Journalists Or Political Stooges?

Jan 29th, 2010 | By | Category: Daily Times, Dawn, The News

The embarrassing case of dual nationality and the national media

Pakistan media - journalists or political stooges?

Pakistan media - journalists or political stooges?

Earlier this week a report was widely circulated in the media that some government officials were holding dual nationalities. Only there was one major problem with the story — the journalists did not investigate, and simply parroted what appear to be false accusations. This embarrassing episode raises a vital question about our media: Does our news media employ journalists or political stooges?

Tuesday morning, the headlines screamed across the papers: The News“NA echoes with concerns over dual nationality,” DAWN“Lawmakers oppose dual nationality for civil servants,” Daily Times“MPs want to ban dual nationality holders from public office,” Frontier Post“Govt urged to suspend dual nationality holder officials.” Ill-informed parliamentarians had read off a list of names of public officials who supposedly had dual nationality including Shaukat Aziz, Moin Qureshi, Hamish Khan, Hussain Haqani, Azam Swati, and Salman Farooqi. The newspapers dutifully reprinted these names without ever verifying if they were true, accusing government office holders of having questionable loyalties.

The next day, the newspapers were forced to print retractions and corrections, but by this time the damage was already done. The newspapers failure to verify the accuracy of the accusations they repeated gave readers the impression that they were true. The rumour was already started that these officials are holding foreign citizenships, even though there is no evidence to support the claim.

The scandal here is not so much that some politician would tell a lie in order to make attention for himself or to slander some opponent. Sadly, we have become rather accustomed to that. Worse, the scandal is that the newspapers – all of them – printed these statements without even attempting to verify the claims, despite the fact that they know good and well that such accusations must be verified. This is a serious failure on the part of the media to perform its most basic job.

Proper journalists investigate and verify claims, they do not simply repeat wild accusations. This situation could have been easily and properly managed if these journalists had done their job and simply requested the evidence of dual nationality from the parliamentarians making these claims. If the politicians cannot or refuse to provide evidence of their claims, is that not a key part of the story? The journalists could have easily called the respective immigration authorities in the nation where the official supposedly has dual citizenship. Surely they have telephones in their offices?

And this was not some minor claim that was being reported. These were serious accusations with serious consequences. The Constitution disqualifies for some government offices anyone who acquires the citizenship of a foreign state. One would think that, considering the seriousness of these accusations that the journalists would take a few moments to verify the claims before printing them. But, rather, each of the newspapers ran the story without question, printing the accusations as if they were not journalists but political stooges working in street level politics.

People rely on the media not to be an echo chamber of lies and half-truths used for political gamesmanship. Journalists are supposed to be more than just film stars lip-syncing to the playback of political speeches. The people rely on the media to report hard facts, not rumours and gossip. If the journalists who are writing for major newspapers are not checking their facts, it calls into question the very reliability of the media itself.

The media should do more than issue a correction on their websites. These are serious accusations that these news organizations have simply parroted. They owe their readers and the accused a proper response by investigating the claims and publishing new stories that state very clearly what the facts are in this case.

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