Media a 'problem' in India-Pakistan relations: Najam Sethi

Hyderabad : Eminent Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi Tuesday said media in both India and Pakistan is trapped in “narrow nationalism” and is part of the problem in relations between the two countries.

Speaking at the inaugural session of World Newspaper Congress after receiving the World Association of Newspapers’ (WAN) “Golden Pen of Freedom” award here, Sethi said the media in both the countries was too intensely nationalistic and had pushed them to the brink of war after last year’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

“After Mumbai last year, both the media put on the war paint and pushed their governments to the brink of war,” said Sethi, the editor-in-chief of the Friday Times and the Daily Times.

Contending that media is part of a problem rather than solution in India-Pakistan relations, he gave instances of media stalling the peace dialogue at critical points.

“In 1989 when the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan, the Pakistani media stopped (the then Pakistan Prime Minister) Benazir Bhutto’s government from implementing the far-reaching cultural accords that were signed on that occasion. When Mr Gandhi went back, the Indian media stopped him from moving ahead on Siachen accord inked by the defence secretaries of the two countries in Pakistan,” he said.

“The same thing happened in 1997 when Indian media stopped the government of then Prime Minister (I.K.) Gujral from discussing the issue of Kashmir with the Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan. In 2001, Pakistani media stopped General Pervez Musharraf from making a compromise with India in the historic city of Agra,” he said.

This year, the Indian media stopped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from fulfilling his commitments made at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, Sethi added.

Stating that he was a passionate believer in the idea of enduring peace between India and Pakistan, the journalist said he was persecuted for this cause.

Sethi said it was becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to remain independent and bipartisan in South Asia. He said the media was caught in the crossfire between non-state actors and states and was also facing enormous challenges from an aggressive corporate sector.

He told the inaugural session of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum that he was one of the four Pakistani journalists on the hit list of Taliban.

“My family and I live in a constant stage of siege guarded by eight police commandos round the clock. I have received letters from Tehreek-e-Taliban accusing me of being a western agent and warning me to return to true path of believers or else. Pictures of severed heads of the American ‘spies’ beheaded by Taliban were enclosed for my benefit,” he said

“The papers that I edit have been in forefront in the war against Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Therefore all are receiving threats from radical religious extremists who want us to change our editorial policies which espouse liberal, democratic, progressive, secular and humanist values,” he said.

Sethi also noted that while economic growth and high literacy rate led to higher advertising revenues and better work and pay conditions for media and reduced scope for corruption by the state, the rise of the private sector has brought in its own set of constraints.

“Increasingly, editors have to be managers rather than journalists. An aggressive corporate sector has replaced the government both as the significant source of the media revenue and the pressure that goes with it,” he said.

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