New media circus same as old media circus

Dec 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Conspiracy Theories, Dawn, Jang, The News

Pakistan Media Circus

On Tuesday, President Zardari left for Dubai to receive medical treatment. Within minutes, the media circus began and rumours of a coup began to circulate. While no one has yet to provide a single piece of evidence suggesting that Zardari will resign or a coup is imminent, the story continues to dominate media headlines.

Part of the reason may be attributed to the way government officials like to give out as little information as possible, opening the doors to speculation. Arif Rafiq, a US-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues, wrote on The Pakistan Policy Blog yesterday that Farhatullah Babar’s statement was clearly not the whole truth, which resulted in some journalists jumping at the opportunity to attack the president. This theory was echoed by Tariq Butt in The News the next day.

While a lack of fully forthcoming statements is a problem, especially in politics, it does not excuse reckless and irresponsible behaviour on the part of the media. Official spokesmen have a responsibility to give the press true and accurate information. But if they don’t, it does not give journalists license to simply make up whatever they wish were true.

One of the reasons the rumours took on such a life was that they were being reported not only by the well-known anti-Zardari types, but even those such as Najam Sethi whose show on Tuesday night helped fan the flames of rumour and speculation.

Frankly, we were surprised by Sethi’s tone. This is, after all, the same journalist who strongly criticised exactly this behaviour just a few months ago.

Some well-known journalists have been predicting the end of the Zardari regime for over a year now by regularly giving D-Day deadlines. But President Asif Ali Zardari continues to defy their hollow predictions, prompting Javed Hashmi to wisecrack that a PhD in politics may be required to fathom his brand of politics. Considering how very consistently wrong they have proven to be, one may be forgiven for wondering whether it is lack of intelligence or scarcity of credible sources that lies at the root of their helplessness and rage. Or is it plain wishful thinking and personal vendettas that are masquerading as serious front-page political analyses?

Given that this was an unusual deviation for Sethi, and his claim to have been receiving word from ‘sources’, the rumour was given credibility. And yet, as the days go by, any actual substance to the rumours remains elusive, and the story has shifted from reports of speculation to reports about reports of speculation. Is there anything sillier than media reporting about how it’s reporting about rumours?

That’s not to say the rumour-mongering has stopped. Multiple newspapers including Dawn and The News reported on Thursday that a US magazine (Foreign Policy) claimed that President Zardari “may resign from office on account of ill health”. The News featured the story prominently on the front page. Despite the sensational headlines, the article they are reporting about actually says something quite different.

The original article by Josh Rogin does not report that the president may resign over ill health – that was only one speculation by an unnamed former US official. Actually, the article’s greater speculation is whether the military is plotting a coup against the government. But again, even in the Foreign Policy article, this is only rumour and speculation.

Moreover, what our media is not reporting is that the same magazine updated their article to say that the president will not resign, and that “The rumors of a silent coup are sometimes a way of trying to effect a silent coup”. Additionally, Foreign Policy published a new report yesterday saying that “Zardari won’t resign”. Will Jang consider this worthy of front page news also?

As the actual story of the president’s health condition and treatment lay to rest rumours of coups and resignations, responsible journalists should take note of what ‘sources’ were giving them what information. There they might find a much more enlightening story than the silliness we’ve been fed over the past few days.

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