Editorial: Boycotting the Cable News
For almost three weeks, cable news service has been suspended in parts of Balochistan particularly in the Mekran region. The cable operators were forced to shut down their services after the Baloch National Front (B.N.F.), a pro-independence group of several Baloch nationalist outfits, complained about the lack of coverage to Balochistan’s affairs on these news channels.
While there have been similar short-term boycotts of the cable news in the past, this one appears to be the longest of such radical measures taken by the Baloch nationalists against cable operators. In the past, the nationalists asked the cable operators to shut down all Pakistani news channels but they still allowed Vsh TV, the world’s first Balochi language satellite news channel, to operate. This time, they have also forced the cable operators to suspend Vsh TV as well because they allege that Vsh TV is too pro-Pakistan and insufficiently committed to the coverage of the Baloch nationalist movement.
The problems of the cable operators in Mekran have worsened after a pro-government group calling itself as the Lashkar-e-Defa-e-Pakistan (The Pakistan Defense Force) has dictated the cable operators to reopen their services or face ‘dire consequences’. Local people say they have never heard of this group but suspect it is affiliated with the Frontier Corps (F.C.). Hence, the cable operators, after receiving threats from both warring sides, did what anyone else would do if caught up in a similar precarious situation: They announced to temporarily abandon their business. Because they say if they run the cable news, Baloch nationalists will attack them and the prog-government group would also attack them if they continue to shut down the business. This is a serious dilemma for the cable operators in Balochistan.
The cable operators have expressed their weariness to such an absurd call by the Baloch nationalists as they say the cable operators merely distribute the programs and they have no enjoy any influence regarding the decisions about the policies of these news channels as to what they include or exclude in their programs. Since the cable business is owned by the local people, the boycott will only increase the economic burden on the local people affiliated to the cable news business. By doing so, the Baloch nationalists are not doing a favor to their own people. No matter how long they will continue this forceful boycott of the cable news service, this is not the right approach to ask for more coverage on the news channels. The cable operators only make a living by distributing programs and it is unwise to deprive them of their livelihood. They are the last people to be helpful to the nationalists in terms of giving them air time on the private news channels. They simply cannot do anything with regard to the nationalist’s complaints. The nationalists are grilling the wrong people.
In addition, the very concept of press freedom across the globe is based on unconditional recognition. Whether or not someone likes it, the media organizations make their own decisions about what topics to cover. No matter how legitimate the complaints of a particular political group are, a media outlet, just like any other private business, is free to make its own decisions. Such coercive measures will only alienate the media and tarnish the image of the Baloch nationalists as a movement seeking justice for the oppressed people.
The boycott of the news channels has also disconnected the local communities with the rest of the world. People, regardless of their political and religious beliefs, should have free access to information. Feeding them any information that is appreciative of one side or forced upon them is unethical and undemocratic.
Instead of forcing the cable operators, the Baloch nationalists should directly talk to the owners and directors news of various news channels in order to convince them to increase the air time for Balochistan’s issues. There is no denying the fact that the Pakistani news channels do not sufficiently cover Balochistan. The best way is to approach the owners of these channels to explore possibilities of cooperation in providing access and information about the conflict-ridden areas of Balochistan. As far as the current boycott is concerned, the nationalists as well as the government should know violence, threats and intimidation is not a solution to every problem.
The Baloch Hal
Published in The Baloch Hal on March 3, 2013
Published in The Baloch Hal on March 3, 2013