“The biggest win is to survive without becoming vindictive and not become that which we are fighting”

— Jailed chief editor’s son after accountability court in Pakistan again extends father’s physical remand

Photo leaked from NAB cell after MSR’s arrest March 12.

“Today was disappointing for us all…. But let me tell you why I am still standing. Because our Mir Shakil ur Rahman is”,  wrote Mir Ibrahim Rahman in a note to a WhatsApp group of Geo TV reporters Saturday after an accountability court again extended the physical remand of his father, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief Jang/Geo Media Group, for another 10 days.

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V for virus, V for vendetta… In ongoing case against media boss, calls to #FreeMirShakilurRehman fall on deaf ears

It is outrageous that for nearly a month now, chief editor and owner of the country’s largest media group has been behind bars. Mir Shakilur Rahman was arrested by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau on March 12, in connection with a 34-year old land case. Leading lawyers agree that the case is baseless. They are among the many voices – journalists, international human rights organisations and media platforms, rival media groups, civil society organisations at home and abroad – outraged by this travesty of justice and urging MSR’s release #FreeMirShakilurRehman.

Leading international organisations have called for MSR’s release

The detention is widely seen as part of an ongoing attack on media freedom in Pakistan. The case, clearly motivated by vendetta, is particularly disturbing at a time when everyone needs to be on the same page in fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic. See my story in Naya Daur, also posted below with updates, about a maverick poet and intellectual with no affiliation to the Jang/Geo media group, on hunger strike since March 29 for MSR’s release.

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‘Patriotic Trolling’ to ‘Astro-Turfing’: Lessons from Maria Ressa on dealing with online hate

Last Thursday, I attended a talk by journalist Maria Ressa at Harvard. She talked about the “pounding” journalists get on social media and “trends” set by fake accounts. Women are attacked online at least 10 times more than men, and research shows online violence leads to actual violence on the ground. It reminded me not only of the challenges journalists face in Pakistan but also what organisers of the forthcoming Aurat March commemorating International Women’s Day are up against. Here’s what I wrote, published in The News International, Pakistan and The Wire, India.

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#AuratMarch: The polarity of narratives

The News on Sunday last week asked me to write a piece on the narratives surrounding gender in mainstream and social media, the space to take up the debate on the subject and whether that has increased or shrunk over the years, and what sort of narratives are emerging from movements like the Aurat March (the impact and social deconstruction of certain slogans deemed ‘controversial’ and ‘immoral’ by right wing quarters within the society). I began writing this just before the controversy over ‘Mera jism meri marzi’ (my body, my choice) kicked off that I mention, in the piece below, part of the TNS Special Report on the issue published 8 March 2020, which includes several related pieces worth reading.

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World Press Freedom Day: India/Pakistan media and prospects of peace

Screenshot from Bushra Ansari-Asma Abbas video, 3 May 2019. Over 4 million views on one YouTube channel alone.

My comment about the polarized media in India and Pakistan and the prospects of peace, incorporated in the International Federation of Journalists Truth vs Misinformation: South Asia Press Freedom Report 2018-19 released on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2019. Also published in Naya Daur

Beena Sarwar

Polarization and Prospects of Peace

There have never been as many media outlets and forms of media in India or Pakistan as there are today — or as much push for freedom of expression and information, and its counterpoint, various forms of censorship.

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Shutting down online #fakenews factories

hitler-wa-e1547852735707.jpg

Got this email and image from Avaaz, subject line, “We’ve been hijacked”, that feels too important not to share.  Here’s my biggest takeaway from it:

During Brazil’s election, Avaaz ran an experiment — just six people were given basic training to investigate the propaganda networks, and they shut down online fake news factories that reached *16 million* people. Imagine what ten times as many could do!

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Two conferences and a paper

covering an event with a video camera

File photo, courtesy European Broadcasting Union, alliance of alliance of public service media 

Two conferences this past weekend reminded me of a media conference in Warsaw, Poland, that I attended earlier this year. The Nieman 80th Reunion at Harvard featured intense and thought-provoking discussions on journalism, democracy, human rights, and peace — topics that the Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore took forward as well while honouring the work and legacy of a great human rights defender. More on both later. Below, the paper I presented at the Warsaw conference. My take on the topic they gave me, Digital and traditional media – conflict or complementarity?, ties in with the conferences this weekend.  I’m also sharing my report about the Poland conference, Journalists at Media Conference vow to uphold journalistic values, ethics, which references the Conference declaration about journalistic ethics and values and challenges arising from violence, threats, commercial pressures and false information.  Continue reading

Targeting of Marvi Sirmed latest in attacks on human rights activists, journalists, in Pakistan

Marvi Sirmed ransack-2018

Journalist couple Marvi and Sirmed Manzoor’s house ransacked: Humiliating violation of privacy besides theft of laptops, cell phone, passport. Online photo

Journalists in Pakistan are under increasing pressure, besides severe, ongoing censorship. The break in to columnist and activist Marvi Sirmed’s house and its ransacking is the latest in the series of intimidation, threats and violence to those who uphold democratic values and are critical of the security establishment.

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Pakistani journalists protest growing censorship

 

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Over 100 Pakistani journalists, editors, columnists, media persons from across the media landscape in the country have endorsed this statement since it was initiated on 19 April, protesting against the ongoing curbs on freedom of expression in the country. It follows on the heels of a statement signed by prominent academics including Noam Chomsky. Besides the stifling of debate at university campuses, articles are being pulled off media websites in Pakistan like Babar Sattar’s oped (published in this blog) as well as three other pieces in The News on Sunday this past weekend. Others were not published to begin with, like Mobashir Zaidi’s oped in The News, and Gul Bukhari’s article on 16 April that The Nation didn’t run (published in Naya Daur). Statement and list below.

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Nonfiction: Integrity above all

Zubeida Mustafa book cover

My book review of Zubeida Mustafa’s memoirs, published in Dawn, Books & Authors, 4 February, 2018

My Dawn Years: Exploring Social Issues
By Zubeida Mustafa
Paramount, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9696374046; 240pp.

When a pioneering journalist pens her memoirs, you pay attention. Especially when she is Zubeida Mustafa of Pakistan, a long-time feminist and champion of social causes who, from her editorial perch at the daily Dawn, witnessed momentous transitions in the country’s media and political landscapes for over three decades. Beyond being a witness to change, she has also, as she realises with a thrill, “been a part of it, at times driving it and at times being driven by it.”

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