Ms. Gul Bukhari is a well known analyst and columnist. She has worked in different newsrooms in Pakistan and regularly appears on TV shows. She also hosted a TV show, but it was short-lived. She tweets @gulbukhari. We interview her for safenewsrooms.org and discuss her experience of working with Pakistani media:
- Ms. Bukhari, you were taken off air from Express News. Why do you think that happened? Can you describe the events leading up to it?
The show I was part of at Express has not been taken off air. I believe it is still on, only I was taken off, and also paid for my contribution to the show, however short. I believe I was taken off because of my straight forward views on the meddling in politics by the army and the judiciary. Furthermore, I would not let the ‘defence analysts’ on the show get away with lies, always challenging their narrative effectively.
- Why was your recent opinion piece not published?
I am a Sunday columnist with The Nation. I believe that was self censorship because on the same day several articles that had already been published in The News had been made to be taken down per the alleged agreement of the Geo/Jang Group with the military. These articles were mostly about Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. I want to make it very clear that I do not blame The Nation’s management for the self censorship, because everyone is trying to survive. No one, I believe, can afford to be targeted like Geo/Jang. Moreover, we have other websites and social media where our voices can still be heard, where our articles can still be read. So, personally I find the censorship counterproductive.
- Do you go to TV shows regularly? Have you been told to play it “safe”? Did news practitioners you were with tell you about their limitations?
I used to go to TV shows very regularly. But it has changed in the following ways: One, I receive fewer invitations to be a guest on sensitive topics, because my responses are very direct and forthright; I do not mince words. Second, I decline many invitations because I know from experience that certain anchors we colloquially refer to as ‘havaldaar anchors’ plan ambushes; they are neither interested in debate nor in freedom of political views. The induced inanity of talk shows these days is also off-putting. On the day Manzoor Pashteen is holding a protest of tens of thousands, I am not interested in answering questions on whether Mian Nawaz Sharif is popular or not; on the day the army chief of the country makes a highly controversial ‘off the record briefing’ to select 40 anchors, I am not interested in analysing whether pharmacists’ protest against the govt are justified. This is another form of self censorship, where television producers and anchors are not even broaching elephants in the room. However, all producers and anchors whose shows I’ve been a guest on are honest about their limitations: i.e., they articulate the red lines. It used to be limited to the military and Balochistan. Now it includes the judiciary as no go areas.
- How afraid are your colleagues these days to report on issues? Which issues are a problem?”
I have several friends who are currently working in news rooms and they speak of palpable fear. Many have stopped reporting while still being on the payroll. Their employers are giving them ‘rest’.
- What will happen to society when journalists continue to self censor in this manner?
I am tempted to say this is dangerous for society. But journalists are finding creative ways of informing the public. Censorship is obviously condemnable in the extreme, but I don’t think it is working. Take Geo’s example, they made it well known that they have now officially taken a pro-establishment stance under duress. So the public that watches Geo knows not to believe their current anti-democracy narrative. Moreover, the public is now so aware of the censorship ongoing, it reads well between all the lines.