The other casualty of ‘memogate’

Dec 3rd, 2011 | By | Category: Ethics

Farah Zia provides an excellent review of the way media handled the ‘memogate’ story as it broke. Now that the Supreme Court has begun hearing petitions on the case, it becomes even more important that media play its role of reporting facts and not intentionally or unintentionally influencing the outcome – an act that would negatively impact not only the people’s faith in journalism but in the very judiciary itself.

With the temperatures over the memo case having cooled a bit, this may be a good time to see how the media conducted itself in the whole affair. In fact, media is central to the entire controversy, if not indeed an active partner, beginning, of course, with a controversial article in the Financial Times on October 10. It was a startling revelation that ought to have come as a boon for a media-person anywhere. But the manner in which it was picked and presented in the next month-and-a-half to the Pakistani audience can be variously described as manipulative, sensational, unethical, agenda-driven and violating all norms of decent journalism.

Because of the ‘facts’ pouring in, in a chaotic manner, sometimes contradicting each other and not following any chronological scheme, there is no linear analysis possible. But to have a retrospective glance at all that was being published or televised is instructive. It is rather late when the Pakistani media at large got to know that the ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha reportedly met with Mansoor Ijaz on Oct 22, 2011, but a section of the media apparently knew it as it happened. The analyses immediately after his ‘visit’ (Oct 26, 2011) spoke against the “mandated autocracy” that passed off as “elected democracy” because, note, “all the fact-finding” was over and those who mattered would now decide about the country’s future ruling structure.

Journalists taking notesSmart journalism, you would think, relying on excellent sources. But the truth is that it was a one-sided story that relied on Mansoor Ijaz’s words as the ultimate truth. The Financial Times, it was assumed and said, must have checked its facts before it published Ijaz’s Op-ed. And, so his words were blown up into a crisis where all depended on how the defenders of national security were going to react to it. Because here ‘treason’ had been committed and the accused — two people in particular, openly named — deserved to be punished under nothing less than Article 6 of the constitution. This was followed by a subtle direction from the media to the non-democratic forces to move in and remove the ‘corrupt’ and ‘incompetent’ government.

Once the tone was set, the belligerent content followed. Very smoothly, the term ‘Memogate’ got invented and was owned by the media.

Interestingly, some parts of the media are now raising questions that ought to have been raised before Ambassador Haqqani’s head got rolled. Who was Mansoor Ijaz, what has been his past role and why did he do what he did? If he was undertaking a secret operation, why did he feel the need to come out in the open and disclose it, especially when he claims the ambassador was a ‘friend’? Why did he decide to meet the ISI chief and share all ‘evidence’ with him when he had written a scathing critique of the ISI only twelve days back? Yes, the media is equally guilty of not letting the common people know that this was the subject of his FT column titled ‘Time to take on Pakistan’s Jihadist Spies’ and not the memo itself.

It is with the benefit of hindsight that the media has exposed Imran Khan who put a name to “senior Pakistani diplomat” in the FT column as he thundered against Hussain Haqqani in his famous Oct 30 rally in Lahore. How did he know it when none else did?

Some have hinted at the absurdity of the DG ISI meeting the accuser without his boss’s (the PM’s) permission but no one mentions the word ‘treason’. How one wished to see an article or a small package on the way words like ‘treason’ and ‘anti-state’ have been played out in our context and who were the people booked under those charges.

In this entire episode, all that the ‘whistle-blowers’ have achieved is an acceptance that there is a monopoly of one institution over national security issues and that the media won’t question it. One might see contrary views in the days and months to come but the whistle-blowers have already achieved what they were mandated to or at least just short of that.

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