While most of the country is preparing for an Eid feast this week, Jang Group is sitting before a giant plate of crow. Recently, the star reporter for Jang’s English newspaper The News, Ansar Abbasi, wrote a column that caused an outcry among the media, judiciary, and executive office of government. He claimed to have revealed a conspiracy by federal officials to assassinate Chief Justice LHC Khawaja Muhammad Sharif. After months of investigation and unknown resources, it has been concluded that no such conspiracy existed.
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The News followed up Abbasi’s conspiracy story with a number of sensational articles implying that the judiciary was being threatened by administration authorities. Soon after, Jang Group suffered the embarrassment of having the Supreme Court request it to publish a correction “to set the record straight”. Now, another blow to Ansar Abbasi and Jang’s credibility has been dealt.
According to Express Tribune the report of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) inquiry team has concluded that Ansar Abbasi’s column was based on hot air.
It may be recalled that on September 11, a report was published in The News that the Special Branch had unfolded a plot to kill the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court. Amidst the ensuing hue and cry, an inquiry was ordered on the allegation carried in the newspaper report that three key government officials were behind the plot.
FIA Director Zafar Qureshi said in his report that the FIA inquiry team could not find a single shred of evidence into the alleged plot to kill the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court. Key witnesses related to this intelligence report refused to record their statements despite several requests. Special branch officials also kept changing their statements, thus raising serious doubts about the authenticity of the intelligence report reportedly issued by the Punjab Police’s Special Branch.
The question remains as to how much this wild goose chase has cost the government which has had to pay for an inquiry only to discover that Ansar Abbasi’s conspiracy theory was untrue. Additional expenses for increased security, meetings by members of the judiciary and their staffs, and other official actions taken as a result of the incorrect reporting.
In addition to the unknown cost to the national purse there is the strained relationship between the official agencies and the time that was spent by officials which could have been used working on solutions to the actual problems facing the country.
This is why conspiracy theories and sensational yellow journalism is a problem. One might find it more entertaining when the news is like a professional wrestling programme, but there are consequences to this unprofessional behaviour beyond simply discrediting the reporters and media companies who choose to engage in it.
When Nusrat Javed spoke on the occasion of the 4th national conference of SAFMA, he pledged to support “across the board accountability”. Just as government officials must be held accountable for their actions, so too should journalists who forget their proper duties and spread conspiracies and misinformation. Ansar Abbasi and Jang Group should enjoy their plate of crow this week, it is a small consequence compared to what they have cost the nation.