In Haqqani vs. Noorani, the loser is Jang Group

May 14th, 2012 | By | Category: Jang, The News

The News (Jang Group)Continuing its trend of publishing opinion pieces in place of news reports, The News on Monday took up almost the entire page 5 of the National News section with various opinion pieces. Ali Moeen Nawazish wrote his opinion about the importance of respecting mothers, and ‘Our Correspondent’ wrote that PPP has been outsmarted by PML-N on the issue of Seraiki province, terming PPP resolution as “political gimmicks”. Most of the page, though, was dominated by two opinion pieces by Husain Haqqani and Ahmad Noorani.

The piece by Husain Haqqani was actually the reproduction of an op-ed that was published in The New York Times last week. Ahmad Noorani, whose title at Jang Group is ‘Investigative Journalist’ has a response published next to the reproduction of Haqqani’s op-ed.

We do not intend to either defend or reject Husain Haqqani’s or Ahmad Noorani’s personal opinions as each is entitled to his own personal opinions. But we do believe it is important to note a few things about this ‘Haqqani vs. Noorani’ episode as it points to several important problems related to journalistic practices.

First is the simple fact that The News continues to blur the line between journalism and opinion making. If Jang Group values the opinions of Ahmad Noorani, they should move him from the Investigative Reporting department to the Editorial department. Publishing Mr Noorani’s personal opinions in place of factual news reports undermines the credibility of Jang Group‘s reporting as a whole as it suggests that the Editors do not know the difference between facts and opinions. Similarly, if The News wanted to republish Haqqani’s op-ed from The New York Times, they should have done so on the Opinion page, not the National News page. If they wanted to publish a response, that too should have appeared on the Opinion page by a qualified columnist or a member of the Editorial staff. Publishing these pieces in the National News section deprives readers of actual news reporting, displacing facts with opinions.

Then there are the serious factual problems with Mr Noorani’s column.

Ahmad NooraniAccording Noorani’s piece, Husain Haqqani “accused the entire Pakistani nation as the only Muslim society, which supports terrorists”. This sounds terrible. And it would be if Haqqani had actually written such a thing. Here’s what Haqqani actually wrote: “Pakistan was the only Muslim country in which hundreds of demonstrators gathered to show solidarity with the dead terrorist figurehead”.

Haqqani wrote “hundreds of demonstrators” and Ahmad Noorani claimed that he accused “the entire Pakistani nation”. Haqqani wrote that some demonstrators “show solidarity with the dead terrorist” and Ahmad Noorani claimed that he said we all “support terrorists”. Ahmad Noorani then goes on to say that Haqqani “claimed the whole Pakistani nation was supporting Osama on his death anniversary”. Again, this would be a serious charge if it were true. But again, Haqqani’s op-ed contains no such claim. The fact that Haqqani’s op-ed was re-published next to Ahmad Noorani’s response makes this impossible to deny.

Did Noorani not actually read Haqqani’s piece before he wrote his response? Or is he simply lying about what Haqqani said in an attempt to vilify him? Either way, the next obvious question is how the Editors at The News could allow such a potentially libelous mistake to be published in their newspaper? Did they not read both Haqqani’s op-ed and Noorani’s response to fact-check before publishing them?

These factual errors occur early in Noorani’s piece, and set the stage for some bizarre acts to follow. For example, shifting from Haqqani’s op-ed to the question of allegations against President Zardari, Noorani writes;

…none else than the US Senate itself had investigated this money laundering case and had held Haqqani’s boss in Islamabad guilty of money laundering.

This raises two important questions. First, how can Ahmad Noorani be trusted to provide accurate reports on court cases, which he often reports about, if he has already convicted certain parties in his own head? Is he a journalist or a wanna-be prosecutor? Second, if Ahmad Noorani accepts the findings of US Senators on the issue of money laundering in Pakistan, does he also accept the findings of US Senators on the issue of Taliban ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan? We would kindly request that Mr Noorani be careful how he selectively quotes foreign politicians against Pakistanis because his actions might result in grave consequences that he did not consider.

Things take a turn for the truly bizarre, though, when Noorani returns to the topic of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and Haqqani’s asking “why Pakistanis are debating the secret US raid in Abbottabad and not asking who was responsible for his presence in that city”. In his response, Noorani asks the following question:

Has Mr Haqqani not been briefed about the Pakistani position on this issue and is he not supposed to discuss that as a representative of the Islamabad government in US media?

This is truly bizarre. Is Mr Noorani not aware that Haqqani resigned his position several months ago and holds no official position, therefore is neither party to briefings nor a representative of the govenrment? Noorani’s analysis also raises the question: what is this briefing about the Pakistan position on this issue – something that has not been publicly reported. If Mr Noorani is aware of briefings on an official position with regards to Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, perhaps he should report them to the public. Or, if they are state secrets that he has been made privy to – officially or unofficially – perhaps he should not expose them in order to ‘get’ someone.

These are but a few of the factual errors and professional problems with Ahmad Noorani’s response to Husain Haqqani’s op-ed. Many more exist. Such can be expected given that Ahmad Noorani is not a professional analyst, but they are deeply troubling as he is supposedly an ‘Investigative Journalist’. How many of Ahmad Noorani’s supposedly investigative pieces are filled with factual mistakes and uninformed speculation? Ahmad Noorani is entitled to his own opinions, but he is not entitled to misrepresent his subjects and invent ‘facts’ from thin air.

Then there is the issue of editorial oversight, which appears to be completely missing in this case. Several of Ahmad Noorani’s factual errors are easily detected simply by reading the very first sentences of Husain Haqqani’s op-ed. If Ahmad Noorani did not read them, shouldn’t his editors have? This would have saved The News the embarrassment of publishing an opinion piece riddled with so many factual mistakes.

Finally, there is the issue of journalistic credibility. If The News publishes ‘Investigative Journalists’ who have already formed opinions about their subjects, how can readers know that what they are getting is objective research and not reports twisted by Confirmation Bias?

We take no position on the opinions contained in either piece. Haqqani’s op-ed was certainly worthy of a responding editorial, though why The News gave this assignment to Ahmad Noorani and not the Editorial staff leaves us scratching our heads. Certainly Ahmad Noorani is entitled to his opinion, but our concern is that his response contains so many glaring factual and ethical errors as to threaten the credibility of one of Pakistan’s largest newspapers by publishing it as it was filed.

Noorani’s piece may be a hit within certain quarters, but people who expect a newspaper to value facts – even those with no fondness for Husain Haqqani or the PPP – are certain to see Noorani’s column as a serious lapse in professional judgment. It will be interesting to see how the leadership of Jang Group will address this embarrassment.

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