Why Should The Media Cover Political Violence?

Why Should The Media Cover Political Violence?
More recently, peripheral areas of Pakistan are witnessing numerous cases of violence, such as the Peshawar suicide bombing and the terrorist attack on the KP police check post. Terror attacks and enforced disappearances are long-standing issues in Pakistan that are not given proper media coverage. There are other cases of illegal arrests which have disturbed the social and political atmosphere to a great extent.

It is the responsibility of the media, especially television, to cover pertinent questions regarding ongoing political violence in the country. These questions may include how mainstream media need to cover cases of terrorism and how to avoid broadcasting sensitive material. However, the media either engages in the blame game or conspiracy theories that hampers the process of rational discourse. To diffuse a political crisis a non-violent approach is needed.

According to Virginia Held, an American philosopher, the media must play role in decreasing political violence by engaging in arguments for and against the views of ‘political opponents’ and ‘potential terrorists’. She has written an in-depth review of the role of media in the context of terrorism in her book, titled How Terrorism is Wrong: Morality and Political Violence, where she explores how media can decrease the intensity of political violence in a nuanced manner.

According to Virginia Held, the media has a role to influence the political process through non-violent approaches. But, mainstream media is more focused on ratings and commercial aspects that challenge working on the prevailing social and political issues. It has not only disturbed the national integration process but increased the mistrust among the local populace as well. Similarly, the affected communities ask why it is so significant for the media to broadcast PSL matches but ignore the cases of political violence in the periphery, such as the ongoing women’s disappearance issue in Balochistan.

Similarly, the media should also engage in arguments about what constitutes violence and how political violence is different from terrorism. As far as violence is concerned, Virginia Held mentions that it constitutes “predictable, coercive, and usually sudden infliction of harmful damage or injury upon persons”. The recent wave of unrest in peripheral areas of Pakistan confirms this definition of violence. But, the media prefers to ignore this aspect.

It is pertinent to note that the media has a responsibility to encourage non-violent approaches to resolve issues. For instance, peaceful protests are one of the non-violent approaches to the political process to meet their demands or to decrease injustice. Why do media hubs tend to ignore peaceful marches in Balochistan and KP? These peaceful protests are justified in so many ways as they regard the uplifting of constitutional norms and values.

It is important to know the difference between political violence and terrorism. As per the argument of Virginia Held, terrorism is a kind of political violence as well. Terrorism’s sole aim is to spread fear among people. It may not intend to target citizens but it usually does so. In contrast, political violence may or may not intend to spread fear among people. Specifically, cases of political violence have political objectives such as violent protests and conflicts. In brief, political violence is both used by states and political groups.
The media has a responsibility to encourage non-violent approaches to resolve issues. For instance, peaceful protests are one of the non-violent approaches to the political process to meet their demands or to decrease injustice.

Generally, it is understood that every form of violence is not political violence. A few forms may belong to the necessity of the situation and thus termed as legal violence. For example, if a police force shoots randomly in the air to pacify violent protestors or to stop a breach of law, it belongs more to the legality of political communication. But, this line of argument can’t justify the brutalities of Karachi police who carry out fake encounters to terrorise people. Because, when the police force shoots randomly at the ‘demonstrating opponents’ to spread fear or warn them then this falls in the ambit of terrorism or political violence. It was a case of political violence when police shot demonstrators in Kasur, Punjab, at the protest against the Zainab murder case in 2008. Unfortunately, such media coverage is frequently ignored when police or other forces of law enforcement agencies shoot at protestors in the peripheral areas.

Besides, one may recall many other cases of terrorism in the context of Balochistan. This doesn’t include cases of state repression but separatist outfits such as BLA. On the other hand, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is also witnessing rising cases of terrorism from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). In such cases, the media has to play its part in what motivates agents to carry out political violence. In some cases, agents are primarily motivated by what is politically wrong and what is politically right. This belief set has both religious and cultural influences. In the case of the Taliban, religious teachings are mainly involved while the BLA part is focused on political liberation, independence, or more precisely the politically right things.

Alternately, many argue that not every act lies in the ambit of political violence. Psychological tendencies also play their part in brutality. It is argued that certain terror acts are better explained through psychology than dissecting the belief set of the accused. As per remarks of Virginia Held, the psychological factor is discussed in cases of rioting and beating where rage is a prominent factor. Still, there is a void to be filled.

In a given social and cultural context, why do a few remain calm while others show violent behaviour? There is still a need to understand and identify which part of social and cultural context led to violent behaviour and why? Can we assume that men engaged in domestic violence are just a psychological issue? Perhaps not.

In Pakistan, the cases of domestic violence are increasing day by day. Whether it is rape or brutal murder, there is a chronic fear among women in society. This fear is caused due to various reasons, including permanent disabilities, physical injuries, suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, psychological disorders, unsafe abortions, and death.

In 2021, Pakistan was ranked the fourth most dangerous country for women. We can find many cultural and religious reasons responsible for this violence. According to the religious notion, male dominance is encouraged whereas women are usually not regarded as even human. In cases of rape, the cultural notion usually explains that women enjoy rape or their clothes incite men. Both these religious and cultural convictions help propagate men’s violent approach toward women.

For these reasons, it is now important to explore beliefs that affect political violence. It is also significant to dissect how culture impacts the belief system and also to identify the agents that shape culture. In addition to that, one has to take care of the relevancy of the context of culture. Media is both part and agent of a culture that probes cultural factors in political violence, therefore it does have some responsibilities.

The writer holds an MPhil degree in South Asian Studies. Tweets at @TahiraGhilzai