Conspiracies, Media and a Willing Public

Dec 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Uncategorized

I’m glad that the discussion of these fake Wikileaks cables has not ended with the apology of some newspapers. I’m truly disappointed – no, I am truly depressed – that even after the story is admitted to be fake, some newspapers and TV networks continue to peddle the story. If it is unknown to be a forgery, the story is a mistake. Once it is known, it is simply lies. So, why do these lies continue? Unfortunately, the answer is too complex for some simple conspiracy theory. But reading several writers today, you can begin to piece together the answer.

Nadeem F. Paracha calls them ‘The liars collective’, a media that is used by agency men to protect the vested interests of an establishment whose irrelevance threatens its very existence.

Each time any of these institutions is rocked by a scandal or an exposé, certain newspapers and TV channels suddenly start teeming with loud deniers who would go to absurd lengths to divert the public’s attention towards something more ‘substantial’, such as of course, the ‘record-breaking corruption’ of this government, the fantastic job the free judiciary is doing, or how India remains the greatest threat to Pakistan. Or some feel-good lectures by a crank or two, usually crammed with airy myths presented as historical facts, are unleashed.

This has happened so many times that one wonders whether what many journalists and politicians on the other side of the ideological fence say, is true. Whether most of the media personnel we see on our TV screens or read about in the newspaper, who are always so passionately waving the flag of Pakistan and spouting contempt against corruption (especially when a narrative by the establishment comes under stress), may very well be the proverbial ‘agency men?’

NFP, as usual, is on to something. In fact, his thesis is at least partially confirmed by one of these ‘agency men’ himself, Ahmed Quraishi, who admits using media to spread propaganda, even when it is not true.

Just like the Guardian and NYT, the Pakistani media retains the right to manipulate and highlight WikiLeaks documents that serve our interest. This could involve some exaggeration in some parts of the media. But not everything is ‘incorrect’, as the Guardian claimed.

The Pakistani story shifts the focus to India, and shows we too can use WikiLeaks for propaganda like everyone else. The Guardian and the other two journals have been doing the same for the past two weeks. I am not saying Pakistan did use WikiLeaks for propaganda but it certainly can, like everyone else.

This is not journalism, but psychological warfare by manipulating an unsuspecting public. It is not right for the CIA, and it is not right for RAW…and regardless of Ahmed Quraishi’s perverted justification – it is not right for him and the ISI to do either.

But even this is only part of the story. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. There is also the news agencies who have a perverse incentive to publish the craziest headlines without checking their facts. Cafe Pyala describes this situation in their post today:

The defence that “if anyone goes on Goggle [sic] and writes: Wikileaks Leaks About India, Israel and Afghanisan” one would be able to get the same news we got” would be uproariously funny were it not simultaneously so appalling. That’s your defence Online??? So tomorrow, if you go on the net and search for “Conspiracy Theories About Moon Landing Being Fake”, you would pass that along to news organizations as valid news? Second point: why exactly then do news organizations need you? I mean all they need to do to get their ‘news’ is Google (or Goggle, if that’s your thing), right?

Of course none of this takes away from the news organizations’ own responsibilities to verify stories they take on. Are we to gather from this that the news sense of the staff at these papers and channels has deteriorated to such an extent that NONE of them saw anything remotely strange about the story?

There are a lot of news researchers, producers, and editors out there who are not on the payroll of any intelligence agency. But they have their own vested interest, which is the public which consumes the news – us. As Nadir Hassan makes quite clear today, we also share responsibility for all this mess.

The media was only the vehicle for delivering the WikiLeaks-that-weren’t. The ultimate responsibility lies with us, the consumers. That the news stories based on the falsified cables were believed by so many people shows that they only told us what we so desperately want to be true. For a story to pass muster, it must ring true. And a heady brew of inflammatory textbooks, government sabre-rattling, media sensationalism and, it must be admitted, our own prejudice, have convinced a large percentage of the population that a hidden Hindu hand must be behind every local problem. Any media organisation which claimed, for example, that the slippery Swiss were behind the Baloch separatists, would be laughed into bankruptcy. Since we have so successfully demonised India, for many its involvement doesn’t so much as merit an arched eyebrow.

Since self-congratulation is easier than reflection, there will also be a lot of chatter in the coming days about the burgeoning photosphere. True, the fraudulent cables were first exposed as such by blogs and Twitter users. Inevitably, this will be used as proof that the Pakistani population is too sophisticated to fall for such hoaxes. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking a few liberal journalists are representative of a country that is all too willing to believe the worst about its neighbour.

Fake stories are not published because of one sinister villain sitting in some hideout like in the movies. If it were so simple, we could simply find him and throw him behind bars. Problem solved. Unfortunately, there are complex reasons and complex motives behind media propaganda and lies. The good news is, there is a solution – it just takes a little bit of work. Just as word-of-mouth and ‘word-of-Twitter’ can be used to spread misinformation, it can also be used to expose it. It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Therefore, let the sun shine on these cockroaches and we will watch them scurry away.

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