Media Double Game Against Bilawal?

Aug 6th, 2010 | By | Category: Daily Times, Dawn, Express Tribune, Jang, The Nation, The News

Last night Bilawal Bhutto Zardari released a statement about his immediate future. In short, he says, “I am currently looking into the possibility of studying law” and will not be jumping into politics as widely reported. According to his statement, Bilawal felt compelled to act out, “to counter some inaccurate information that has recently been reported”. While there was certainly much media attention to the alleged speech planned for Saturday, what is more telling is the way Bilawal’s future and his more immediate decision to open a donation center for flood victims has been treated in the news media.

On Thursday, Dawn reported that “Speech by Bilawal fuels talk of political career”.

But now he has finished his history degree at Christ Church, seen as one of the most aristocratic of Oxford’s colleges, speculation is growing about what steps he will now take towards his political destiny.

Bhutto, who is already chairman of the PPP, is expected to speak before several thousand of its supporters at an event in Birmingham, central England, alongside his father who is visiting Britain.

It was not so far fetched for media to report that Bilawal would be at the rally scheduled for Saturday since Waheed Rasab, the PPP’s coordinator in Britain, told reporters as much. But the truth is, this was mostly speculation.

As a result, Dawn reported today about Bilawal’s statment.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Thursday spoke for the first time in many months, only to categorically deny the prevalent impression created by a section of the media that he was to launch his political career over the weekend by attending a public meeting in Birmingham.

One has to wonder, with all the speculation about whether Bilawal will make a speech and enter politics, all the party coordinators and “anonymous sources” who were telling what was going to happen – why did no journalist actually bother to ask Bilawal what he thinks?

More disturbing, though, is that even Bilawal’s statement has not stopped certain media companies from continuing political attacks in their reporting.

The Nation‘s report on the statement includes the following conclusion:

The sources said that PPP took decision not to launch political career of Bilawal Bhutto Zaradri due to severe criticism launched by the media and politicians that in tough circumstance, President Zardari has left for UK to launch political career of his son.

Nowhere in the article does it reveal who these “sources” are, or what their evidence is for this claim, of course. This seems like a pretty transparent attempt for the media to take the credit for something that Bilawal is doing. So, when Bilawal does something they don’t like, it is his fault. When he does something they do like, The Nation claims credit.

The News, however, is even worse. On 1 August, the newspaper wrote that Bilawal “would do well by stepping in to cancel the ceremony and instead setting about to prove himself a worthy leader through more solid action rather than flamboyant gestures.”

Upon the release of Bilawal’s statement, however, The News quickly changed its tune. This morning’s newspaper is actually critical of Bilawal’s move.

Chairman of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari dramatically declared last night that he would not address the Birmingham rally on Saturday, August 07, putting cold water on the plans that he would be launched as the party chief and adding a new sense of drama to the countrywide campaign against President Zardari.

In a dramatic climbdown, the 21-year-old son of Benazir said that he would continue with his studies and wanted to stay away from the media. The move comes as a humiliation to the party mandarins who were preparing for weeks for his grand entry into politics.

It is worth noting here that The News may have slipped in admitting that there is a “campaign against President Zardari”. Of course, this should not be a surprise to readers of The News, which has a sordid history recently of publishing unsubstantiated political attacks.

But it is especially important to note that the political bias of The News is clearly evident in their inability to give proper recognition to Bilawal even when he does something that the very newspaper says it hopes for! Rather than praising Bilawal for canceling his appearance and setting up a donation point for flood victims, The News calls the move “a humiliation”. This is a double game against Bilawal – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

To their credit, Dawn, Daily Times and Express Tribune reported the development without infusing an opinion into their reporting. This shows that there are some journalists content to simply report the facts, and this should be encouraged.

Still, we must look at this episode as a part of the ongoing problem with media speculation, wishful journalism, substituting opinions for facts, and playing political double games. Bilawal aside, we all deserve better.

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