By Zafar Iqbal
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is at the centre of controversy over the attack on 14- year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yusufzai, who was shot by Taliban militants for advocating girl’s education.
She is recovering in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital under tight security as the Taliban has said that they would make another attempt on Malala’s life if she survived.
It is an open secret that her diaries for BBC Urdu were the main cause for the attack which sparked unusual anti-Taliban wave across Pakistan.
She wrote diaries in 2009 when Pakistan’s Northern Swat valley was under brutal control of Pakistani Taliban.
Malala was a student of 4th grade when she started writing diaries for BBC Urdu under the pen name Gul Makai about the life under Taliban rule and group’s attempt to ban female education.
BBC was probably looking for someone who could write about life there and it found 12-year old child Malala.
However, the attack on teenager Malala has raised serious questions about BBC’s highly controversial decision as it appears BBC knowingly put the life of a young school goer, her family member’s and many other school going girls at risk.
It is believed that the architects of the Swat operation were looking for a soft image of Taliban controlled town; hence, they persuaded Malala and her father for this cause. However, this led to a tragic end for the life of teenager activist.
In this context, there are a series of questions that need to be answered for the integrity of BBC:
Why did BBC choose a child for writing diaries against one of the most violent organizations after Al-Qaida in view of the fact that she — being a child — had no understanding of the situation and was completely ignorant about its consequences?
Was BBC’s decision in line with ethics and according to its own news and editorial guidelines?
Wasn’t BBC aware of the possible outcomes of this controversial decision? Did BBC discuss about the potential dangers and threats with her parents before Malala started writing for BBC? Was Malala’s family told that they would responsible for its consequences?
BBC was supposed to have full understanding about the possible risks, yet it engaged a child for the job.
Why did it persuade the parents to make their girl child write for BBC? Did the BBC strictly advise Malala’s parents not to disclose her identity in view of the real threats?
Did the BBC seek any kind of assurances from her parents that they would not disclose her name whatsoever?
Malala was very young when she started writing blogs for the BBC and there were possibilities that she could share it with her school friends out of sheer innocence leaving her more vulnerable. Did BBC consider such aspects?
A former BBC staffer has informed Pakistani media that he used to get details from her over the phone on a regular basis in order to prepare a diary.
The phone is not considered safe mode of communication as there is always risk of getting hacked by militants and security forces. Why did BBC ignore it?
Since Swat was one of the few places considered as being dangerous because Taliban control, who took this decision to engage a child from the area for blogging?
Why didn’t the BBC try to find a mature person (A school teacher or an activist) having understanding of risks involved in the work?
Why did the BBC intentionally choose a child for the purpose? What were the logical reasons and journalistic justifications behind this decision?
Is there any similar instance in contemporary journalism where a teen-ager has reported from a conflict zone?
Does BBC take responsibility for its irrecoverable damage caused to the girl by Taliban militants and the life threats she and her family continue to face.
Was it BBC’s decision to disclose that it was basically Malala who wrote diaries under the pen name ‘Gul Makai’?
Why did the BBC reproduce her selected diaries with original name after attack on her?
Doesn’t the BBC think it has increased the level of threat for her and her family? Malala said in her diaries many girls would attend school despite threats from Taliban.
What if Taliban would attack any school to ensure that their dictates were completely followed?
Doesn’t the BBC think publishing diaries has posed a real threat to hundreds school going girls and their teachers. Wasn’t security of children compromised?
Was it wise decision on the part of BBC to exploit the innocence of a child living in a conflict area who was entirely ignorant of the consequences?
There is also a heated debate on social media questioning BBC’s highly controversial decision.
I believe that this nonprofessional approach by the BBC has damaged BBC’s repute for its audience within Pakistan and abroad.
Attack on Malala has also silenced those who were campaigning for girls’ education as it happened in the past in the case of campaign for changing blasphemy law after the murder of Pakistani politician Salman Taseeer.
In the wake of scathing media coverage of the Malala shooting Pakistani Taliban have announced to target Pakistani media, most likely the BBC staff within Pakistan.
No doubt, this warning to attack media has shaken Pakistani journalists, who have already lost their over 80 colleagues in last decade.
All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and other media organisations from all over the country expressed their deep concerns over the threats by the TTP, reports International Freedom of Expression Exchange network (IFEX). This year three Pakistani journalists have been killed so far. New York based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has ranked Pakistan as ‘one of the most dangerous countries for the media’.
In such an unsafe media landscape it is a big question for the BBC administration: Would it consider a public apology for breaching ethical norms and journalistic standards?