Are There No Consequences In Pakistan Media?

Pakistan Media Noise Machine

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American media is certainly not without problems, and no honest person will say that there is no bias or incorrect information published in American media. But media companies in that country do try to hold their employees to a certain high standard, and there are consequences when those reporters or TV anchors are caught violating those standards. Sadly, the standards in our own media seem to be completely missing.

We have written before about the cases of Janet Cooke and Stephen Glass – American reporters who were caught writing fake stories in order to boost ratings. These two and many others have been fired for what is considered an unforgivable act in American journalism. But it is not just faking stories that will ruin a career in journalism in other countries.

In the US, media companies have little patience for news journalists and anchors making outrageous statments. This week, American reporter Juan Williams fired by National Public Radio yesterday for making Islamophobic comments on the Fox News TV channel. Earlier this month, a TV anchor for CNN was fired after calling another TV anchor a “bigot” and making anti-Jewish statements during a radio interview. CBS News fired a popular radio talk show host after he made prejudiced comments about black women.

Now, let us review some recent incidents in our own media that have gone without even the slightest reprimand.

On 7 October, a reporter for The Nation, Syed Fawad Ali Shah, sent a message to popular press email list “Media Tribe” that says,

They know that the PPP aka wolkpack of looters headed by pirate prince Zardari came into power after licking the boots and …. of US officials and assured that they will have no objection over any US activity including attacks.

Journalist for Express Tribune and Aaj TV, Syed Ali Raza Abidi, is a popular Twitter user who regularly posts items that are political controversial including unsupported allegations against different political parties. For example, on 20 September he wrote:

MQM criticizes PPP openly – What is PPP afraid of? If MQM is carrying on Target Killings in Karachi – Prove it, and book em! #Pakistan

Then wrote one minute later:

But if PPP cannot prove it, then its THEM! for sure.

On 1 October, Syed wrote the following attack on Zardari:

Today President #Zardari spoke in #Sindhi, continuing his support for #Feudalism in #Pakistan – #Message #PPP #MQM #APML

How is this considered anything but political attacks? Are these Syeds supposed to be journalists or political operatives?

And they are not the only ones guilty of such acts. Jang Group sometimes seems to specialize in political attacks.

Ansar Abbasi’s attack on Pervez Musharraf was shockingly unprofessional, as we reported at the time. Also, Amir Mateen’s expose about Mian Nawaz Sharif was little more than a gossip column and attempt to insult the politician’s character, and yet The News published it anyway. Jang’s employee Shaheen Sehbai himself has a notorious record of publishing baseless and defamatory accusations.

Any of the above reporters would be severely reprimanded if not sacked outright in most countries, not for criticising a politician, but for being beyond the pale and engaging in character assassination instead of factual reporting. But here, for some unknown reason, there seem to be no consequences for such outrageousness. Actually, it seems to be rewarded.

Pakistan is a democracy and each person is entitled to his own opinions. Syed Fawad Ali Shah, Syed Ali Raza Abidi, Ansar Abbasi, Amir Mateen, Shaheen Sehbai and all the others can believe what they want to believe and say what they want to say. But free speech does not mean a free pass to do anything you want without consequences.

Ansar Abbasi is free to say whatever he wants, but he does not have the right to be paid by Jang Group for doing so. Therefore, if Jang Group, Express Tribune, Aaj, The Nation, and other media companies continue to employ people who make outrageous and politically biased statements without any discipline or consequences, it is reasonable to infer that these media companies are supporting those specific opinions. And if that is the case – if media companies are supporting a particular political opinion – they stop being news organizations and have actually become political propaganda machines.

Any profession has rules that must be followed. Police cannot arrest a man simply because they do not like his face. Judges cannot sentence a man simply because they do not like his family. Politicians cannot take money for themselves simply because they are in power. And journalists cannot be political operatives if they are also to be trusted to report the news.

Pakistan has a free media which should be a national asset. Instead, it is quickly becoming a noise machine.

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13 Responses to “Are There No Consequences In Pakistan Media?”

  1. Sanaa Khalid says:

    I agree to the fact that media has been given a long rope to cultivate spasm but don’t you believe you have used the same medium to dissuade the ones you have named. The political situation is this part of the world is such, that the one who barks loudly is heard the most. Whereas in other parts, particularly in U, people are more cultivated. Oh yes, we believe in the subjugation of truth by the media. In the US, you should know the 5 major coorps that run the media. They are also run by the green machinery and independent media is nowhere to be found there as well. In our part of the world, it might hurt you that a few of us are more blatant than others. But the question lies in the examining and research. Let’s just assume, we find the facts and the figures, then will you be satisfied by the ingenuity of thought.

  2. RJ says:

    Great treatment of Abidi. He is such an unprofessional and pompous ass!

  3. Aamir Mughal says:

    Jang/Geo/News are very fond of Washington Post:) Read what they say about GEO. – Pakistan’s press piles on president By David Nakamura

    Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, October 21, 2010; 10:33 AM

    ISLAMABAD – On a recent morning, readers of the News,Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, awoke to an unusual front-page advertisement: Printed atop a photo of President Asif Ali Zardari was the allegory of a Muslim caliph who willingly submitted to the court after being accused of wrongdoing.

    “Why not you Mr. President?” the advertisement asked. It was signed: “Geo with Justice.”
    Geo is not a political opposition group, but rather Pakistan’s most popular television network. Zardari has been hounded relentlessly by news commentators to stand trial for a litany of alleged financial kickbacks from years ago, and the taunt was just one more indication that the country’s media industry has become less a chronicler of the news than a political force in its own right.

    In response to the ad, a spokeswoman for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party angrily announced that its members would boycott Geo and the News, which are both owned by the Jang Group corporation, by refusing to participate in interviews and talk shows. The News fought back, running a front-page report this week that said the ruling party was “spewing venom” by calling journalists “Indian agents” and “enemies of democracy.”

    The media were instrumental in bringing about a return to democracy in Pakistan in 2008, but they’ve taken an increasingly antagonistic stance toward Zardari’s administration in the two years since. With the government struggling to prop up a stagnant economy, fight religious extremists and provide flood relief, reporters have found an appealing target in Zardari, whose administration contends with weekly rumors of collapse. Whether this is a healthy free press at work or a destabilizing force in a tense and turbulent democracy is the subject of much debate.

    “They are totally anti-government; they’re not objective; they twist everything,” said Fauzia Wahab, a Zardari confidante who is the ruling party’s information secretary. “We do not mind a free press, but we definitely mind if somebody has an agenda or somebody is trying to destabilize the government and the country and create an anarchic situation.”

    This view might seem hyperbolic were it not for the events of the past week. Last Thursday, several television stations, citing unnamed sources, reported that Zardari had secretly decided to dissolve the Supreme Court in a bid to escape a potential trial. That prompted the court to convene an emergency hearing at which it demanded that the attorney general provide written assurance that no such action would take place. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani lambasted the stories as “baseless rumors” in a public address.
    Reporters contend that the amount of time administration officials spend attacking the media reveals their misplaced priorities.

    “Nowhere in developed society does the government go after the media in the way this government goes after us,” said Rana Jawad, Geo’s Islamabad bureau chief, who oversees 18 correspondents. “That leaves us no choice but to defend ourselves and serve our viewers by interpreting what the government does to us. Sometimes that may compromise our impartiality, but that’s what happens when you’re pitted against a government that is hell bent on destroying and muzzling you.”

    The free press is relatively new in Pakistan, which was limited to a few government-controlled outlets until Gen. Pervez Musharraf opened the doors to private media ownership in 2002. He wanted to wean residents from relying on Indian news broadcasts, but the general lacked the stomach for independent watchdogs: He shuttered Geo and other stations in late 2007 as their criticism of his government intensified.

    The media have expanded rapidly under Zardari. Today, there are 90 television and 135 radio stations serving a country of 168 million, many of whom are illiterate and rely on broadcast news, said Adnan Rehman, executive director of Intermedia, which advocates for freedom of the press in Pakistan. The number of journalists has grown from 2,000 in 2002 to 17,000 today, while the average age of a reporter has fallen from 47 to 23, he added.

    “The lack of experience and increased competition ensures that the emphasis is not on investigation but on sensation and more opinion than fact,” Rehman said. “You find this perpetual cycle of political conflicts that do not have as much life as the media injects into it.”

    During last summer’s massive floods that displaced millions of residents, news reports asserted that the government had intentionally broken levees to save property belonging to powerful officials at the expense of land owned by ordinary residents. Wahab contends that officials were instead acting to save critical infrastructure such as railways and roads.

    “It’s bitter criticism bordering on profanity,” she said. “They’re always talking negative and that leads to despondency [among the public]. Suppose this government falls, then what do you have? Do you want this country to become Afghanistan?”

    Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn, a major English-language newspaper, poked fun at the media’s role in prompting the emergency hearing last Friday. Despite a courtroom packed with more than 100 journalists and 40 television cameras, Almeida wrote, “curiously, more than 12 hours after the story first broke, no reporter appeared sure of the veracity or the provenance of the allegations.”

    Fekhar Rehman, who broke the story for Aaj television, said he confirmed his report with three sources and speculated that the government killed the plan only after its disclosure sparked a public backlash. But Almeida believes the network jumped prematurely to juice its ratings.

    “This crisis shows where the media can be dangerous. The echo-chamber affected relations between institutions of government,” Almeida said. “But I blame the government, too. This administration has no interest in governance and things are catastrophically bad, so there are enough people out there who believe that something like this is possible.”

  4. Sarfraz Hussain Naqvi says:

    MEDIA must realize that the country they talk about is OUR homeland. Statecraft is not so simple that every one and any one can handle it. Talking something in the backdrop of lacking or faulty information is wrong, a sin and disservice to the people and the state.

  5. Ahmed Iqbalabadi says:

    @Aamir, surprisingly that report in Washington Post wasnt picked up and published at all by Jang and The News like every other damning news about Pakistan

  6. Rukhshanda says:

    Geo and Jang group are busy in one-sided and baseless stories, analysis and editorials against the PPP government. Whether the ongoing one-sided and biased journalism is correct and useful for democracy and the country, obliviously not! PPP had rightly decided to boycott the Jang Group after tolerating it for two-and-a-half year. PPP had rendered great sacrifices for democracy, independent judiciary and press freedom, and one hopes that it would continue the struggle in the future. A common man criticizes Jang Group only for its policies and people claimed the same group was hatching failed conspiracies against the PPP-led government. It tried to entangle President Zardari, PM Gilani and the army chief, he added. International law provides immunity to Zardari and the opening of Swiss cases against him is out of question.

  7. Aamir Mughal says:

    Jang Group & Veracity of Transparency International & IRI Survey. Mob of Kamran Khan i.e. Mr. Ansar Abbasi, Mr Shaheen Sehbai, Mr. Irfan Siddiqui and Mohammad Malick are usually very fond of the reports of Transparency International and Survey of International Republican Institute (IRI) particularly when they carry “Corruption Reports on Pakistan. Quite funny isn’t it that the same group often raise hell against US Central Intelligence, Mossad and countless others and these very journalists “conveniently” forget that such surveys/reports could be a brainchild of the Organizations on the payrolls of the same US Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad. One of the Professional Colleague Mubashir Luqman openly said Transparency International an Israeli/CIA Agent:)

  8. [...] brings us to the second issue. Where have all the honest journalists gone? A narrow focus on specific types of stories is one thing but blatant lies and corruption is another. This story is just one example of the decay of the media profession itself. Najir Nazi in 2009 [...]

  9. [...] brings us to the second issue. Where have all the honest journalists gone? A narrow focus on specific types of stories is one thing but blatant lies and corruption is another. This story is just one example of the decay of the media profession itself. Najir Nazi in 2009 [...]

  10. [...] brings us to the second issue. Where have all the honest journalists gone? A narrow focus on specific types of stories is one thing but blatant lies and corruption is another. This story is just one example of the decay of the media profession itself. Najir Nazi in 2009 [...]

  11. [...] brings us to the second issue. Where have all the honest journalists gone? A narrow focus on specific types of stories is one thing but blatant lies and corruption is another. This story is just one example of the decay of the media profession itself. Najir Nazi in 2009 [...]

  12. [...] This brings us to the second issue. Where have all the honest journalists gone? A narrow focus on specific types of stories is one thing but blatant lies and corruption is another. This story is just one example of the decay of the media profession itself. Najir Nazi in 2009 [...]

  13. [...] This brings us to the second issue. Where have all the honest journalists gone? A narrow focus on specific types of stories is one thing but blatant lies and corruption is another. This story is just one example of the decay of the media profession itself. Najir Nazi in 2009 [...]

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