For Pakistani journalist, speaking out is proving costly
Matiullah Jan is a highly popular and proactive Pakistani journalist. He is an extraordinarily courageous and high-spirited television anchor. Challenging television shows and investigative stories credited to him have often upset Pakistan’s most influential class.
He has been threatened several times and even been physically attacked twice but nothing could stop him. He criticized unlawful and unconstitutional acts in every episode of his television program Apna Apna Gareban. He never spared any person or institution in his quest for truth – so much so that he didn’t have any reservations about grilling one of his colleagues and her husband after they performed Hajj at the government’s expense.
He has practiced journalism for around 26 years and served the Nawa-i-Waqt media group for more than six consecutive years. A few days ago, he was fired from his position without notice.
Pakistan has never been a safe place for media workers but now financial uncertainty has been added to their list of worries. No journalist in Pakistan has any assurance of financial security, which is normal, but the fact that even a veteran journalist like Matiullah has to worry about making a living is quite alarming.
I interviewed Matiullah to find out the reasons for his dismissal.
How can a person like you be asked to leave a job?
I have never been in the good books of the actual influential people but I still prefer to talk about the implementation of the constitution, supremacy of civil rights and prevalence of democracy. The military establishment would never like it.
I can estimate who is actually behind my firing but I want to make it loud and clear that a journalist to society is what an eye, ear or tongue is to a man. You cannot [keep] a journalist from showing you the mirror. I can’t live dumb. This didn’t happen to me only but is the story of every other journalist here who dares to speak bravely.
Why do you think the establishment is linked to this matter?
Actually, I have been through a series of events in the past due to which I firmly believe that the military establishment has something to do with this. Last year in September, I was traveling with my family when I was attacked [with] stones [thrown at] my car. Then the director general on Inter-Services Public Relations (Armed Forces of Pakistan) … while passing remarks on my social-media post termed me a state enemy. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists strongly condemned this act but later on, it gave up and didn’t pursue it for some untold reasons.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) issued a hit list with your name on the top. Is there any risk from terrorists too?
Yes, even I was quite surprised to know it. Because it was a court order and I had hardly written or said anything regarding the “war on terror.” Hence, it was more a threat than an alert for me.
The NACTA also confirmed [this] on asking about threats to my life. But surprisingly, I wasn’t given any security after this alert. And even more than that, this alert was regarding threats to my life and I wasn’t informed. Rather, the alert was spread on social media. My organization didn’t tell me about this threat and I got it from social media.
Later on, another alert was released in which I was set free from any kind of threat. I wonder if terrorists changed their plan to attack me and luckily they didn’t forget to inform NACTA as well.
Actually, the problem is not writing about the “war on terror,” the problem is that I talk about missing people, democratic principles and civil rights. That annoys these influential folks.
Did NACTA tell you that you were safe?
To be precise, I never had a life threat. It was just to threaten me. And when they didn’t succeed it was taken back. Because had a journalist on hit-list been fired from his job it would have created much noise. When I contacted Islamabad Police they informed me that they [hadn’t] any clue of a threat pertaining to me or my life.
I always had a gut feeling that people who aren’t happy [about] me can do this to me, but anyhow I always negated this conception. And finally it happened, and moreover when I am turning 50 after a few weeks. I have never been dismissed like this before. But I always ask what I see, I can’t help this. A journalist cannot turn his eyes off like a pigeon. I know there is a price for speaking the truth and I would have to pay it.
Did it ever happen that you got a direct warning or threat from any institution? Or have you ever been asked to leave the profession or country directly by someone?
You don’t need to do so to a mindful person. But yes, indirectly, several times. I have been attacked twice. The second time I was attacked, they could be seen and heard giving instructions to each other. But geofencing of this incident was not provided.
So who are they who didn’t allow the geofencing for that incident? A lot of time complaints on the content of my programs were made to my office management. There are many incidents which make it clear who is behind the scene. Before that, they were just threatening my life but now they have snatched the source of my living. Nonetheless, a journalist is never dependent on a media house: I will utilize every forum to raise my voice.
I am amazed when other journalists ask me what proof I have regarding the involvement of the military establishment. My answer to them is just that only the one knows it who actually faces it.
But your programs annoy a lot of other people, too. Isn’t it possible that political figures or other persons may be taking revenge on you?
If there is a third party behind it then it becomes very easy for the establishment to trace it and reveal it. It is just awful that the establishment gives this sense as if it’s a political figure or someone else behind it. But believe me, political figures cannot do so. We all know how much influence a political figure holds in Pakistan. Not a single prime minister here could have completed his tenure respectfully. If a politician does so, the secret agencies will immediately take action to expose him.
Do you think there is some kind of censorship prevailing in Pakistani media? If so, what kind of censorship is this?
Pakistani media are facing issues like never before. There were certain limitations during Zia-ul-Haq’s tenure but that was obvious, announced and declared censorship. In that time when you would talk about freedom of expression, you were jailed or even tortured badly. But now they kill you financially.
Government is merely a puppet show. The judiciary is said to be supreme but everybody knows from where comes the decisions. Civil supremacy cannot prevail in such a dummy democracy.
So you mean the media are not independent at the moment?
How can media be independent where media owners are consulting military spokespersons to sort out their problems, instead of reaching the prime minister or information minister? Is it said to be independent when the information minister meets media-house owners in military offices instead of his own office?
Media houses are paid for their commercials only after they have met establishment representatives. We, being journalists, even oppose the owner’s interference in the editorial section but now, the whole editorial manuscript is received to be published unchanged. Now the editor has nothing to do at his job.
When a dummy government surrenders everything just to accomplish its tenure, then what’s the use of such power or governance? If it continues, the media industry will be ruined. Journalists will have to find [other] ways for their living.