Rise and fall of radio Mashal
In 2010, Radio Liberty started its transmission with the name of Radio Mashal Pashtu service in the Pakistani Pakhtun belt to counter fundamentalists and their media wings
During the militancy period, FM Radios were the main component for of Swati Taliban and Khyber Agency Militants for spreading their propaganda. Swati Taliban had used their radio station with great art for terrorizing the inhabitants of the picturesque Swat valley, and the state was a mere spectator in that game of blood. The brutal Chief Fazal Ullah got fame as Radio Mullah because the pulpit replaced radio waves by fatwas, threats, extortions, instructions, and destruction.
To counter the extremist narrative of militants, first, the Pakistani government started FM radio for entertainment in Swat region based in the country’s capital Islamabad. In 2010, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty started its transmission with the name of Radio Mashal Pashtu service in Pakistani Pakhtun belt to counter the fundamentalists and news dissemination.
With the passage of time, this radio got immense popularity particularly in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) as well as in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). After successful operations in the militancy-hit region; Radio Mashal reporters aired challenging stories which annoyed the security forces although journalists working with foreign media particularly associated with the voice of America and radio Mashal were on the hit list of militants. Thus the vibrant voice for civil and human rights came into the radar of premier spy boys too.
On 19th January 2018, Radio Mashal Pakistan bureau located at F/7 Islamabad was sealed by the interior ministry on the instructions of intelligence reports. They blamed Radio Mashal for 1) provoking Pakhtun and Baloch against the state of Pakistan 2) This radio postures Pakistan hub of terrorism 3) State failed to provide protection to minority and Pakhtun 4) And radio Mashal aired anti-Pakistan programs. In response to these four perturbing allegations Radio Mashal management also posted a statement on its website. It says, “our agenda is journalism not anti-state and nor we are agents of any of the country or spy agency.” The statement further added, “our field reporters are loyal to their motherland.”
The high handedness of Pakistani authority on journalism is not new but it happened for the first time in such an open way because of the weak democratic government. Unfortunately, very few of the persons talked and criticized this act of barbarism and creating an air of suffocation for journalists. Neither political workers nor champions of freedom openly debated or stood with Radio Mashal and shoulder the dying ethical journalism of Pakistan to an embedded one.
Radio Mashal has millions of listeners, readers and viewers in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). But unfortunately, no one protested, rather a religious political party demanded a complete ban of the voice of America (VoA) Pashtu service and Radio Mashal. Furthermore, they added the associated persons with this media as CIA agents and thus they maligned and made them an easy target in the conservative Pakhtun society
Before the restrictions, 18 editorial staffers were working with Radio Mashal on East side of Durand Line in the Pakhtun belt. At initial days of the crisis,a wise decision was made by the Czech Republic; Prague based editorial minds and asked the reporters to give respect to the decision made by the state of Pakistan. Although this decision of sealing a bureau is itself against the basic human rights as the allegations were based on deceitful tactics. So for the safe side, the decision was appreciated by the local journalists’ particular based in the exposed KP and Fata. The White House spokesperson also urged the Pakistani authority to revoke its decision and restore radio Mashal.
Just after few weeks, the dark time knocked the doors and the Prague based policy makers turned their back to Pakistani colleagues in tough psychological and financial time. In the line of duties, most of the reporters of Radio Mashal have been threatened direct or indirect. Muhammad Imran was covering Karachi ethnic chaos for radio, he was abducted by unknown persons and was also attacked but luckily he escaped the bullets. Radio Mashal didn’t publish the news of this tragic incident of its own reporter. I did not find any reason for dumping this news and discouraging staffer. This is not the first or the last incident that happened with radio Mashal reporters, there are many more but such news wasn’t worthy to be published or on air, the management can answer it.
Mohammad Amin Mudaqiq Service Director Radio Mashal via email reply said, “No official notification was handed over to us so we could work accordingly and we terminated contracts of those who refused to accept the new offer”. We refused the new agreement because Radio Mashal office is sealed in Pakistan, one of the terminated persons replied. And we are expecting the high management would talk to the powerful institutions for resuming the transmission but they fired us, he informed.
The head office should talk to the powerful people of Pakistan for resolving the critical issues. But the unfortunate decision came and the Prague based people exploited the poverty and fear of joblessness of its Peshawar and Fata based reporters.
Four Radio Mashal reporters were terminated because including chief of the team Alamzeb Khan they were not signing the new risky contract; some of them are working secretly. Isn’t the organization playing dangerously with the human lives? Shouldn’t they sort out the issue with interior ministry and military establishment? Mashal Radio is a registered company with the name of Mashal Communications with Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan. Instead of working illegally and secretly in the volatile region like Pakistan for journalists, the organization has to follow the legal procedure for reinstating the Radio Mashal otherwise any mishap incident could happen at any time to any of them. So will the organization them as their employees in future?
These ground jobless reporters are maligned by Pakistani media as CIA agents and the organization also left them in the abyss. Among four terminated person two are female. In Pakhtun conservative society, women are highly discouraged to get an education and then work in this male dominant set up is impossible.
Before joining Radio Mashal, Riffat Anjum the lone bread earner of her family was working with Geo Television. She had convinced her family members with great difficulties to let her work in Islamabad away from home, but now she is jobless, abandoned, and maligned for working with (US funded) Radio Mashal. Getting US funds for government is halal but for few organisations and individual it is haram.
Yes, of course, journalism is not properly practised in Pakistani outlets these days except by few of the media houses. Sealing Radio Mashal office would be condemnable in any of the civilized nations. Accountable, transparent and open society believes in freedom of expression for intellect growth and high moral values. But the unexpected disowning decision of Radio Mashal head office discouraged not only its reporters but also the progressive minds. The decision is strengthening notion about alleged accusations of Pakistani authority of anti-state reporting. The radio management still has time to discuss this with the authorities about resuming its transmission and reinstating its staffers and work like other foreign media.
The writer is Peshawar based journalist. He tweets @theraufkhan
Published in Daily Times, May 18th 2018. [Link]