Are Western reporters also just printing Pakistani spin?

Wondering how much we really know about Pakistan’s war against “terrorism” (so writes a Pakistani journalist below)?

The Pakistani army has killed at least 71 civilians in an air strike in the Khyber Agency. As news gets around, people are slowly beginning to express their shock about this incident. But no one should be surprised, as I am sure 71 is just a tiny fraction of the total number of civilians who have been killed in Pakistan’s various wars against its people in Swat, Waziristan, Orakzai, Balochistan and other places.

The media rarely reports on the civilian deaths due to a combination of self-censorship, difficulties in accessing the conflict, and pressure from the military. The cover up of what is going on is systematic. The only reason why we are hearing about these 71 civilians is because an official confirmed it (anonymously).

When I was reporting on the war in Swat and the IDP crisis in May last year, we came across countless civilians whose family members or friends had been killed in the conflict. About two days after the army claimed it had “cleared” Buner of the Taliban, our team drove there to report on the situation. Along the way, we saw houses, shops and vehicles that had been bombed.

As we drove by the carcass of one burned out truck there was a revolting stench hanging in the air. We stopped at the petrol station a little further down to ask about it. The station owner and a few grey-bearded men gathered there insisted that the truck had been carrying several women and children who were fleeing the fighting when it was struck by a rocket.

We drove further into Buner and stopped at the Dagar Hospital to look around. Here we met several injured people and families from Swat who all told a similar story: they were trying to flee the fighting on foot, but they were unaware of a curfew that had been imposed by the military. The army fired at them. Those who survived had to walk with their injuries through the moutainous terrain to the hospital to receive treatment.

We interviewed some of these people on camera, and when I went back to the office I filed a report that tried to show both sides of the picture: On the one hand there were people who welcomed the army and the offensive against the Taliban, and on the other hand there were those who were angered about their family members being needlessly killed by the army while trying to flee the violence.

I made the package and sent it to our head office. The next morning, they were running my report in the news bulletin — but the editors at the head office had censored out any mention of civilian casualties caused by the army. I was angered and called the head office to find out how they could remove such an important aspect of the story. The producer apologized: “Sorry, the management has told us that we can only run pro-Army stories. These are orders from the top”.

I was ashamed, and protested — but not enough.