Conspiracy Media Harming Pakistan's Image In The World

May 27th, 2010 | By | Category: Conspiracy Theories

ReputationThe conspiracy culture in our media is a growing story in the international press, and it is harming Pakistan’s image in the world. This is something that needs to be addressed because it is more than simply a minor annoyance, it threatens to have far-reaching consequences for our nation. A nation’s media is often considered a reflection of that nation. If our media is dominated by fools, it does not reflect well on us as a nation.

The New York Times yesterday published a blistering profile of Pakistan’s media reaction to the Faisal Shahzad case. The Times reporter simply asks people for statements and allows their responses to speak for themselves. The result, when read outside the echo chamber of Pakistani TV shows and newspapers, is embarrassing.

Americans may think that the failed Times Square bomb was planted by a man named Faisal Shahzad. But the view in the Supreme Court Bar Association here in Pakistan’s capital is that the culprit was an American “think tank.”

No one seems to know its name, but everyone has an opinion about it. It is powerful and shadowy, and seems to control just about everything in the American government, including President Obama.

“They have planted this character Faisal Shahzad to implement their script,” said Hashmat Ali Habib, a lawyer and a member of the bar association.

Who are they?

“You must know, you are from America,” he said smiling. “My advice for the American nation is, get free of these think tanks.”

It’s funny, Hasmat Ali Habib’s reference to a ‘script.’ This is something that none of the conspiracy theorists can produce (the actual script), but every single one of them refers to in their statements. It’s almost as if…they are reading from a script.

Of course, what’s happening is that people like Zaid Hamid and Ahmed Quraishi come up with these wild conspiracies, and then people just repeat them without thinking. Actually, that is rather like a script, isn’t it?

Consider this video produced by The New York Times:

Notice all the different people repeating the same story, and yet none of them have any actual evidence for the claims that they are making. Actually, if you ask for their evidence – how did they come to this conclusion – they will point you to each other. “You must read so-and-so.” “You must watch the interview with so-and-so on Merey Mutabiq.” There is no evidence, there is only an echo chamber. People repeating each other’s words with no critical analysis, no research, no thinking at all.

Adnan Rehmat may have a good point that this problem is exacerbated by the Americans not doing a good enough job communicating with our news agencies, but that does not explain why someone like Hamid Gul would be interviewed about Faisal Shahzad, or for Zaid Hamid to appear as a guest on Dunya News.

The fact that a newspaper could run a front page story with a fake image and a false story about a New York Subway poster is humiliating. How hard would it be to verify this story? All the newspaper had to do was pick up a telephone and make one phone call. Apparently, that was too much work.

This is not the first time that the international community has noticed the growing problem with conspiracy theory culture in Pakistan. Remember the profile of Pakistan’s media in last December’s The Washington Times? Or the Reuters blog post about our conspiracy theory problem? Do you remember this video from last November that embarrassed many of our popular musicians?

The conspiracy theorists like Zaid Hamid and others are more than just fools to be ignored – their words and their messages, repeated and reprinted in mass media, contribute to the way the rest of the world sees us.

When people think of Pakistan, do we want them to think of our beautiful land, our rich and vibrant culture, our proud history? Or do we want them to think of people who can’t be bothered to make one phone call to check their facts; who are so naive that they will believe anything, no matter how unlikely and far-fetched; who are so stuck in a state of denial that their news sounds like it is read from rejected Bollywood scripts?

This lack of professionalism reflects badly not only on people like Zaid Hamid and the producers who put them on the air, it reflects badly on all of us. Mr. Thomas Friedman has written a famous book titled, “The World Is Flat.” In his book, he describes how technology has made the world a smaller place, where improved transportation, satellites, and the Internet have made us all more interconnected than ever before. People in the rest of the world now see our news websites, they see our TV shows on YouTube, they hear what our news anchors are saying, and they read the editorials written in our daily newspapers. If all they see is foolishness, how do we expect them to take us seriously?

This is our problem. We must take it seriously, or else the rest of the world will not grant us the same honour.

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