Open Letter to The Telegraph (UK)

Nov 25th, 2009 | By | Category: Conspiracy Theories

In his recent column, “Pakistani TV performing vital democratic function,” Mr. Hasan Mansoor does a disservice to the facts about Pakistan’s media. While TV executives like Azhar Abbas may tell reporters that “their news helps inculcate democracy and gives a voice to the disenfranchised,” their actions tell a different story.

Rather than reply to media critics like Nadeem Paracha, Abbas instead suggests that criticism is part of a defensive strategy by the government. He claims that media critics fail to “counter argument with argument,” but this is simply not the case. For the BBC, Ahmed Rashid wrote a very eloquent and well documented piece about the glut of conspiracy theories in Pakistan’s media.

Rashid’s piece echoed sentiments in Adam Ellick’s excellent post on the New York Times’ blog that featured a video about the failure of pop-music stars to address Taliban violence, choosing instead to focus on anti-Western conspiracy theories. That Pakistani media – especially TV – has become a veritable marketplace of nutty conspiracy theories is not news.

Unfortunately, the failings of Pakistan’s media do not stop with harmless conspiracy fantasies. Take, for example, the recent international outcry around Pakistani newspaper The Nation in which a respected American journalist was accused, absent any evidence whatsoever, of being a spy for both the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.

Did the paper apologize for the obvious ethical problems, not to mention life-threatening dangers, associated with this lapse in judgment? No. Rather, the paper published a semi-coherent diatribe by TV personality and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, Ahmed Quraishi, in which Quraishi plead victimhood for The Nation having to suffer criticism for an act that could result in the murder of another American journalist in Pakistan. Have we already forgotten Mr. Daniel Pearl?

Talat Hussain’s claim that, “We adopt very democratic methods. Here you find people from both sides,” is eerily reminiscent of similar claims to “Fair and Balanced” reporting from a certain American TV station. This American station also proclaimed that it was giving a voice to the disenfranchised, despite the fact that independent research found that it’s viewers were less well informed than those of other major news outlets. Imagine a media market saturated with FOX News clones. Hardly a service to democracy.

Sadly, Pakistani TV today serves less a democratic function than a demagogic one. Though free from government intervention and control, TV executives and editorial boards have overwhelmingly opted to promote the sort of fantastic conspiracy theories one expects from basement-run Internet message boards, not responsible commercial media outlets. Mr. Abbas and his colleagues are doing democracy in Pakistan a disservice, and would be well advised to clean up their act.

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