GIVEN the threats to the media from various actors — chiefly extortionists and religious extremist groups — Monday’s attack came as no surprise. A bomb exploded near the gate of the building that houses the offices of Business Recorder and Aaj TV in Karachi; another that targeted the premises of Waqt TV and The Nation and Nawai Waqt newspapers was defused. While no group had claimed responsibility at the time of writing, the attacks will no doubt aggravate existing fears, especially as the latest incident follows the killing of three employees of the Express Media Group last month. The responsibility for their deaths was claimed by the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, that reissued a ‘fatwa’ against the Pakistani media some weeks ago. Not only that, the group also prepared a hit list naming some journalists and publishers, from owners and anchors to field staff. The 29-page fatwa accused the media of siding with “disbelievers” and, to quote Khalid Haqqani, deputy TTP chief and one of the edict’s main authors, of “continuously lying about us and our objectives”.
From the state and its representatives there has been only a muted — if any — response to the increasing dangers from various groups that the media must contend with. This has turned an already fraught situation into one of grave proportions, for it sends out the signal that journalism can be silenced — whether by organisations that deal in terror or others that imitate their methods — with impunity. Yet what is at stake is of critical importance: the ability to faithfully and accurately inform. Freedom of speech already stands greatly compromised in a country where a large section of society has followed the slide to the extreme right; the list of things that can no longer be safely referred to is growing longer. When the state stands by as media houses face those who use terror tactics to muzzle journalists, it adds significantly to the vulnerability felt by the latter. While the state must support media houses and the latter themselves must take security measures, it is also important that a collective voice is raised by the journalist community against the growing threats. Unless journalists are unified, the media’s hard-won liberties will be lost.