The News (Jang Group) has taken a particularly adversarial tone against the government lately, with Jang’s celebrity journalists coming out with bald faced political attacks on the president and parliament based on nothing more than rumour, speculation, and conspiracy theories. We have already covered Ansar Abbasi’s baseless attack on parliament over devolution of HEC. But actually Saturday’s The News included several articles that crossed the line of responsible journalism.
Shaheen Sehbai’s front page story included no facts or investigative reporting, and was nothing but a baseless attack on the government in what appears to be another thinly veiled attempt to incite a war between the executive and judiciary.
This did not go unnoticed by the PPP who issued a rejoinder on Sunday.
More dangerous is Mr. Sehbai’s totally baseless and unfounded assertions that the Government is pitched against the honorable courts. To say that confronting the honorable judiciary is a “declared policy” of the Government is totally false in fact, and highly malicious in character, depicting mala fide intentions of the writer. It is most regretful that the Group Editor of your esteemed newspaper is deliberately pitching two pillars of the State by painting imaginary scenarios of animosity and conspiracy, when there are none in reality.
In fact, Shaheen Sehbai does not even bother pretending to have ‘informed sources’, offering only his own insults and accusations. This is considered reporting by Jang Group?
While Ansar Abbasi and Shaheen Sehbai may be expected to make baseless attacks on the government, they are not the long voices. Also joining the chorus is Tariq Butt, who wrote on Saturday that “President Asif Ali Zardari is seeking the shoulder of the highest judicial forum to cry on while he has asked his minions to do everything to attack the superior judiciary”. Like his colleagues, Ansar Abbasi and Shaheen Sehbai, Tariq provides no evidence of a presidential directive to attack the judiciary.
On Sunday, the assault continued with a front page article by Hamid Mir suggesting that the president’s praise for the judiciary is insincere and that he “masterminded this reference just to embarrass teh Supreme Court by playing the Sindh card because all the judges who gave the verdict against [ZAB] were from Punjab”. The only evidence Hamid Mir can provide for this mind-reading of the president is “an impression in many political circles”. No doubt these “political circles” include certain Group and Investigative ‘Editors’ at Jang Group.
It should be noted that for all the accusations from Shaheen Sehbai, Hamid Mir, etc of playing Sindh Card, neither the president nor his representatives have uttered any such thing. Rather these accusations come from ‘journalists’ claiming to be able to read the mind of Zardari. On the other hand, the opinion page of Sunday’s The News includes a cartoon of a ‘Sindh Card’. In addition to the articles mentioned above, one cannot help but wonder who it is that is actually attempting to exploit provincial prejudice and whip up the emotions of their base.
Speaking about media freedom in this week’s Friday Times, Pakistan Representative Human Rights Watch, Ali Dayan Hasan, was highly critical of the way media attacks the civilian government just because it can.
Pakistan’s media needs to use its independence responsibly. Unfortunately this is not happening. It targets the government because it does not fear the former. It does not hold the military to account because it is frightened of their power. HRW is of the view that the greatest threat to media freedom emanates today not from the elected government which has shown respect and tolerance as it should for the media. Rather, it stems from the intelligence agencies, non-state actors such as the Taliban and, finally, from the judiciary which has exploited over-broad contempt laws to stifle criticism of the institution.
Media’s role includes responsibly keeping the people informed about the actions of government and politicians. But The News appears to have passed beyond the line of responsible reporting and crossed into bald faced attacks on the president through rumour, speculation, and conspiracy theories based on nothing but the imaginations of its staff. Worse, there appears to be the possibility of a renewed campaign to instill distrust and tension between the executive and the judiciary. This is not journalism, it is politics. We encourage Jang Group to review the editorial policies of it’s prize English language newspaper and work to put in place policies that ensure reporting is based on facts, not political opinions, and that reporting is objective and not biased. At present, star reporters of The News are offering neither.