'Shoe Incident' a Real News Story? Or Political Theatre?

Aug 9th, 2010 | By | Category: Geo TV, Jang, The News

Shoe throwing gained global prominence as a protest tactic in 2008 when Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at the then-President of the US, George Bush. Since then, it has been a popular form of protest for many different nations. The same tactic has been used against Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in 2009, and throwing shoes at politicians has become practically a sport in India.

The strange part of this latest shoe throwing story is that the public rally was filmed and broadcast on television – and nobody saw any show throwing.

Anti-government commentators promise that video evidence will appear soon, but still no one has seen it. In the meantime, news media has been reporting the incident and airing interviews with the alleged shoe-thrower, substituting rumour and conjecture for actual evidence of the act.

Even the alleged-shoe thrower’s story is a curious claim. According to The News report,

Sardar Mohammed Shamim Khan, 57, said Asif Ali Zardari’s speech had incensed him so much that he spontaneously decided to unlace his size 10 leather shoes and hurl them at the bewildered Pakistani leader.

There are several problems with this man’s story that any junior reporter should be able to pick up on. First is the shoe size. Perhaps it is mere coincidence that Mr Shamim Khan reports that he threw a “size 10 leather shoe”, which is the exact same description of what was thrown at Mr Bush two years ago.

But Mr Shamim Khan’s claim that his action was “spontaneous” is even less reliable when it is learned, as reported by The News, that Mr Shamim Khan “managed to sneak into the invite-only political rally”. Was this really a spontaneous act? Or a carefully planned bit of political theatre?

There are several signs that perhaps it was the latter.

The day after the alleged incident, The Nation reported, an Internet game appeared encouraging people to throw the shoe at the president. What The Nation failed to ask, though, is how this game was created and distributed so quickly after the incident unless it was prepared before the incident even happened? And if the game was already in the works, how could Mr Shamim Khan’s act really have been spontaneous?

That’s not the only troubling aspect of this entire episode. Writing for the popular blog All Things Pakistan, Adil Najam reports that almost immediately after the alleged incident, someone began circulating fake photographs of the incident on media email lists.

And now there is the fiasco about the shoe hurling. It is still not clear what really happened. But the fuss created around it is huge. As is the embarrassment: not just for Mr. Zardari, but for Pakistan itself. If ever there was need for proof that we are all purveyors of tamashbeen politics, this is it. Within hours of the news a clearly fake ‘picture’ was being touted by a supposed ‘journalist’ on a media email list. Indeed, the supposed photo of Mr. Zardari being hit by a shoe was so clearly and nauseatingly a fake that one had to wonder about the deprivation of the mind which would even offer it in this age of the magic of Photoshop.

Adil goes on to offer a scathing criticism of Pakistan’s media which has been all too quick to report rumours and unsubstantiated claims around the alleged shoe throwing without doing the slightest bit of actual research.

But at some point one also starts getting tired of the relentless badgering by some in the mainstream media. Government actions, such as the reported closure of GEO and ARY in certain areas, are to be condemned and condemned unequivocally. But those in the mainstream media need to realize that even as they create public opinion, the media is itself being judged by public opinion. The line between news and entertainment has long been erased as has been the line between fact and opinion. Now we find ourselves trespassing into the realm of slander.

As one of the institutional that many Pakistanis – including this Pakistani – has been proud of in recent years, this slide is disturbing to watch. Vigilance and transparency for those in power – as for example on the fake degrees issue – is the media’s duty. But ultimately the media will be judged – within Pakistan and abroad – for its sense of balance and fairplay. A sense of media integrity is a precious commodity for any society. A society as precarious as Pakistan’s can ill-afford the embarrassment of that integrity being questioned.

As for shoe-hurling as a means of political commentary, there are still too many things that we do not know about the incident (including the government insisting that it never even happened).

If there are still so many unanswered questions, another question must be asked – Who is behind this, and what are their motives? In fact, certain media companies have been quick to re-frame the story from one of political protest to one of tension between “the media” and the government, with “the media” being the victim.

The News, which has been severely criticised for anti-government political bias, wrote 25 percent of its “Top Stories” accusing the government of targeting Jang Group and Geo (The News is part of this same Jang media empire) – the same as about the floods which have affected millions of citizens.

In effect, Jang Group appears to be using the claim of alleged “shoe throwing” as a means to create the perception of a more general “media vs. government” tension. This has resulted in the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Syed Sumsam Ali Bukhari, issuing a statement assuring everyone that the government will not impose curbs on the media.

The reaction from certain sections of the media is both disappointing and deeply troubling. Whether or not someone threw a shoe at the president should be easily confirmed or denied. If the media cannot provide actual evidence beyond the claims of political operatives, it should not report the incident as having actually happened. What is more disturbing, though, is that these same news organizations continue to fail to provide answers to obvious questions about Mr Shamim Khan’s claims and the timing of things like an Internet game and doctored photos that appear to be pre-planned before the supposed “spontaneous” incident occurred, and instead have begun attempting to create the perception of government crackdown on media freedoms, despite lack of evidence for such a claim.

Whatever happened – if anything – should be investigated and reported by the news media. But journalists and media organizations should not be involved in creating or advancing political theatre.

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  1. What I fail to understand and still couldn’t decipher as to why Zardari was accepted as Caretaker Federal Minister by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993 because in 1990 it was Ghulam Ishaq Khan who had filed the Corruption References against Asif Ali Zardari – Asif Ali Zardari accepted the post of Federal Caretaker Minister Water and Power in the care taker government of the Prime Minister Balakh Sher Mazari after the dissolution of the National Assembly of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League second time by the same President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993. –

    Roedad Khan then mentions the indiscretions which he found in the person of GIK like induction of Asif Ali Zardari in the interim cabinet. Then GIK ’shielded some of his sons-in-law’ which the author describes as GIK’s ‘Achilles heel.’ Reference: PAKISTAN – A DREAM GONE SOUR Roedad Khan Oxford University Press 1997

    NOTE: Roedad Khan was the go between Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Benazir and Zardari and the same Roedad Khan filed petition against NRO:) what was the need ????

  2. Roedad Khan filed petition against NRO but who will look into the affairs of Roedad Khan???

    Now, my friend Roedad Khan, perpetual bureaucrat steeped in the art of bureaucracy, yet again ready to serve his country, has reacted in a letter printed in this newspaper on July 26. Apparently, his innocence has been injured. He denies having had any connection with those in President Ghulam Ishaq’s secretariat who were paid to ‘fix’ the 1991 elections. We never learn from history-3 By Ardeshir Cowasjee 11 August 2002 Sunday 01 Jamadi-us-Saani 1423 http://www.dawn.com/weekly/cowas/20020811.htm

  3. Roedad Khan and NRO

    Mehrangate exposures which had recently appeared in the press, asking how the inquiry was progressing, and giving his own views. They exchanged information, each believing the other was being informed. They talked about how COAS Aslam Beg (sporter of shades in the shade) managed to get Rs 14 crore (140 million) from Yunis Habib, then of Habib Bank. This was deposited in the ‘Survey Section 202′ account of Military Intelligence (then headed by Major-General Javed Ashraf Kazi). From there Rs 6 crore was paid to President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s election cellmates (General Rafaqat, Roedad Khan, Ijlal Hyder Zaidi, etc.), and Rs 8 crore transferred to the ISI account. We never learn from history By Ardeshir Cowasjee dated 21 July 2002 Sunday 10 Jamadi-ul-Awwal 1423 http://www.dawn.com/weekly/cowas/20020721.htm

  4. Roedad Khan and NRO!

    The PML-N has fielded Roedad Khan as the covering candidate. Fourteen nomination papers of 13 candidates were filed in Lahore, 17 of eight candidates in Karachi and one in Peshawar. No papers were submitted in Quetta. Election Commission’s secretary Kanwar Mohammad Dilshad told Dawn that nomination papers of nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan had not been submitted. 32 file papers for presidential poll By Iftikhar A. Khan August 27, 2008 Wednesday Sha’aban 24, 1429 http://www.dawn.com/2008/08/27/top1.htm

  5. Same Shaheen Sehbai while in exile in USA after 2002.

    Will You Please Let Asif Ali Zardari Go! Shaheen Sehbai

    Farooq Mazhar hosted a grand dinner for me and also invited about 50 other common friends, among them senior journalists, senior politicians and officials. The dinner was a great success, drinks were flowing, food was in abundance and groups of like-minded people were discussing politics, and everything else, in a free and relaxed atmosphere. “QUOTE” Issue No 26, Jan 20-26, 2003 ISSN:1684-2075 satribune.com.

    Shaheen Sehbai: Accountability of Benazir & Zardari.

    http://chagataikhan.blogspot.com/2009/11/shaheen-sehbai-accountability-of.html

  6. Vol-2, Jul 27- Aug 02, 2002 ISSN:1684-0275 satribune.com

    Shaheen Sehbai praises Asif Ali Zardari.

    http://chagataikhan.blogspot.com/2009/11/shaheen-sehbai-praises-asif-ali-zardari.html

  7. Ok, so your agenda here is to claim that no shoe throwing incident happened and even if it did, it wasn’t spontaneous. To back your assertion that it probably didn’t happen, you cite the governments claim, and the fact that no video is available of the incident. You also blame Pakistani media as being unreliable, in an effort to obfuscate the incident. Would you also claim that the British media is unreliable and has an agenda. Why then did the most credible names in journalism, the BBC and the Guardian, publish reports of the same incident including the fact that “Khan was cautioned by police before being released.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2010/aug/09/pakistan-president-shoe-throwing-birmingham) Lies right? The British media is publishing lies too. They don’t check facts before they report.

    Another silly point you raise is that the shoe thrown was size 10, the same size as the shoe thrown at President Bush. Really! In what bizarre world does that mean anything. “Any junior reporter should” realize that their arguments seem like a joke, if they bother to include this kind of silly logic, in their article.

    Moreover, to back your assertion that even if the shoe throwing incident is real, it was orchestrated, you cite as evidence a game that appeared the next day and the fact that someone was sending around a fake photo of a shoe hitting the Pres. You clearly aren’t a fan of the flash and java based internet games. Or maybe even very familiar with things like the internet and technology. There have been a number of games online that let you throw shoes at former Pres Bush, and a bunch of other characters. You can choose who you want to throw a shoe at or even upload a picture and then throw a shoe at it. Creating a version of the game with a pic of Zardari, would take minutes, not a day. Also, what exactly do you think a doctored photo of a shoe hitting the President proves. That whoever was behind the shoe throwing wanted to send a picture that was clearly doctored. More like someone either got their kicks out of doing so, wanted to seem self-important, or perhaps get paid. Are you claiming that invisible hands meticulously hatched this plot and then also sent a photo “so clearly and nauseatingly a fake that one had to wonder about the deprivation of the mind which would even offer it in this age of the magic of Photoshop.” A five minute photoshop job? Where a pic of the Zardari’s head has to be put in place of someone else?

    You seem to have a much clearer agenda than any of the Pakistani news channels.

  8. Mackers,

    Thanks for your questions and the opportunity to clarify some points.

    1) As I make clear, it’s not that the event did or did not happen, it’s that media immediately began reporting the incident as if it did happen, despite the fact that there was a lack of video evidence. Moreoever, reports in much of the media carried a specific political narrative that went unquestioned.

    2) BBC and The Guardian are certainly credible names in the media, but they are not infallible. Both have published erroneous information in the past, and it becomes especially easy for foreign media agencies to play the role of political patsy when they rely on less credible media sources (e.g. Jang Group) for information.

    3) I never claimed, as you try to suggest, that a reporter should include the fact that the description of the shoe was the same as in the Bush incident. What I said was that this was curious, and should have triggered questions about the authenticity of the claims. At any rate, I clearly wrote that this could be mere coincidence, so please do not try to mischaracterize my words.

    4) While I have certainly played some Internet games, I am not a computer programmer and could not tell you how long it takes to create such a thing. But the point is that both with the computer game and the photoshop image (which appeared almost immediately on media email lists), the timing was so fast that it should raise questions about whether there was a coordinated scheme. We stand by this point and, without offering an opinion one way or the other, believe it remains a valid question to be answered.

    5) The agenda of this blog is quite clear and we are quite open about it: Our agenda is to check the media for factual accuracy and political bias.

    Thank you for reading, and please let us know if we can clarify anything else for you. Certainly we are no more infallible than anyone else. We have made mistakes in the past that have been caught by readers, especially Mr Aamir Mughal. If you find something inaccurate in one of our reports, we will be happy to openly acknowledge and provide a correction for the mistake. If only the news media held it self to the same standard.

  9. When it comes to channels and especially news channels in Pakistan, its all about money, and its all about who got better ratings and to do this, they have to break news every time so that people are tuned on to their channels. So if someone throws shoe at Mr Zardari, it does not mean that they have to make big issue out of it and since Pakistan is a volatile region, it can lead to destabilization which would not solve problems but would further make them worse so media should verify the facts first.

  10. It boggles my mind when the media created a hue about shoes being thrown at the President inside a meeting of the PPP. Can one ask as to how it is possible for one to throw shoes on the Co-chairman of a party in a gathering where thousands of his supporters are present? In an age when all carry a camera or a phone that has a camera, why wasn’t a single picture taken?
    Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and President’s Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar present at the event have firmly stated that they did not witness any alleged incident of a shoe thrown at the President. If anyone has any video clip or evidence of the charge, let they bring it before the media and nation, they both challenged. Hitherto the conspirators have failed in bringing any proof. Anyone who has watched live telecast of the President’s speech broadcast on all major news channels on Saturday didn’t show any disorder during the address of the President.

  11. “news media has been reporting the incident and airing interviews with the alleged shoe-thrower, substituting rumour and conjecture for actual evidence of the act”
    Are you saying that no journalists were present for the speech, and that their first-hand accounts of the incident doesn’t count as evidence, but rather conjecture?
    “BBC and The Guardian are certainly credible names in the media, but they are not infallible. Both have published erroneous information in the past, and it becomes especially easy for foreign media agencies to play the role of political patsy when they rely on less credible media sources (e.g. Jang Group) for information”
    Do the British Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian not check simple verifiable facts that they report, such as claim that the dude was lead away by and warned by British police but was then released. And what possibly makes you think that these news services rely on Pakistani media sources, without any verification. Also, on the rare occasion that they are wrong, do they not print retractions? Go back to the Guardian link I posted and you will see the difference between information they present and information they claim as having been reported by other media sources. For example, they present as fact that Mr. Khan was led away by police and let off with a warning but add the caveat “reportedly” when saying that PTV was the official broadcaster of the event but that it has been reported that they edited out the part where the shoe was thrown. Also, if the incident didn’t occur, and the British police is reported in the British press as having led away and warned the fellow, don’t they issue clarifications. If the government really wants to claim that no such incident occurred, as it does, they could even specifically ask the British police to issue a clarification. This obviously they haven’t done, and from the looks of it can’t really do, because said incident did occur. In addition, while claiming that the British press does also time to time get things wrong, you refuse to pay attention to the fact that this was not one major publication, but all. With all the evidence, instead of admitting that the event did probably occur, you would rather doubt even the version of events reported by the British press, than relent.
    To support your own insinuation that the incident was pre-planned, you present two extremely flimsy arguments. What’s more egregious is that you make presumptions which could easily have been looked in to, for their authenticity – a standard you would yourself hold even junior journos to. You claim it suspicious that a video game was available on the internet the day after the incident, ask how a game could be prepared in such a short span, and then suggest the opposite, that it was prepared in advance. All this without even having checked up on the nature of the game, what it entails, and how much effort would actually go in to making one of these. As I already pointed out, there are already games available on the internet where you can throw a shoe at different characters and even upload an image and then throw a shoe at it, and that this would not take more than a couple of minutes. Your other piece of evidence, for your insinuation, is based on a doctored photo which someone was claiming was an actual photograph of the event. You took this to mean that the invisible hands were trying to peddle their ‘truth’. This based on a picture which your cited source, Adil Najam, calls “clearly and nauseatingly a fake,” and which was, from what I can tell, never even aired despite you indicating that some of the news commentators were playing for the orchestrators, of the incident. Come on now, you are try to hold journalists’ foot to the fire, while yourself clearly missing the standard you expect of others.
    It does piss me off that a website that portrays itself as a media-watchdog would be willing to promote its own conjectural theories about the version of events, while it accuses the Pakistani media of doing same.

  12. It is a common practice of the media and it’s anchors and analysts to agitate and incite against president. Pakistani[anti democracy] media and it’s[Frankenstein]anchors proudly presenting and even rejoicing one mean and condemnable act. Instead of highlighting significance of trip, media is projecting Shamim Khan as national hero, a person who violated ethics of politics. Is it responsible journalism? It just shows how media acts recklessly and irresponsibly. Pakistani media employing cheap methods of giving rise to misguided fear within the audiences at all levels and blackmailing various democratic entities by employing third grade journalism tactics such as news leveling and news sharpening has become a hallmark of the local media industry. Seriously, there is a need for some check and balance, because this monster is certainly spinning out of control!
    It appears that the most TV channels are focusing more on marketing the news and their main issue is rating rather than reporting responsibly. None of these media channels for once thought of the implications of such irresponsible reporting, perhaps the only thing on their mind was to sensationalize the news and develop conspiracy theories. There is absolutely no justifications for the unethical coverage of one of the most shameful incident. Miserable reporting only draws more attention to the need of reinforcing media ethics and to form regulatory bodies monitoring violations.

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