We are all familiar with the adage that journalism is not a crime. Unfortunately, it seems that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for some reason thinks it is.
When The Current, with pictorial evidence, reported how unhygienic the conditions at a quarantine facility in Peshawar were, and when a few journalists shared the story on social media, the government did not take it very well. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Health Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra took to Twitter and quote-tweeted journalist Benazir Shah.
Other than questioning the report, he said:
Targeting a well-respected journalist for tweeting a story about bad conditions at a quarantine facility in KP came as a surprise to many who had been commending both the KP government and Jhagra for their hard work in the fight against coronavirus. Jhagra could have ignored the story and not responded at all or just acknowledged the unhygienic conditions. If neither, he certainly could have responded without targeting Shah.
Jhagra is known to be decent and hardworking unlike many of his colleagues. Thus it came as a surprise when he targetted an accredited journalist, despite being fully aware of how the trolling brigade works. By targeting Shah specifically, he unleashed a troll army that is always ready to attack the media, especially women journalists.
The notoriety of the ruling party’s troll army is an open secret despite official denial. Twitter trends against the media and renowned journalists have become a norm. Sharing private pictures of journalists taken from their social media accounts is another feather in the cap of these trolls. Any journalist who has attended Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s media briefings in recent days and dared to ask him a tough question, has faced online trolling and vile attacks.
Jhagra also implied in his Twitter thread regarding The Current’s story that the “privileged” cannot bear 48 hours of discomfort as the quarantine facilities may not be ideal. Well, this wasn’t about privilege. It was about highlighting the unhygienic conditions at a quarantine facility and nothing to do with privilege. Both the privileged and the under-privileged deserve clean quarantine facilities. This problem isn’t limited to Pakistan. In neighbouring India, many such cases of poor and unclean quarantine facilities have been highlighted on social as well as mainstream media.
We understand that the government has limited resources and it will be difficult to deal with such pressures. We also acknowledge how hard the federal, as well as provincial governments, are working to fight the coronavirus and that mistakes are unavoidable as this is something the world hasn’t seen in recent times.
We commend the hard work of our public officials, healthcare workers, doctors, policemen, security officials and everyone out there who is working day in and day out to ensure that the people of Pakistan stay safe and healthy during the pandemic. But we will also mention and highlight facts and news so that our readers stay informed. It is not our job to only highlight the positives; we have to report the truth even if the state does not like it. Journalists cannot be bullied by online trolls or campaigns against them. The media is not your enemy; coronavirus is our common enemy. Fight the virus, don’t fight the media without any reason.
We don’t have rose-tinted glasses on, and red flags are not just flags to us…