Shaheen Sehbai’s article in The News today crosses the line from reporting to attempting to influence the public perception of current events. I would not even call this analysis, as mostly it is Shaheen Sehbai making statements without any evidence or sources. I suppose this should come as no surpise after Imran Aslam, president of International Media Corp which owns the Jang Group, admitted that they use anti-government bias to boost their ad revenue. But when are we going to at least require some facts and evidence before allowing all such rumours and biases to be published as if they were facts?
The ridiculousness of Shaheen Sehbai’s latest article is immediately apparent from the title alone. Because he does not make a point that is easily turned into a headline, the editors at The News ended up stringing together a series of statements. At 38 words long one cannot help but laugh.
The politics of Raiwind and the Mian brothers; Sharifs fear mly intervention if they go all out against Zardari; sticking to principles may cost them Punjab govt; with Zardari on the rampage, will the Army be sucked in?
The headline is so ridiculous that it even necessitated shortening words like ‘military’ and ‘government’ to make it fit! Actually, though, the ranting style of the title is perhaps a perfect way to introduce the incoherent rambling that follows.
But let’s take a look at the meat of the matter and decide whether or not Shaheen Sehbai is actually reporting or just making stuff up.
Shaheen Sehbai for the PML-N
Shaheen Sehbai right out of the gate sounds like an official spokesman for PML-N. He claims that the Sharif brothers are caught in a ‘Catch-22′ because they are faced with wanting to maintain order to avoid a military coup while also wanting to stand by their ‘principles’ in opposing the present government. Consider how this is framed by Sehbai:
Their dilemma is complex and not an easy one to resolve. If they go all out against Zardari, they think the military camel will again get the chance to put its neck in the political tent, ultimately driving out the genuine residents into a hot desert sun.
If they do not stop Zardari & Co from the massive plundering of state institutions and misuse of political authority, they run the risk of being left out and have to face the genuine criticism of being the friendly opposition, with the PPP running away with everything.
Shaheen Sehbai refers to the ‘Mian brothers of Raiwind’ but I almost expected him to start calling them the ‘Farishtein brothers’ or maybe just ‘the Angels of Punjab’. How else can one describe it when Nawaz Sharif is described as having “confined himself into such a cocoon of self-righteousness that he has ignored the pressing needs and absolutely essential political maneuvers that he must have already made to keep his party in power”. Suddenly Nawaz Sharif is a dervish, whirling away the days while the evil mastermind is plotting and scheming from Zardari house.
I will not list the controversies that surround the Sharif brothers. Certainly, they are no angels. But who in politics is a perfect angel? Or has Shaheen Sehbai challenging Ahsan Iqbal as the new PML-N Secretary of Information?
Meanwhile, while he praises the purity of the ‘Angels of Punjab’, Shaheen Sehbai has no problem throwing accusations of the worst sort against the nation’s president. What, for example, does Sehbai mean by “the massive plundering of state institutions and misuse of political authority”? Certainly a writer with the years of experience that Shaheen Sehbai has knows better than to make such accusations with no facts or evidence. If he has some facts about plundering or abuse of authority, please write about those incidents specifically so they may be brought to light. But to simply make serious accusations without being able to point to some specific incident is not reporting, it is only slander.
And Shaheen Sehbai does not stop there. He goes on to accuse Zardari of plotting to withdraw the 17 March 2009 Executive Order which restored the judges. Again, where is the evidence for such a serious claim? Is Shaheen Sehbai’s crystal ball telling him some magical rumours again? Later in his column Sehbai drops even any pretense of honesty and, instead of pretending there is a rumour about withdrawing an Executive Order, he claims that the government is “threatening to withdraw their Executive order and throw them on the street by Rehman Malik’s executive power”. Who has been threatening? Who has done this alleged act? Or can Shaheen Sehbai not even remember his storyline from a few paragraphs before? First it comes from his crystal ball, then it becomes a threat of Rehman Malik? This is not journalism, this is simply fiction writing.
What is worst, though, is when Shaheen Sehbai tries himself to instigate a military coup. What else could he be attempting when he writes lines like, “the PPP is not worried about any military intervention as privately Zardari and the main PPP stalwarts boast that they have used the Sindh Card in such a way the Army will never dare to touch them again”. Are these ‘PPP stalwarts’ boasting privately to Shaheen Sehbai that the party dares challenge the military? Or his he, perhaps, simply making it up?
Of course, this is nothing new to Shaheen Sehbai who has long tried to instigate the military and government to go to war with each other. For Shaheen Sehbai, they are all just carrom men for his own game playing.
Judge Jury and Executioner
Unfortunately, playing political games in the media can have real consequences. We are not all wooden pieces in a parlour game, we are actual people. When so-called journalists like Shaheen Sehbai write these political diatribes that they masquerade as ‘news media’, they can have a dastardly influence on real events.
Jawed Naqvi, writing for Dawn today, tells the story of a media frenzy in India that may result in a man’s death. The man in this case is Afzul Guru, convicted for having some part in the attack on Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001. Though his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2004, his execution has been postponed while the government hears a petition for clemency due to questions of whether or not he received a fair trail. But here is where things get problamatic.
A notable aspect of the Supreme Court’s judgement centred on its conclusion that the death sentence on Guru was expected to placate “the collective conscience of society”. Now there is only one way in which the collective conscience of the society can be divined without a referendum or an election. It is through the media. The Express evidently is among the chief keepers of the public conscience. Another as it turned out was the NDTV news channel.
Just a few weeks ago NDTV was airing the views of “we the people” who were adamant demanding the public hanging of Guru and Mumbai attack convict Ajmal Kasab. Some wanted their eyes to pop out of the sockets, others pleaded that a jail sentence would better ensure that the recipients went mad with their suffering. As soon as the mercy petition was filed for Guru, NDTV immediately aired his confessional interview. The interview was rejected by the Supreme Court as material evidence. But the keepers of India’s collective conscience – its media – continued to use it to mobilise public opinion against Guru’s mercy plea. Human rights activists saw it as an attempt to influence the Presidential pardon adversely.
Now consider the following passage from Shaheen Sehbai’s column:
Another key confusion which refuses to go away is the perceived threat in the minds of the Sharifs, or Nawaz Sharif in particular, about the threat of military intervention. The Army has walked away from politics and Zardari has realized and capitalized on this, at least so far. He has taken positions which otherwise would have been difficult but he is now confident he can handle the Army. Nawaz Sharif is not so confident, but why?
The answer to this question is simple. Nawaz thinks he would be the one to lose more if a situation was created in which the Army walks back in. But with this fear in mind, he has stopped even playing the normal role an opposition should play. The massive loot and plunder and the spate of stories of corruption, misuse of authority, wastage of funds etc is all going by default with no one to challenge it effectively either in parliament or on the streets. Press conferences and TV interviews cannot stop this rot and this has not yet been understood by Nawaz Sharif.
The Army-PML-N relations and any misunderstandings if they had, should have been cleared when Shahbaz Sharif and Ch Nisar Ali Khan met the Army chief openly, and secretly, several times. Why has that not happened is a mystery but the Sharifs have to realise that the way Zardari is on the rampage, he will ultimately suck the Army in, whether the Sharifs like it or not. So why not check Zardari politically before he makes it impossible and the only way then left is through an outside intervention.
How can this be read as anything but a dangerous attempt to influence both the PML-N to force a coup d’etat?
The Devil in the Detail
And this is where the truth finally comes out. Shaheen Sehbai tells what his true intentions are in the closing paragraphs.
The answer to all this PML-N confusion and dilemma is for Nawaz Sharif to come out of his cocoon, stop worrying about the Army intervention, stand strongly behind the judges and the judiciary, a free media and confront the government by political moves and hard criticism where needed.
The political moves must include forgetting the Charter of Democracy for the moment as it is already irrelevant in the present context, throw the PPP out of his coalition in the Punjab by getting the PML-Q people back through a face-saving formula, giving them importance and attracting others, re-arranging the decks in the NA by forming alliances and mending fences with MQM, ANP and JUI and doing the political act of throwing out the PPP through the democratic process.
It is hard for me to demand that the Charter of Democracy should be buried, as I am one of its initiators, but when signatories do not adhere to the agreements, it becomes redundant by itself. The Sharif brothers must wake up before Zardari and Associates who are claiming that 2013 will the year the PPP will sweep the Punjab, becomes a reality.
Even his ‘Angel’ Nawaz Sharif is merely a carrom man for Shaheen Sehbai’s strategy to instigate a coup d’etat and throw the Charter of Democracy in the dustbin. He would like Nawaz to play his role in the game quickly, though. For Shaheen Sehbai fears that in the 2013 elections, Punjab voters might elect PPP. I suppose this is just too much democracy for Shaheen Sehbai when voters elect the wrong party!
Shaheen Sehbai doesn’t have to be pro-democracy. He can even be pro-coup if he really wants to. This is a democracy and he has the freedom to believe what he wants and vote how he wants. That is his right. But making up stories and using his privileges as a Jang employee in an attempt to manipulate events is both unethical and irresponsible. That’s not journalism, it’s just propaganda. Please, stick to real journalism and stop playing games with people’s lives.