Media’s Role In Legitimising Taliban

April 14th, 2014

Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid on ARY TV

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Taliban has contributed to the deaths of over 50,000 Pakistanis since recent years in their quest to replace Pakistan’s constitution with their own definition of an Islamic state. Eager to stop the bloodshed, the government has been pursuing a strategy of negotiation. Whatever one’s opinion of this strategy, it is agreed by all that some solution must be found to stop the violence. But critics of the government’s strategy of peace talks argue that the government offered militants a seat at the table prematurely, and now find themselves negotiating from a position of weakness. Whether or not the timing was right is a question we will leave to the experts on such matters. However, it is worth noting the role media is playing in strengthening Taliban’s hand in the negotiations, and legitimising a force that is responsible for the deaths of countless innocents.

To begin, it is worth examining the different way media treats democratically elected politicians and terrorists.

Our television channels are adept at pulling together montages to mock politicians, but make little effort to compile documentation that highlights the hypocrisy of militant groups and the scale of atrocities they have committed (and claimed). Some may say the media has been intimidated by attacks against journalists. But this excuse would hold only if media houses were busy bulking up security, providing safety training, and using their clout to pressurise the government to provide more protection for journalists. In the absence of that, we have to assume the decontextualised and extensive coverage of TTP statements is a result of ratings pressure, even ideological affinity with the Taliban.

It’s not just that media groups avoid treating militants with the same degree of criticism as politicians, though. By granting an uncritical space for militants, media groups are essentially projecting Taliban views.

If the images on television screens are evidence, then the truth is clear. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are the current rulers of Pakistan’s television screens.

From a country that knew little about them as recently as four or five years ago, the Pakistani viewing public has become intimately acquainted with the agenda, views, threats, likes, dislikes, punishments, and statements of the group.

The pliant faces sitting before their television screens at home, poring over homework or housework, have had little choice in the matter.

The powers that be, owners of television networks and the marketing departments that sell advertising on them, seem to have decided that near constant coverage of the Tailban is a moneymaker, and morals cannot compete with money.

Avoiding criticism of militants while heavily criticising democratic politicians and simultaneously giving extremists a lot of attention delegitimises democracy while creating sympathy for the Taliban. It is a dangerous combination in the best of times. Doing so while the government is negotiating with these same militants is tantamount to a thumb on the scale – in favour of the very people who have been doing the killing.

Media’s Role In Khawaja Asif Controversy

April 11th, 2014

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif is having a terrible time after coming under criticism for comments he made in response to statement made by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif that Army will ‘preserve its own dignity’, a comment made in context of the treason trial of former COAS Gen Musharraf. Next day, Defence Minister gave his statement that ‘Parliament is a supreme organ of the state and it would preserve its dignity besides having a respect for all other institutions’. Army officers expressed their anger at the Defence Minister in a Core Commanders meeting.

Attacks against the Defence Minister took to new heights, however, after TV stations began airing a speech by Khawaja Asif to the National Assembly criticising the 1999 coup against the democratically elected government of Nawaz Sharif.

Predictably, this sent hyper-nationalists into a hyperventilating frenzy.

So why did the Defence Minister make such a speech at this time? The answer may surprise you…he didn’t.

The speech that was broadcast was actually given in 2006…eight years ago! No one would recognise this fact, however, since the TV anchors withheld the information from their broadcasts, giving the false impression that the Defence Minister was upping the ante in tensions with the Army. Not so. Kamran Shafi explains the reality:

Let’s be fair and get the context right. Even about the much-hyped statement issued after the Corps Commanders’ conference on the same day that the EIGHT-year old speech was constantly being shown on some channels as if a mutiny was brewing. Indeed, this newspaper of record has responsibly quoted the press release. But leave it to some raucous TV channels and their anchors to pretend they had an “in’ to what else was said in the meeting. Such as the Corps Commanders expressing “displeasure” at the defence minister’s “statement” making the viewer believe that the EIGHT-year old speech was made on April 9, 2014.

Even if they meant that the Corps Commanders had shown “displeasure” at the statements attributed to Asif about the Commando’s trial, the ISPR release said no such thing. Additionally, the anchors should have also reported the truth: that Asif had not said one word against the army itself. But will they ever stop stirring the pot?

Army and politicians both play a critical role in our society. Both roles include responsibilities that bring much tension along with them. At times, those roles can come into conflict and disagreements will result. This is normal, and will sort itself out naturally if left alone. It is acceptable for media to report on tensions between the military and civilians, but it is irresponsible to whip up those tensions and add fuel to the fire.

Media’s role is to report the news, not to help settle old scores or judge patriotism. Gen Raheel and Khawaja Asif have each defended their institutions, as is natural, but there is no valid defence for the behaviour of media in this case.

Pakistan’s Fearless Investigative Journalist Mian Saifur Rehman

April 4th, 2014

The News (Jang Group)The recent attack against senior journalist, editor, and Express News anchor Raza Rumi has once again raised the issue of the danger facing journalists who report on sensitive issues. Before Raza Rumi was attacked, investigative journalists including Umar Cheema and Saleem Shahzad have bravely faced many dangers and life threats to tell people the facts. Despite ongoing dangers  facing journalists, Pakistan is home to many more fearless investigative journalists as well.

What other country can boast such a fearless journalist as Ansar Abbasi, who gives no thought to his personal safety when he courageously accuses democratically elected officials of being ‘anti-Islam’ and undermining the ideological foundations of Pakistan. However, while Ansar Abbasi enjoys some notoriety for his fearless reporting, he is not the only face of courage in journalism today. Also deserving of a medal of bravery is Mian Saifur Rehman, Editor Reporting at The News (Jang Group) and classmate of Gen Shuja Pasha in National Security Workshop 2 of National Defence University Islamabad.

Brave hearted Mian Saifur Rehman

Brave hearted Mian Saifur Rehman, fearless journalist of Pakistan

Showing no fear, Mian Saifur Rehman bravely reported that the American and Afghan intelligence agencies are involved in secret missions ‘to malign Pakistan through insinuations and fabrications of sorts and thus try to create a situation that might undermine Pakistan’s real strength i.e its institutions.’ What is Mian Saifur Rehman notes that his report is ‘based on exclusive interaction with well-informed sources’. This is indeed impressive. Considering the threats received from ‘well-informed sources’ by other journalists, Mian Saifur Rehman was very courageous to willingly interact with such elements.

Mian Saifur Rehman stands tall and brave in the face of India also. What courage it took to report that malice is completely alien to Pakistan, and all troubles are only the result of Indian agencies.

Even now the Pakistani people are exempt from the very element of malice, intrinsically. It is not in their psyche to hate the people inhabiting any part of the globe for the sake of it or even for any other reason. It is only the jingoism and atrocious conduct of Indian establishment and their allied mini-establishments that irks them. As for these mini-establishments, many might not be well aware of their presence or actual role but it is an established reality that they do exist with full splendor and power and they happen to be far crueler than their mentors in the core establishment and they comprise those circles whose only raison d’etre is Pakistan-bashing. Unfortunately, some segments of Indian media are also included in it.

It is not just foreign intelligence agencies that are exposed by Mian Saifur Rehman. This brave investigative journalist is also too strong to be intimidated by terrorists. For example, see how bravely he exposes the reality in Balochistan.

[A defence official while talking confidentially] told this scribe that the miscreants in Balochistan are so crafty in their acts as well as in their propaganda methods that they don’t even spare people from the downtrodden classes. By picking up people from the lower strata, the miscreants are not only terrifying the society on the whole but also trying to create false impression that only the personnel of state machinery, especially the agencies, from distant, unsympathetic areas can indulge in such ruthless acts.

The official further revealed that, time and again, evidence has been collected by the state institutions to counter the negative, false propaganda of miscreants so that the people’s faith in their institutions be restored that they are the custodians of citizens and not their tormentors. And, moreover, according to the official, the system of accountability within the defence/security establishment is very effective.

Even popular political figures are no match for Mian Saifur Rehman’s bravery. After Imran Khan suggested that any operation in North Waziristan should follow the Swat model, this brave hearted investigative journalist quickly corrected any concerns that defence agencies would ever make any mistake.

Talking confidentially to The News the sources said it was wrong to assume that in case of any possible operation in N Waziristan, the forces will forego this strategy. In fact, the services’ planners and strategists are, throughout the year, evolving plans and strategies not only for enhancement of military capability and preparedness of the forces but also for ensuring the safety of the citizens in turbulent times, if any.

In no way the forces committed to the people’s defence could contribute towards the people’s insecurity. How then it can be construed that in future operations, the commoners’ safety and security would be ignored? The sources added at this stage: “Both the political leaders and the people should rather expect better strategy now. The armed forces’ strategists in the best interest of the people had done Swat planning. Now these strategists will do their utmost to ensure a better strategy for public safety.”

Some journalists may submit one or two reports on sensitive topics, only to find themselves unable to bear the weight of such danger in the hearts. Not so for the brave hearted Mian Saifur Rehman who regularly submits reports taking the courageous position of praising and defending Pakistan’s agencies and attacking America, India, and Baloch. Clearly he is the fearless journalist of Pakistan and will surely be the next Pakistani to follow Umar Cheema in receiving the International Press Freedom Award from Committee to Protect Journalists for his brave reporting.

For your fearlessness, Mian Saifur Rehman, we salute you.

Media Freedom…For Militants

April 2nd, 2014

The News (Jang Group)Any pretense of media freedom was washed away by the ink in Kamal Siddiqi’s pen when he wrote to instruct Express Tribune reporters to write “nothing against any militant organisationand its allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami, religious parties and the Tehrik-e-Insaf”. This is not a judgment against Express Media Group which has suffered repeated terrorist attacks, including the recent life attack against Raza Rumi. But it is worth noting that while pro-democracy voices of reason are being silenced both under threat and at the instruction of the media groups themselves, there is another voice that remains free to spread its ideology: jihadi militants.

A perfect example of this is the decision by The News (Jang Group) to publish an extensive pro-Taliban interview with jihadi leader Hafiz Saeed. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief excused militant violence inside Pakistan by blaming ‘foreign enemies’ and claiming that ‘Those who are destroying peace in Pakistan are directly or indirectly working on the foreign agenda’.

Hafiz Saeed speaking at rally

Meanwhile, the jihadi leader also justified use of terrorism.

“The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba is active in Indian-held Kashmir and pursing a legitimate struggle. It has no presence in Pakistan.”

This clever distinction between condemning terrorism inside Pakistan while promoting terrorism outside Pakistan has been Hafiz Saeed’s practise for long. He is known to give interviews where he condemns blasts inside Pakistan, but he also collects money and weapons and recruits militants to carry out terrorist attacks outside Pakistan.

In a fiery Friday sermon, Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed called on the people to wage jihad against America in order to save Pakistan and Islam. “Come to us. We will teach you the meaning of jihad… The time to fight has come.”

The sermon was held at the JuD head office Jamia Markaz al-Qadsia in Lahore, where Saeed had his own security. Some of the security personnel were also seen carrying weapons with silencers. A box was placed at the exit and men asked for people exiting the mosque to give funds for jihad.

Media gives a platform for militant leader Hafiz Saeed to project jihadi ideology, but silences moderate voices that criticise all violence and promote peaceful solutions and communal harmony. Ironically, by publishing jihadi propaganda and silencing moderate voices, media is contributing to the problem which has resulted in increased attacks on media. There is no easy solution to this situation, but promoting religious extremists like Hafiz Saeed is not the answer.

Express Tribune’s Blank Page: Censorship or Protest?

March 24th, 2014

Readers of Express Tribune were greeted with an unusual sight last week: A large blank space on the front page.

Express Tribune blank space

What was missing was a report, first published by The New York Times that accuses former DG-ISI Gen Shuja Pasha and an independent section of ISI of having either helped hide Osama bin Laden or, at the very least, having known he was in Pakistan the whole time.  The piece, by British journalist Carlotta Gall, makes serious accusations of aiding and abetting terrorism by national agencies. When the piece was first published, it was immediately dismissed by all and sundry, even before ISPR had a chance to issue a statement terming the report as ‘baseless and ridiculous‘.

Regardless of official denials and any doubts about the report’s authenticity, most newspapers did report on the piece – it was simply too controversial to ignore completely. These reports consisted largely of theories about why the report could not be trusted. One newspaper, however, was in a peculiar position. Express Tribune has an agreement to be the international distributor of New York Times content in Pakistan. In this role, they were responsible for printing the controversial piece and distributing with regular content. As seen above, though, the newspaper instead chose to replace it with a blank space. This decision has resulted in accusations of censorship against Express Tribune, but actually these accusations may be missing the point.

Much attention has been given to Express Tribune’s recent decision to avoid writing against ‘militant organisations and its allies‘ among other controversial topics. The decision was made in response to a series of attacks against Express Tribune offices by terrorist groups. But it should be remembered that jihadi militants were not the first or the only ones to attack journalists whose reporting they did not appreciate. In 2010, investigative reporter Umar Cheema was kidnapped and tortured. Cheema, however, lived to tell his tale. Saleem Shahzad was not so lucky.

When the New York Times published Carlotta gall’s report about the ISI knowing about Osama bin Laden, Express Tribune found itself faced with a difficult decision. It could publish the piece and not only run afoul of its policy against writing against terrorism, but also find itself on the wrong side of both militants and security agencies. This is where most media groups would replace the report with one of two things: Either a piece that criticises the report, or something that doesn’t mention it at all. Express Tribune did something else. They published nothing.

As noted above, this has been heavily criticised as self-censorship. But it can also be considered as part of a long tradition of journalistic protest against censorship also. In the 1980s, South African newspapers protested official censorship by including blank spaces where controversial information was supposed to appear. Similar protests have appeared in Chinese newspapers and Egyptian newspapers also.

Actually, the New York Times complaint about censorship may actually provide a clue:

Though the article appeared to have been excised from all copies of the newspaper distributed in Pakistan, the story seemed to be available to Pakistani readers online.

By publishing a large blank space, Express Tribune may have withheld the controversial information, but they also drew attention to the fact that there was something that someone powerful didn’t want people to read. And the fact that it is available on the internet means that readers, who are now alerted that there’s something what they’re not supposed to know about, can still read it.

So did  Express Tribune censor the piece? Or did they protest the increasingly narrow window of what we’re allowed to talk about? It’s entirely possible that they did both.

Is PPP The Last Acceptable Media Punching Bag?

March 20th, 2014

Express Tribune LogoWhen we were first shown a copy of the email sent by Kamal Siddiqi advising Express Tribune staff against writing against Jamaat-e-Islami, PTI, extremism, militancy, TTP or any other terrorist group, a debate began about whether we should say anything. After some heated discussion, an agreement was finally made that out of respect for the journalists who were facing the very serious life threats from Taliban militants, we would refrain from making any statement either supporting or condemning the decision by Siddiqi Saab, who is a respected and accomplished professional in our field. Not being in his position, we decided that we should not second guess his position. If Express Tribune began to write only about sport and entertainment…it would be sad, but there were certainly worse things to worry about. Since that time, though, something we did not expect has happened and we feel that we must break our silence.

It is one thing to tell staff to avoid criticising terrorists out of fear of retaliation. We can disagree on whether such a move is worthy of a media group of Express Tribune‘s prestige, but it is one that honest people can agree to disagree about. If Express Tribune does not want to be part of the solution, to terrorism, however, turning their guns on the only people who actually do speak out against the terrorists makes them part of the problem. Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing more and more of each day.

Last May, PPP lost re-election and were relegated to the opposition benches. Despite losing power, there were no threats made to disrupt the country through extended street actions. Jiyalas did not take up arms and begin savagely murdering innocents by the bus load in an attempt to force the government into ‘peace talks’. Rather, the outgoing party did what political parties are supposed to do in a democracy: They licked their wounds, accepted their defeat, and after some reflection, began re-organising and speaking out in opposition.

One of the most visible changes since PPP’s loss has been the emergence of Bilawal as the public face not only of the PPP itself, but as a boldly outspoken critic of the Taliban and religious extremism in the country. While some corners of media continue inciting attacks on religious minorities, Bilawal has appointed a Hindu journalist as his advisor and has Tweeted that he wants to see a Christian PM in Pakistan during his lifetime. In greatest contrast to most of the political leaders, Bilawal has spoken out strongest against the Taliban, terming them as ‘stone-age‘ and publicly urging the military to ‘beat them on the battlefield‘.

Having been instructed not to criticise JI, PTI, TTP, or other militant groups, Express Tribune is left with few punching bags. The PML-N is one, certainly, but criticising the party in power threatens the two A’s crucial to any media group: Access and Advertising. This leaves only the PPP for Express Tribune to beat up on. Recent pieces published by Express Tribune have taken a noticeably harsh tone, including terming Bilawal as ‘incompetent‘ and even going as far as predicting ‘PPP’s end‘.

The problem is not that PPP or Bilawal should not be criticised, but that if PPP is being criticised while others are not, the appearance is that Express Tribune is against liberals and, by not giving equal criticism to Taliban and their sympathisers, it ends up actually appearing like it is projecting a pro-Taliban ideology, even if unintentionally.

As we noted at the beginning, terrorist attacks against Express Tribune offices and the memories of journalists who were martyred make the decision of whether or not to continue reporting on terrorism a difficult one and one that only Kamal Siddiqi is in a position to make. With all due respect, though, media cannot decide to stop criticising one side only without at least the appearance of taking sides. If Express Tribune believes it is in their interest to stop criticising some political groups, they have a responsibility to stop criticising all political groups.   Express Tribune provides a valuable perspective in the national discussion, but only when it is free and impartial. When it is not, it can lead to confusion.

Shaheen Sehbai’s Latest: Making a Fool of Himself…Or Jang Group?

March 10th, 2014

This story was brought to our attention by a Tweet via Nadeem Paracha.

Following the link takes the reader to a most interesting post on Facebook by The Pan-Arabia Enquirer, a comedy website that publishes satirical news stories.

Shaheen Sehbai copies article from comedy website

There are two important issues here. First is that Shaheen Sehbai’s story includes fake information. The author gave so little attention to his source that he completely ignored whether it was even a serious media group or a comedy website. Presumably, the importance was given to whether the information fit the author’s narrative rather than whether it fit reality.

Also of concern should be this line from the Pan-Arabia Enquirer’s Facebook post: ‘No doubt as a mark of deep respect (and not painfully sloppy journalism), it doesn’t even bother to change a single word of our article.’ In other words, Sehbai did not even write the piece he took credit for, rather he did a sloppy cut-paste job and submitted it as his own writing. This might be expected from a lazy schoolboy, but surely Jang Group holds its Group Editors to a higher standard!

The Pan-Arabia Enquirer might be a comedy website, but there is nothing funny about Shaheen Sehbai’s blatant plagiarism, and neither is there anything funny about The News publishing fake news and misleading the public. Sadly, this follows a pattern with Shaheen Sehbai’s reporting that includes quoting unreliable sources and reporting incorrect information. The question that must be asked is where is the oversight by Jang Group? It is one thing for Shaheen Sehbai to make a fool out of himself, but quite another for him to once again make a fool out of his media group…

Why do Pakistani columnists make up history?

February 5th, 2014

Urdu columnists don’t let facts get in the way of a good story. That is the lesson taken from Professor C M Naim’s latest piece for Express Tribune, ‘Why do Pakistani columnists make up history?’ which examines recent works of several prominent columnists including Abdul Qadir HasanJaved ChaudhryDr Safdar Mahmood, and Orya Maqbool Jan. Each was found to have re-written the facts of history in order to make a more compelling story and promote a certain agenda.

C M NaimAbdul Qadir Hasan, a senior columnist with the Urdu Daily Express, recently wished to chide Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif concerning what Hasan thought had been a fruitless trip to the US. So he began by talking about the clothes that the PM and his entourage wore during that trip. Too many suits, too many new neckties, Hasan sneered. Learn from the Americans, he thundered. According to Hasan, President Obama also wore a similar outfit, but that black suit was “probably Obama’s only suit”. He then went on: “A little while back, when an American president named Reagan, got shot at, the security people went into a panic state. But the wounded president kept asking only about the suit he was wearing. It was his only suit. The head of the richest country in the world makes do with just one suit, but that is not for us.”

Never mind that Ronald Reagan, a rich film star before he turned to politics, was always a dandy dresser, and wore only bespoke suits made by a tailor in Hollywood.

Javed Chaudhry, equally prominent, also writes in the Daily Express. Not too long ago, he decided to comment on the state of ‘governance’ in Pakistan. His thesis: when a state’s writ disappears, the state itself soon disappears. He opened with a long reminder of the fate of the last Mughal emperor, ending with a grand flourish before finally turning to contemporary Pakistan. There were 6,000 soldiers with Bahadur Shah, Chaudhry declared, when Captain Hodson arrived at Humayun’s Tomb with only 90 soldiers. But the emperor readily surrendered “his ancestors’ swords” to save his own life. And then “the 90 troopers of Hodson disarmed those 6,000 Mughal soldiers and marched them back to the Red Fort. And there in the open, they hanged them one by one. Only those men survived for whom no rope was readily available to the gora force.”

Never mind if execution by hanging does not require a change of rope with every victim, or that Hodson could have as easily used a firing squad on the remaining few as was being done elsewhere in Delhi.

Dr Safdar Mahmood, a most senior columnist, writes in the daily Jang. Recently, he desired to inform his admirers that what mattered in human actions was jazba (emotion; sentiment). Let’s ignore that Iqbal had more profoundly expressed the same, invoking the concept of ishq(passion). Let’s simply follow Dr Mahmood, who opened his column thus: “The fact of the matter is that without jazba, nothing great can be achieved in life, and no great service can one do to one’s community … When, considering the leaders of the recent past, I seek an example for jazba. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan lights my way … .” He then gives several examples of Sir Syed’s all-consuming devotion to the cause of his college, ending with this anecdotal flourish: “Once he was trying to raise funds at a public meeting but the audience was not attentive. So he said, ‘When you go to enjoy a mujra, you empty your pockets, but you give me the cold shoulder while I speak of the community’s cause.’ A wit in the audience shouted: ‘We’d empty our pockets for you too if you performed a mujra.’ Sir Syed, with his venerable white beard, immediately tucked his shirt into his shalwar and started dancing. What do you think then happened? People took out whatever money they had in their pockets and put it in Sir Syed’s hands.”

Never mind that aside from there being no record of such an incident in any biography of Sir Syed, the men who wore shalwars never tuck their shirts inside when they dance, for that would be considered obscene.

Orya Maqbool Jan, another stalwart, writes for the daily Dunya. Concerned about the rate of literacy in Pakistan, he recently wrote a piece based on a 2012 Unesco report that suggested that the cohort of Pakistanis between the ages of 25 and 44 had a higher percentage of illiterates (57 per cent) than the next older cohort of those between 45 and 54 (46 per cent). And compared with both, the Pakistanis between the ages of 55 and 64 — i.e., those born between 1948 and 1957 — had the lowest number (38 per cent). The blame for the decline, according to Jan, lay on those who encouraged and patronised education through the medium of English — a dubious conclusion, though certainly not inane. However, Jan couldn’t resist a grand finish: “When in 1857, the British expanded their authority over the whole of India, they put into place their Western educational system in order to destroy the existing system. In 1879, Gazetteers were written for every district. They are preserved in the Punjab Archives. According to them, in 1879, the percentage of literacy among Indians was 90 per cent. When the British left this country in 1947, that rate had come down to 15 per cent. Education in this country was first destroyed by the ‘White Angrez,’ and now the same is being done by the ‘Black Angrez.’”

Never mind that, by that logic, Pakistan began in 1947 with a population that was only 15 per cent literate, and then in eight years that number more than quadrupled — thanks, no doubt, to bureaucrats like Mr Jan — before nefarious English lovers started the decline.

All four pieces of writing are lively; they are well-intentioned too. So why couldn’t their authors resist concocting ‘facts’ when there was actually no need to do so? Why couldn’t they resist making a rhetorical flourish even at the cost of truth? Is it because they believe an anecdote, even an invented one, will be more convincing to their readers than a stark statement based on rationality and logic? Or is it simply because they know they can do it — that they can get away with anything in Pakistan, so long it is in Urdu?

Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th,  2014.

Latest Media Hoax: No Agreement On Aafia Siddiqui

July 25th, 2013

aafiaLast week, reports of a breakthrough in efforts by some groups to repatriate Dr Aafia Siddiqui filled the print and electronic media as reporters rushed to report that the US had agreed to return the Pakistani neuroscientist in a ‘prisoner swap’. After several days of heavy announcements, statements by political and government officials, and countless hours of analysis by so-called ‘experts’, it turns out that this is nothing but the latest media hoax.

Headlines announced that ‘US Agrees on Aafia Siddiqui’s Extradition’ and even quoted spokesman for Foreign Office Umar Hameed confirming the US offer, and electronic media was filled with talking heads debating and analysing the ins and outs of the agreement.

Politicians, too, chimed in with their own statements. PTI gave a press release rejecting American conditionalities.

Today, though, we learned that all the debating, analysing, and responding to the agreement was nothing but thin air.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad has officially denied that any agreement has been made. But this is not even a case of premature celebration. It turns out there was never even a discussion of extraditing the convict Aafia Siddiqui.

“No, the United States government is not in discussions with the Government of Pakistan on a prisoner exchange or transfer involving Dr. Aafia Siddiqi,” said Meghan Gregonis, a spokesman for the US embassy…”The United States and Pakistan do not have and are not negotiating a bilateral prisoner exchange agreement.”

There are three important points to be taken from this case. The first is to show just how quickly lies can spread through the media and create confusion in even the highest levels of government. Politicians and high-level bureaucrats have once again been humiliated by the media that has given them false information. And the most humiliated of all, of course, is the national media which appears to be filled with gullible fools who will believe anything.

The second point is just how easy it should have been to avoid all of this humiliation. Missing from the false reports of the extradition agreement were statements from any American officials. Did no reporter call the US Embassy to ask for a statement? Did no editor ask to check their reporter’s evidence for such a serious story of international relations? Obviously, the answer is no.

The third point that should be considered not only by our dear readers, but by every reporter and editor also, is just how easy it has become for someone with an agenda to manipulate our media and use it as a tool not to inform, but to mislead the masses who rely on media for factual information.

The consequences of these failings are greater than the humiliation of certain egos only. If we as a nation are willing to be led by the nose, never asking critical questions and demanding the inconvenient truth instead of convenient lies, how can we address the grave issues facing the nation and overcome even the simplest of obstacles? The success of the nation requires a media that reports facts.

The Seamy Side of Attack Journalism

July 18th, 2013

The Nation (logo)The newly elected government of Nawaz Sharif may be enjoying less trouble with the media than his predecessor, but it should not be thought that he has been given a pass by the political attack dogs in media. A case in point is Sajid Zia’s piece, ‘The seamy side of NA-120, a tour through PM Nawaz Sharif’s constituency‘ published by The Nation on 17th July.

In the piece, Sajid Zia describes the sad conditions of the PM’s constituency which comprises The Mall as well as neighbourhoods like Band Road, Ameen Park, Sandha, Krishan Nagar and Sanat Nagar. According to The Nation‘s reporter, the problems faced by the people of NA-120 ‘are nowhere close to being solved even with Nawaz Sharif in government’.

Is this a fair and accurate depiction of reality? Nawaz Sharif took the oath of Prime Minister only six weeks ago! Does the reporter expect that Mian Nawaz has some magic ability to solve the problems of poverty, load shedding, and filthy water in a matter of days only?

The question should also be asked what headline would appear in The Nation if  Nawaz Sharif turned NA-120 into an earthly paradise. Would we not then see the same type of attacks that were published against the previous PMs, blasting them for spending on development in their electoral constituencies ‘at the cost of development in other areas of the country’? It would seem that PM Sharif is finding himself at the mercy of a typical media ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t!’ scheme.

Whether out of political bias or sensationalism, there seemed to be no end to the attacks against the previous government.  Now we see that the same yellow journalism is being used against the newly elected government even before it has had a chance to make its own fate.

Enough is enough. If we are going to be able to solve the problems facing our nation, no matter what constituency they are in, we need to be made aware of facts and authentic situations, not sensational political attacks.