Jang Group’s So-Called “Experts”

Mar 21st, 2012 | By | Category: The News

The News (Jang Group)When media groups report stories about complex topics, a common practise is to invite the comments of experts who can provide some clarification to intricate subjects that might be difficult for the common man to understand. The power that these experts has is immense as their word is taken as an authority on the topic and can shape the way we understand issues reported in the media. Because of this, responsible media groups will be very careful to only include commentary by objective, non-biased experts so that they are providing facts and not influencing opinions. In the case of Jang Group, a worrying trend is beginning to take shape.

Two recent stories in The News (Jang Group) include the statements of experts to give context to stories about complex issues. Tuesday’s paper includes a report by Ahmad Noorani about the Supreme Court’s order to the Prime Minister to write a letter requesting Switzerland open corruption cases against the President. According to Noorani, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan’s reply to the court submitted on March 19 “is a simple and huge U-Turn, experts say”.Who are these experts that have termed Aitzaz Ahsan’s reply as a U-Turn? Nobody knows. They are neither named nor mentioned again in the report.

On Sunday, a report by Usman Manzoor quotes an expert economist rubbishing President Zardari’s speech to the joint sitting of parliament. This time, the reporter at least revealed the name of his expert – Dr Shahid Hassan Siddiqui. According to Dr Siddiqui, the president’s address “comprised nothing but false figures and a misrepresentation of facts regarding the economy”.

These are serious charges, so it is worth asking just who is this Dr Siddiqui. According to Manzoor, he is “a banker and economist of international repute”, but a more thorough search reveals that he is also The News‘s go-to economic hit-man against the government.

In October 2011, Ansar Abbasi quoted Dr Siddiqi extensively terming the government as “lying” about economics and bleeding the country through corruption. Ansar Abbasi quoted Dr Siddiqi again in December 2011 as saying “the overall economic situation of Pakistan under the present regime is the worst in the 64-year history of Pakistan”.

But let’s look at the reasons why this so-called “expert” is rubbishing the president’s claims this time.

Dr Shahid said that since 9/11, the remittances have been continuously increasing because of a ban on Hundi. He said that the government is asking no question on the influx of remittances; perhaps, it is a financial NRO because people loot the country’s wealth, send it abroad and then bring it back in the shape of remittances. He said that in 2007, remittances were $5.4%; in 2008 these were recorded at $6.4 and in 2011, it were 11.12%; as these keep on increasing, there was nothing to boast about, the economist said.

Dr Shahid does not explain why a ban on Hundi would increase remittances. After all, whether money is remitted to Pakistan by old methods like Hundi or modern methods like international bank transfers, money is being remitted.

But then Dr Shahid’s “expert” commentary takes a rather bizarre turn. He says that “perhaps it is a financial NRO” and a massive money laundering scheme. His evidence for such a shocking claim? He provides none. He just says “perhaps” and we are supposed to take him seriously because he is printed in The News as an expert.

Wouldn’t it make more sense, if a crook wanted to launder money, to use a system like Hundi that leaves no paper trail? According to a report by the International Monetary Fund, the answer is yes.

Generally, the growth of [Information Funds Transfer] systems seems to be negatively correlated with the level of development of the formal financial sector. Hawala-type operations appear to have prospered in countries with inefficient financial institutions and restrictive financial policies. However, in cases where the user’s intent is of an illegal or criminal nature, he or she will use informal financial systems irrespective of the level of financial sector development.

The so-called expert Dr Shahid then proceeds to make other bizarre claims such as stating that “the worst crisis in the stock market came in 2008 during the incumbent government’s tenure”. Actually, the crisis took place in May 2008. But the government was only elected in February 2008. Does Dr Shahid propose that the government is responsible for the state of the economy as it was only three months after elections?

Later, the so-called expert simply misleads readers by claiming that agriculture sectors growth was actually a decline due to population growth. This is simply nonsense. Agriculture sector cannot “grow” and “decline” at the same time. What Dr Shahid is referring to is a function of population, not agriculture.

These are not the only strange claims made by Dr Shahid. In 2006, Dr Shahid joined Mirza Aslam Beg and Hameed Gul at a seminar in Karachi where he claimed that “the republication of [blasphemous] cartoons was aimed at widening the gulf between Muslims and Europe as the Europeans had held huge demonstrations against US imperialism and the attack on Iraq.”

And Dr Shahid claimed in an interview that privatization is dangerous because there might be a secret European-American-Indian conspiracy to buy Pakistan’s strategic assets.

A point of worry is that one fine morning we could find to our horror that the strategic assets, sold by Pakistan to foreigners during last few years, have gone into the hands of entities owned by European / US nationals of say Indian origin as these could be purchased from the new owners according to a well thought of integrated strategy.

Asking experts to help provide clarification and context to complex stories is a perfectly legitimate journalistic practice. Using unidentified or biased “experts” to dress up political attacks is not.

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