Wishful Journalism (part 1): The End of the Zardari Government

Mar 9th, 2010 | By | Category: Uncategorized

This is the first post in a series on ‘Wishful Journalism’ – an unfortunate practice that seems to be taking place more than actual reporting in some parts of the media.

There is a difference between wishing for something and reporting something. Unfortunately, this is too often lost on our journalists who prefer to actual reporting to only say something that they wish would come true even if it is not based in any facts. This is not journalism. It is only wishing.

From the day of his election as President, Shaheen Sehbai has been predicting the failure of President Zardari. A few months later, Sehbai continued his wishful thinking:

My considered opinion is that the present Zardari-led set-up will not last long as it has been structured on a wrong and distorted political premise as result of which the key players who have emerged as main power wielders were never in the picture, neither of Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, which actually got the votes and won the seats in the February 18 elections, nor anyone else. And these new players have failed to establish their political legitimacy and moral authority through their actions after coming to power.

Seven months later, Zardari was still in office. It seems the key players had more political legitimacy than perhaps Mr. Sehbai had hoped. Rather than admit his mistake, however, Mr. Sehbai simply wished harder.

The PPP and its Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have now started talking in exceptionally confident and aggressive terms, the latest statement made to Geo TV’s Hamid Mir stating categorically that he was ready to create history – which in other words suggests that he was about to stage a political and moral coup against his own party co-chairperson, Mr Zardari, because his government had turned into a joke and Mr Zardari, exercising all the powers, had failed to come up with any successful initiative or policy.

Again, several months pass and, despite all of Mr. Sehbai’s wishes, Zardari remained in office. Again, rather than admit his mistake, Mr. Sehbai published more Wishful Journalism.

The State Department, specifically Hillary Clinton, has almost categorically declared that they are no longer interested in saving President Asif Ali Zardari if he falls in his current battle for survival, waging in the superior courts of Pakistan. But the message Pakistanis have been sent is to get over with the in-house turmoil and transition as quickly as possible to stabilise the democratic system and focus on the war on terror.

Once again, Mr. Sehbai’s wishes were denied.

Of course, Shaheen Sehbai is obviously not the only Wishful Journalist who has written about Zardari’s imminent removal as President. Dr. Shahid Masood wrote his wishes last October, saying that the Americans were going to remove Zardari from power.

After meeting top political and defence decision-makers here in the US capital, where I was invited by the National Defence University (NDU) for a two-day seminar on the anniversary of 9/11, I was told in unambiguous terms that a change in Pakistan was inevitable for US policy interests, although Washington does not intend to disrupt the system.

Several important Pakistani political players have also been conveyed the same message by the US political and defence establishment, including the MQM and recently the ANP, whose chief is travelling with President Asif Zardari in New York.

The Americans were only a new twist on an old wish, though. Several months before, it was the “minus one formula” that was secretly worked out between the Chief of Army Staff, PM Gilani, and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif that was going to remove Zardari from power. Then there was the mid-term elections that were going to take place and re-shuffle the entire government. Or was it the NRO verdict that was going to remove Zardari from power?

Can you see the pattern?

‘Wishful Journalism’ is practiced by writing something that you wish is true. When it turns out not to be true, you do not admit your mistake and offer a correction. Rather, you wait a few months and then say your wish again. Maybe this time with a new twist. Instead of Army overthrowing Zardari, it is the Americans! Or the judiciary! Either way, it is still a wish based on no supporting facts. It is still not actual reporting, and not real analysis.

Making wishes is not the same as proper journalism. It is fine for me to wish to be rich and good looking, but no matter how many times I write an article saying I am rich and good looking, it does not make it come true. Actually, it is just a waste of everyone’s time.

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