The widespread media coverage of Taliban shooting victim Malala Yousafzai seems to have come as a surprise to the Taliban, who are claiming the media are biased against them. Brooke speaks to Pakistani journalist Mushtaq Yusufzai, who says the Taliban are planning attacks on journalists because they feel the media are ruining their reputation.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last week, people around the world were horrified to learn that Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl in Pakistan, was shot in the head by the Taliban. The 15-year-old was targeted because of her activism. For years, she'd been outspoken against the group's ban on education for girls. Here she is in a 2009 New York Times documentary.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: There are so many crises in our country, so I want to remove these crises and to save my country.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Malala, now in the UK, is still fighting for her life, and the media have been closely covering her story. Of course, with every big story there are accusations of media bias, and this time the charges are being hurled - by the Taliban. Declaring themselves justified in shooting the schoolgirl for her defiance and outraged by the media's response to the event, the Taliban have announced their intention to employ a novel approach to ensure more balanced coverage, killing journalists.
Mushtaq Yusufzai is a reporter for NBC News and writes for the News International in Pakistan. He says the Taliban were caught off guard by the outpouring of support for Malala in Pakistan and everywhere else.
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: I think the Taliban didn’t expect there, there would be so much reaction, and the militants actually think that the media, they make their reputation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It strikes me as darkly funny that the Taliban appear to want to fix their public relations problem by killing journalists.
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: Yes, because the Taliban are thinking that the journalists are not independent; they’re actually promoting western agenda. And that’s why they have given the task to 12 suicide bombers to target media houses, media organizations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The militants have selected 12 suicide bombers to attack media organizations?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: Yeah, that’s what the militants say and that’s what the Pakistani security agencies have told journalists and media organizations. And I must say that we are not able to go to the office for two days because everybody is feeling so insecure in Pakistan. And in Islamabad, most of the foreign journalists closed down their offices.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have you heard of individual journalists getting threatening phone calls?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: You know, I personally received phone calls from the Taliban, and they were complaining that it seemed like a mother of the journalist had died and you are mourning the attack on Malala.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When Malala was shot, it was as if the journalists were mourning their own mother?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: Yeah, that’s what they said. And a number of journalists told me that the day she was attacked, they started receiving phone calls and text messages from unknown people, giving them threats for giving so much coverage to Malala and condemning the Taliban for this attack.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are the Taliban so out of touch that they could actually be surprised by the outrage? Is there such a divide between the Taliban and not just the Western world but the community in which they live?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: Exactly. I must say that people used to support the Taliban. They thought that these are good people, they will provide them justice and protection of the people. But when the Taliban started, you know, attacking school, killing people, people thought that no, we don’t need this kind of system in the country. When I leave my home in the morning, I don’t think that I will be able to come back in the evening. And the same is the case and the same the feeling of every citizen in Pakistan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How is that affecting the work that you do?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: You will always be worried about you, your family members, your kids, and you’ll always be scared. And so many people are suffering from mental disorders in Pakistan because of, you know, militancy, because of killing, the hating, suicide attacks, kidnapping for ransom. And officially the journalists, I can’t explain you about the situation we work, and most of them, you know, have become psycho cases, you know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Most of the journalists have become psycho cases?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: Psycho cases, and my family will complain that you don’t speak, you don’t give time to the family and, you know, home, and you you’re always thinking – when I go to the office in the morning, I feel that, you know, I will be attacked from this side, someone will attack from, from that side. And when I come in the evening from office to home, believe me, I don’t have any, any expectation that I will reach my home. And the same is the case with every journalist who is covering the so-called “war on terror.”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why do you do it?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: We are journalists. I choose this profession, and this is a very hard time for our people, for this region, and we have to report what’s going on. So you cannot – you cannot stop your work.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you have any reason to believe it’s making a difference?
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: I think so. People now have understanding, and people have become so much mature. Before they’re – they was only attacks on media only one TV channel in Pakistan, and the newspapers were not so much independent. The journalists are now – they’re independent and they have trend [?]. They must be dangerous, there must be risk. Bub if we continue our work, I think we will bring a change, Inshalla, one day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mushtaq, thank you very much.
MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI: Thank you so much. I’m so grateful.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mushtaq Yusufzai is a reporter for NBC News and writes for the News International in Pakistan.