The media’s relationship with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may well be as unhealthy as Pakistan’s reluctant partnership with the United States. And like any stronger power bearing down on a weaker, disunited one, this month the TTP turned on the mouthpiece which has given it ample room to preach its septic views, both in print and live on air. Less than a week after an attack on the office of the English-language daily Express Tribune which killed three men, all under 30, the TTP issued a 29-page fatwa against the country’s media houses, accusing them of “biased” reporting and furnished a hit list comprising various journalists, editors, publishers and media house owners.

The TTP does not need help disseminating its message. It does not need national media airtime. Each casualty and each girls’ school reduced to rubble sends an unambiguous directive to surrender control of the state and submit to a monarchic Islamic ideology. The reason given for such a request is irrelevant, unless one were prepared to forgive murder if the murderers articulated their motivations coherently enough. Nor is this the first or last time Pakistan’s media will be targeted by militant groups, so why this effort to lend them a platform? Surely the skirmish for ratings isn’t worth inviting your attacker on air.

This isn’t only a question of the singed aftermath of the media’s game with fire, but rather: who is actually sanctioned to put the fire out? The press’ role is to guard the public interest by ensuring accountability and transparency as those in charge of the country’s integrity design and implement a proper terrorism policy. Perhaps the state’s singularly inactive response to a growing civil war left journalists feeling compelled to jump into the flames. But responsible journalists report the story; they do not become the story. They also know the difference between news and propaganda.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the media should air the TTP’s views in the interests of objectivity and telling all sides of the story. If fairness is the goal, the story lies not with TTP rhetoric but with the social marginalisation that leads young men to militancy. It does not lie with explanations of a fight against “promiscuity and secularism” — two things the TTP fatwa accused Pakistan’s media houses of propagating.

Despite the extensive coverage of terrorism, a misguided binary has evolved in the national discourse, echoed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which views American imperialism and TTP violence (a local imperialism) as a zero-sum game. While Khan spearheaded a movement to block Nato supply lines this past November in a bid to deter drone strikes, he also pledged continued support to hold peace talks with the TTP in the wake of the murder of Chaudhry Aslam, the outspoken superintendent of the Sindh police. If a TTP member is killed in a drone strike, discussions of his martyrdom stain the airwaves. It seems one cannot oppose foreign and local brutality simultaneously; you must pick a side. Bizarrely, siding with the TTP is somehow considered more patriotic. It is this lack of nuance that a robust and ethical media aims to combat, and must certainly never encourage.

It is ironic that the TTP uses the media – considered the fourth pillar of democracy – to belch an anti-democratic ideology onto a cowed populace. One wonders why it bothers to justify its actions at all, however absurd the explanations of promiscuity, when it seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate answerable to none. — Compiled from news reports