Nadeem Paracha: The myths, the madness, and the media

Dec 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Uncategorized

Nadeem Paracha who is quickly becoming a major voice of reason in the popular media has a new blog post today on that takes to task the talking heads of the media for irresponsible and sensationalist reporting. 

After talking of the dangerously concocted narratives peddled by the state, government, and religious parties of Pakistan that I mentioned in my last blog, let’s now turn our attention towards the political and social narratives emerging from the country’s highly animated electronic media.

Still basking (nay, indulgently bathing) in the sudden spat of freedom provided during the early years of General Pervez Musharraf, the private TV news channels, initially in their attempt to differ from the confining traditions of state-owned television, emerged sounding largely progressive and remaining as close to ‘objectivity’ as was possible – at least until they discovered the commercial wonders of what is called the political ‘talk show.’

It wasn’t until early 2006 that many of these talk shows started to devolve and mutate into the kind of rampant and anarchic ogres that they are today. Many of them actually did a wonderful job passionately reporting the tragic 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, in the process also facilitating the unprecedented interest that common Pakistanis exhibited in helping the quake victims.

But, alas, it seems this episode, which, I believe, finally brought the private electronic media into the forefront, had a rather disastrous impact on the nascent egos of various talk show hosts and TV reporters.

Suddenly, they took the noble idea of missionary journalism, and instead of continuing to tread on the ‘objective middle ground,’ began moving way towards the populist right. And what’s more, once their bosses decided that this new trajectory was actually generating better monetary results (à la FOX News), the channels never looked back, sloganeering all the way to the bank!

Personalities such as Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir, Talat Hussain, Kashif Abbasi, Ansar Abbasi, Zaid Hamid, Shireen Mazari have all emerged from the abovementioned scenario. As part of this largely reactionary and at the same time monetarily cynical phenomenon is the transformation of non-media personalities into regular TV feasts.

These include men and women who have become mainstays on talk shows as ‘guests’. Retired generals, small-time politicians, vernacular columnists and urban maulvis whose job it is to maintain the duration of their individual 15 minutes of fame by  sounding off the talk show hosts’ populist and flammable innuendos.

Since the Taliban and the inhuman havoc they’ve been perpetrating is the single most critical issue impacting the country at this very moment, let’s evaluate the popular news channels’ handling of this ordeal.

Recently, many TV talk show hosts and their favourite sounding boards (‘guests’), have come under fire from certain ‘liberal’ sections belonging to the print media, academia, and in the blogsphere.

The more sensationalist and unsubstantiated accusations against some talk show hosts of being ‘ISI agents’ and ‘extremists’ can be put aside as subjective groaning. But then so can what usually comes out of the mouths of many hosts and their guests.

In the last three years at least, TV talk shows have openly thrived on building whole ‘debates’ and arguments on what almost entirely belongs in the floozy and demagogic conspiracy theory sphere.

The topics of the show may have a ring of intellectualism and serious policy matters, but it does not take much time for the so-called ‘debate’ to spiral down into sloganeering, wild theory casting (by the ‘guests’) and self-righteous preaching (by the hosts).

I use the word self-righteous because even though most talk show hosts are having a heck of a time being this new kind of TV celebrity with impressive material and social perks, their rhetoric seems to be surfacing from a besieged mindset. Without having any qualms or need for humility or modesty, they are quick to present themselves as heroes, besieged by the powers that be.

The truth is, the media has never been in the kind of free-floating situation it is today. Though the Musharraf regime blundered by putting an old-fashioned authoritarian cap on it in 2007 – not for entirely wrong reasons, mind you – the current coalition government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), is actually the one finding its democratic credentials taken hostage by a hostile electronic media that is sumptuously feeding upon the many lingering misconceptions about popular democracy that still linger in the minds of Pakistanis.

So what is that narrative echoing in the corridors of the TV news channels that is making some of us suspect the ideological and political dispositions of so many talk show hosts? One way to find out is to track this narrative’s evolution, especially in regards to the matters of terrorism and extremism.

Till 2003, when, comparatively speaking, suicide bombings were a rare occurrence in Pakistan, they were reported by the newly inaugurated private TV channels as part of a simple narrative: the bombings were being undertaken by indigenous sectarian organisations in cahoots with Al Qaeda in reaction to the United States’ post-9/11 action in Afghanistan.

The narrative was simple, but there was a lot of truth in it as well. Even till this day, sectarian organisations such as the (supposedly banned) Sipah-Sehaba  and Lashkar-e-Taiba are believed to be doing the ground work for the Taliban and shady Al Qaeda elements.

In the wake of Pakistan’s more aggressive involvement in the US-run ‘war on terror,’ the above narrative began being tempered by talk show ‘guests’ – mainly from the Jamat-i-Islami, and certain retired generals who still seemed nostalgically stuck in the 1980s’ ‘Afghan Jihad.’

The Pakistan Army’s half-hearted operations in the sensitive Taliban-infested territories too did not help in this respect, and neither did the right-wing provincial government of the NWFP (MMA) that attempted to ‘keep the peace’ by playing the sympathetic ostrich in the volatile province.

As one started seeing talk show hosts and their guests now condemn Pakistan’s involvement against what were clearly monsters, one was left baffled when the reason for their outrage had something to do with ‘tribal Pathans having great honour and appetite for revenge!’

Of course, it was conveniently forgotten that the ‘honourable’ tribals from whose ranks the Taliban were emerging found nothing so dishonourable about slaughtering not only fellow Pakistanis, but also their own Pushtun kinsmen?

But just when this contradiction and the utter feebleness of it started to become apparent, Musharraf blundered by delaying taking action against the violent Lal Masjid clerics and their army of self-righteous thugs.

The Musharraf dictatorship clearly manhandled the whole issue. But it is also true that electronic media coverage of the Army’s action against the terrorists at the mosque is yet to be paralleled in its utter show of irresponsibility, including in-studio and on-site reporting and ‘comment’ by reporters and hosts that sometimes bordered on actually eulogising and applauding the violent holy thugs.

I still wonder how much of the manic and rabid reactionary sparks that one saw flying around the TV studios at the time contributed to the construction of minds seeking violent revenge in the shape of suicide bombings against the common citizens of Pakistan?

The entirely lopsided and irresponsible coverage of the Lal Masjid is clearly the local electronic media’s darkest hour, one that was only partially rectified by the same media’s following fetish: The Lawyers’ Movement.

With the rise in terrorist attacks on Pakistani civilians, the narrative that put the action of Muslims seeking ‘justified revenge’ against fellow Muslims began weakening, until the sudden appearance of the likes of Zaid Hamid (on a struggling news channel and a music channel!) and Shireen Mazari.

Conspiracy theories about Mossad/RAW/CIA involvement in the matter that were once restricted to obscure crackpot websites suddenly exploded onto the Pakistani mainstream media scene. Some suggest this was done to justify the Pakistan Army’s operation in the north-west, making it look like a fight against infidels (as opposed to it being a civil war against monsters created and ignorantly tolerated by us alone).

So the following has become the new narrative, not only on TV talk shows, but consequently, and dangerously, within much of society: ‘Those conducting suicide attacks on common men, women, and children in Pakistan, cannot be Muslims. They have to be infidel foreigners, most probably funded and trained by RAW, Mossad, and even the CIA. These agencies want to take over Pakistan’s nuclear assets and control the imminent rise of Islam.’

Much psychosomatic gibberish emerges from this unsubstantiated and delusional narrative peddled every single day on talk shows. And if this is the only answer that these ‘experts’ have for the besieged people of Pakistan, then, I’m afraid, we truly have become a wretched nation which has decided to hold on to half-truths, myths, and fantastical stories as a means to safeguard our ‘honour,’ instead of depending more on reason and a positive exhibition of self-criticism. There is no bigger honour than saying and respecting the truth, no matter how disturbing it might be.

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  1. Talat Hussain, AAJ TV, “Ghairat – Honour” & Express News.

    As per AAJ TV Website: One of Pakistan’s biggest talk shows Talat Hussain hosts Pakistan’s most respected and daring political analysis show, Live with Talat. Featuring the most trusted social and political intellectuals of Pakistan, the show brings in-depth analysis of the day’s biggest events and avoids the clutter to focus only on what’s important. Live everyday from the seat of power, Live with Talat is a must watch to understand the future socio-economic direction of our country. REFERENCE: Live With Talat

    Talat Hussain is presently the executive director News and Current Affairs of AAJ Television. He also contributes for Newsline, Time Magazine and occasionally contributes to India Today. He has worked with International channels like CNN and American Broadcasting as producer and has done extensive reporting for Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. As a media person he has vast experience in establishing news and current affairs systems. He has held key positions of Director, News & Current Affairs, with Pakistan Television Corporation, Prime Television (UK), ARY ONE, and Telebiz. REFERENCES:

    Last week Mr. Talat Hussain [LIE with Talat] also wrote an article in Express Newspaper and declared that some people have been targeting him with a nick name “Ghairat Brigade”, and he wrote whatever may come, he {Talat} will not be in “Bayghairat Brigade”. Ok, agreed, very well. Let me refresh the memory of Ghairat Mand Talat Hussain and his cohorts. Talat after quitting PTV had approached ARY TV and joined ARY TV as a Host and Anchor 2003/2004. One cannot imagine that Talat being a “Seasoned” Current Affair Journalist wouldn’t have remembered the below mentioned case of ARY. 159. Asif Ali Zardari ex-MNA (Received kickbacks from SGS PSI Company, Grant of license to ARY Gold). REFERENCE: The accused and accusations Sunday, November 22, 2009 [The News International Jang Group of Newspapers]

    Yesterday [12-12-2009], Mr. Talat Hussain has strike again by writing a Letter in Daily Express News Paper [rebirth of Irhsad Ahmed Haqqani in Daily Expressnews] which was addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani and advised him as to how to run the Government. One wonders as to why these Journalists, Analysts and TV Anchor don’t run for Public Office by participating in General Eelections, the letter of Mr Talat Hussain is as under:

    Mr Talat Hussain often writes for Express News. Talat is so “Ghairatmand – Honourbale” that he almost “forgot” to remember this as well:


    11 – Sultan Ali Lakhani & family Pakistan Ranking: 9 (tied at 9) Worth: £400m ($800) Industry: Businessman

    The Lakhanis are currently having a hard time at the hands of NAB. Sultan Lakhani and his three brothers run this prestigious group and the chain of McDonald’s restaurants in Pakistan. NAB has alleged the Lakhanis of having created phoney companies through worthless directors and raised massive loans from various banks and financial institutions. Sultan is currently abroad after having served a jail term with younger sibling Amin, though the latter was released much earlier. NAB had reportedly demanded Rs 7 billion from Lakhanis, but later agreed they pay only Rs 1.5 billion over a 10-year period. Lakhanis, like their arch-rivals Hashwanis, are the most well-known of all Ismaeli tycoons. Their stakes range from media, tobacco, paper, chemicals and surgical equipment to cotton, packaging, insurance, detergents and other house-hold items, many of which are joint ventures with leading international conglomerates. Though Lakhanis are in turbulent waters currently, the success that greeted them during the last 25 years especially has been tremendous. They have rifts with large business empires despite being known fur their genteel nature. Whether it is any government in Sindh or at the Federal level, Lakhanis have had trusted friends everywhere, though the present era has proved a painful exception. REFERENCE: Pakistans Rich List of 2008 Posted by Teeth MaestroDecember 8, 2007



    NAB in tight corner as businessmen refuse to pay dues By Kamran Khan – Two important business families of the provincial metropolis who had earlier agreed to pay about Rs1.8 billion to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and various banks – an offer that won them an immunity against allegations of financial impropriety and release of their key directors from prisons – have reneged on their promises. The defiant businessmen, senior NAB officials concede, currently constitute the single most important challenge to their drive against white-collar crime in the country. Senior NAB officials have confirmed that Sultanally Lakhani and his three brothers, who partly run and operate the Lackson Group of Companies, and the Mcdonald’s food restaurants in Pakistan, after two initial payments of Rs100 million each, have stopped further payments for an agreed amount of Rs1.5 billion.

    The NAB had alleged that the Lakhani brothers created phoney companies through worthless directors and raised massive loans from various banks and financial institution. Similarly, Irfan Iqbal Puri, Karachi’s leading supplier of petroleum products from the Gulf countries, has refused to match the agreed amount of Rs300 million after an initial payment of Rs230 million to the NAB. Puri, the NAB had alleged, compromised the quality and quantity of petroleum products in supplies to the Pakistan State Oil and caused huge financial loss to the national exchequer. Sultanally Lakhani, who was jailed for about nine months, and Irfan Puri, who had spent almost an equal amount of time in the NAB and jail custody, have since left the country and have taken up residence in the United States and the United Kingdom. Their attorneys have challenged the signed deals with the NAB claiming that the deals were signed under duress. Circles close to both the persons said that if the “businessmen are harassed in this country you can not stop negative impacts”. “We are initiating fresh probe and action against the Lakhanis and Irfan Puri,” said a senior NAB official. “The NAB will make sure that they stand by their agreements. We can’t allow people to hoodwink the NAB.” A present official of the NAB said that in the past the Bureau had brought historical achievements and brought back large amount of looted money. A big and highly reputed entrepreneur, who knows much about Lakhani’s case, while talking to The News categorically said that it was sheer injustice to those businessman who were law-abiding and doing their business honestly and making some achievements by working hard day and night. He said that a businessman obtained loans of billions of rupees, invested it in his business by some other name, earned a lot of profit, multiplied his wealth, brought new products in the market but declined to return the loan, and when he was caught he was given ten years more to pay back the loan in instalments. What are the laws of this country that when this person again defaulted no one is making it point that till the time he was caught, how much he had expanded his business and how many products he had introduced using these loans, he said. He said that it would not be surprising that he would again be given the facility of repayment in instalments for further many years and these episodes would go on. When asked about remedy, he said that it would be fair that the amount due on such defaulters be secured by confiscating their business units of equivalent value plus interest and selling these in the market. He added that it was injustice with other businessmen and the country to give any concession to such habitual defaulters who were continuously expanding their business and bringing new products in the market and not paying back heavy loans by bringing up the plea that they were in loss in the company for which the loan was taken. “It’s a fraud with the nation,” he said.

    On the other hand, various legal experts are wondering if the NAB had foolproof cases against the accused businessmen, why did the NAB top brass left big legal holes in their deals with the businessmen who somehow managed that the NAB make no official mention of the specific charges against them and the entire evidence collected in the course of investigation be “dismembered”. Sultan Lakhani and his brother Amin Lakhani, who is also Honorary Consul-General of Singapore, were arrested on May 8, 2000 by the NAB wing of the ISI. Amin was released after a few days, but Sultan spent another nine months in various NAB detention centres and Adyala prison before his lawyer and the present Attorney-General of Pakistan, Makhdoom Ali Khan, reached an agreement with the then NAB chairman. NAB officials privately concede that in case of Sultanally Lakhani and other key directors of the Lackson Group of Companies, the then NAB leadership had not applied the legally tenable practise of plea bargain and instead had decided to supervise a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Lakhani brothers and various financial institutions. They further said they were looking that how such a deal had been made. Was there a helping hand or was it done innocently?

    Sliding down from its initial demand of Rs7 billion, the NAB agreed with Makhdom Ali Khan advocate of the Lakhani brothers that they pay an amount of Rs1.5 billion to the lenders in 10 years. The NAB agreed that in the MOU that the Lakhani brothers would not accept any guilt in the document and instead the MOU would reflect them as buyers of assets of nine companies in exchange for the payment of liabilities. The NAB had found, in its investigation, that all these companies were actually front for the Lakhani brothers, who consistently denied the charge. Furthermore, the NAB agreed to withdraw its reference against Sultan Lakhani and various co-accused, including the senior executives of the Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan who had extended the loans without proper securities and background checks. The NAB investigators were also asked to stop probe against nine other companies of the same group. The investigators were also told to return the collected evidence to the respective financial institutions. The accused persons who benefited from the NAB deal included Sultan Ali Lakhani, Iqbal Ali Lakhani, Zulfiqar Ali Lakhani, Amin Muhammad Lakhani, Sahibzada Naushad Ahmed, M Muneer Adenwalla, Hassan Ali Merchant, Tasleemuddin Batlay, Aziz Ebrahim (Lakson Group), Anjum Naveed (General Manager M/s Project Development Services), Muhammad Sirajul Hassan (former chief officer at Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan’s regional office in Karachi), Khalid Mehmood Nagra, Syed Mehboob Hussain (office in-charge of the IDBP) and Rehan A Siddiqi (Manager Documentation Department of IDBP, Karachi. NAB officials said that after much pressing the Lakhani brothers had only paid Rs200 million and were now clearly avoiding the payment of remaining Rs1.3 billion. Irfan Iqbal Puri, who used to be a key middleman between the country’s top buyers of petroleum products and the Middle Eastern suppliers, made the single largest payment of Rs235 million to the NAB following his three-month-long interrogation by the NAB investigators, who apparently confronted him with the evidence allegedly showing kickbacks and commissions received from the Middle Eastern suppliers, who allegedly compromised quality and quantity of petroleum products sold to Pakistan.

    At the time of his release Puri, NAB officials said, pledged to pay a total sum of Rs300 million, but subsequently he refused to make the final instalment of Rs65 million and instead confronted the NAB with a lawsuit claiming the return of Rs235 million that he had already paid to the NAB. In Puri’s case the NAB downplayed its agreement with him to an extent that no official announcement was made about the plea bargain deal. At the same time, the NAB withheld its evidence and findings against Puri from any public and legal scrutiny, a measure that has now become the strongest argument in the Puri’s case against the NAB. NAB officials said that the plea bargain deals are meant to recover the looted money in exchange for some grace to the accused persons who get the benefit of not going through the public trial and exposure of their misdeeds in public.

    But the process is attracting some criticism, as it allows the senior NAB officials to exercise their discretion in settling the amount for the plea bargain. In Irfan Puri, Usman farooqi and Admiral Mansurul Haq cases the money recovered by the NAB may match their ill-gotten wealth, but in some cases some key suspects won their freedom at a cheap cost. For instance Huzoor Buksh Khalwar, a former Karachi Metropolitan director, who was arrested after a NAB investigation found that he had allegedly amassed wealth to the tune of hundreds of millions of rupees, was set free after a brief (according to the NAB standards) three months’ confinement and a nominal payment of Rs16 million. Khalwar was one of the beneficiaries of a Rs600 million octroi fraud unearthed in the KMC in 1998. NAB officials privately acknowledged that the plea bargain deal with Khalwar could not be counted as one the best deals the NAB has struck with the country’s most corrupt bureaucrats. REFERENCE: NAB in tight corner as businessmen refuse to pay dues By Kamran Khan



    KARACHI: The Independent Media Corporation (Private) Ltd. (Geo TV Network) and the Independent Music Group (SMC Private) have served a legal notice on Sultan Ali Lakhani, the Editor in Chief, Printer and Publisher of the daily Express. The notice was sent for printing false and concocted stories about the deal struck between the Independent Media Group, the Independent Music Group and Pakistan Television over the rights to telecast the upcoming Champions Trophy and World Cup which will be shown on Geo TV’s new sports channel, Geo Super. The notice demands that an apology be published within seven days and be given the same prominence as the original news items.

    The news items published in the Express gave the impression that Geo gained a hefty financial profit by striking this deal and that PTV lost heavily in the process. The truth is that had the deal not been struck, the tournaments would have only been beamed on Geo. Geo and PTV signed the agreement in the greater national interest because cable TV is not available in some smaller towns and villages in the country. There are many examples of such collaboration between private and state-owned channels. The same formula was applied in this case too. PTV was given two options and the corporation chose the one that suited it. There was an agreement on this option and a deal was signed. As a result, PTV viewers will now be able to watch these two important tournaments and the corporation will be able to reap profits too. It must be mentioned that a PTV spokesman had pointed out the benefits of the deal and said that it would be a profitable one. The Express in its report on the deal did not approach Geo for its version and failed to mention the PTV spokesman’s statement on the subject which reflects its unprofessional and mala fide intentions.

    The reports published in the Express also claimed that PTV would be forced to show the Geo logo, which is simply untrue. It may be mentioned that it was PTV that approached Geo in connection with the agreement. In any case, Geo being such a popular channel does not need the support of PTV to project itself. It is testament to Geo’s popularity that it has won numerous national and international awards in its short existence. This includes an award from the largest and most prestigious TV and radio organisation, The National Broadcasters Association. Geo’s coverage of the recent elections and its ability to show the results earlier than other channels won it plaudits from the Journal of Mass Communications. According to Gallup, Geo is the best and most watched Pakistani satellite channel. The prestigious New York Times has stated that Geo has changed the entire media scene in Pakistan. The Pakistan Advertising Association presented Geo with the best Electronic Mass Media award. Geo also won a special award at the Monte Carlo Television Festival. The channel is also the only Pakistani channel to receive the CNN Young Journalist Award. A number of newspapers and channels— including the New York Times, Washington Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Gulf News, Times of India, The Hindu, Aaj Tak, Kyodo, and Al-Jazeera – have made positive references to Geo and have praised its distinctive style.

    In view of all these points, we believe that the false, baseless and mala fide reports about Geo are motivated solely by vendetta. The group’s associated newspapers, Jang and The News, have in the past printed stories about the dark deeds of the publisher of The Express which have never been contradicted. Among the news printed were items about the large bank loan defaults, arrest by NAB, fleeing the country, the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee etc. Lakhani was arrested by NAB in connection with certain cases. Among the allegations on which stories were published were the case of taking and defaulting on huge loans for a granite and marble processing plant, tax and excise fraud, hiding foreign properties, the smuggling of 11 containers, causing huge losses to PTCL, etc. There were also reports that Lakhani set up fictitious companies and borrowed huge amounts from banks in this connection. The News, in April 2004 published a story stating that he agreed to pay 1.5 billion rupees worth of loans but only paid 200 million. In July 2006, The News published a story about the PAC proceedings regarding Lakhani’s loan default. It was clear from all these reports that the Lakhanis were spreading their business through public funds and were not paying back loans taken from the banks and other financial institutions, which caused a huge loss to the national exchequer. REFERENCE: Legal notice to Sultan Lakhani for publishing concocted stories Wednesday, October 11, 2006 News Desk



    KARACHI: While the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) made an official confirmation to the Lakhani family in Karachi about the arrest of Sultan Ali Lakhani on a wide range of criminal charges Tuesday evening, official word was still awaited until Tuesday night about the whereabouts of Sultan’s younger brother, Amin Lakhani. Leading businessman Amin Lakhani also runs the Karachi operation of the fast food chain, McDonald’s. Beside running the McDonald’s franchise in Karachi, the Lakhani brothers run Lakson Tobacco Company, a textile unit, an internet company called the Cybernet and Century Publications. Sources informed the News Intelligence Unit (NIU) that the Lakhnis are now being questioned on alleged charges that include: questionable loans worth hundreds of crores of rupees for setting up granite and marble processing plants; bank default; evasion of excise duty; concealment of foreign property; links with the smuggling of 11 containers case; causing huge revenue losses to PTCL through illegal termination of long distance calls and financial dealings with Mr. Hakim Ali Zardari. REFERENCE: Lakhani brothers in NAB hands


  2. General (R) Pervez Musharraf, Dr. Shazia Khalid & Dirty Role of Dr. Shahid Masood.

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