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Published Date: Sep 14, 2015

Seminar calls for new national narrative on extremism

ISLAMABAD: Anchors from mainstream Pakistani electronic media decried the lack of coordination between the civilian and military leadership and said that this was causing confusion in the media with regards to the national narrative on terrorism.
The speakers also blamed the commercial aspect of shaping content, not only in print but also in electronic media, and highlighted the need for the implementation of laws.
This was said at a seminar on the ‘Role of Media in Agenda Setting and Counter-terrorism in Pakistan’,organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Monday. Among the speakers who criticised the military establishment for supporting extremism was anchor Asma Sherazi, who said she felt suffocated handling certain content.
“I feel that the responsibility of setting the direction of the national narrative has been outsourced to the maulvis,” she said, adding that, “At times it is visible that extremists are dictating the content of talk shows and going against government policies”.
She said that if Pakistan is to set a national narrative that will improve the country’s international standing and improve the internal law and order situation, then it “was high time that religion and state be separated”.
There were also claims that the media was not glamourising extremists, but that there is no ownership of the country by those in power, since parliament moves slowly when it comes to key decisions, allowing the military establishment to fill the vacuum and act as a “state within the state”.
“When all the political parties were in favour of holding talks with the Taliban, the media was justified in giving them some space,” Dr Moeed Pirzada said.
“We need to understand that the Peshawar school massacre created a new narrative, which was endorsed by the nation, and the media cannot stand out alone.”
Analyst Imtiaz Gul said that the army has been upstaging the civilian government, and that the government has shown little interest in assuming its role.
“The only way forward is for them to assume their responsibility under the law,” he said, “but I want to add that as a nation we are confused and lack the character needed to take responsibility for successes and failures”.
Speaking on the national narrative and the role of the military establishment Mateen Haider said the media plays a limited role in building a counter-narrative to extremism, and that the major roadblock was the lack of warm relations between the civilian and military leadership.
“The information ministry has repeatedly shown its incompetence in dealing with crisis situations, where as the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has always taken the responsibility to fill the gap,” he said.
Dawn News bureau chief Iftikhar Sherazi said that politicians and journalists face pressure and hindrances.
“There are still ‘no-go’ areas for politicians and media in the country, including Waziristan, Balochistan and even Karachi, where the military establishment alone can venture,” he said.
Sherazi added that society is becoming increasingly polarised, and that it was imperative that all institutions function in their relative areas.
Dr Hazir Hussain from Quaid-i-Azam University and Dr Abid Q. Suleri from SDPI also spoke at the seminar, saying that Pakistan needs to establish a brand new narrative and adopt a new future.