In an unusual moment of candor, an editorian of The News (Jang Group) termed its own reporting on a recent issue as ‘conspiracy theories’. The admission appears to be unintentional, but whether intended or unintended, it should provide a lesson for media groups to exercise scepticism and discretion before rushing to publish rumours. The editorial which is about the incident of Zeeshan Abbasi’s being poisoned is headlines ‘Close Shave‘ and explains the incident as follows:
Zeeshan Abbasi, the team’s captain, had a close shave with disaster when he took a few sips of diluted phenyl after mistaking it for drinking water. Abbasi, who is partially visually impaired, was rushed to a local hospital where he was later given a clean chit by doctors. But the incident was big enough to ignite conspiracy theories across the Subcontinent – mainly on traditional and social media platforms. It was initially reported in Pakistan that Abbasi had consumed acid that was intentionally placed in front of him in a water bottle during breakfast.
What were these ‘traditional and social media platforms’ that spread conspiracy theories? One happened to be The News.
8th December 2012: ‘Zeeshan served glass of acid in India‘
Pakistan blind cricket team captain Zeeshan Abbasi was made to drink a glass of acid during breakfast in India, Geo News reported on Saturday here.
8th December 2012: ‘Zeeshan condition stable: sources‘
The condition of Pakistan blind cricket team captain Zeeshan Abbasi, who was made to drink a glass of acid during breakfast in India, is stable, sources said, Geo News reported.
What is the lesson that The News has taken from this ‘close shave’? According to their editorial,
Despite steps taken in recent times to promote peace between the two neighbours, it is evident that both nations are still miles away from building bridges.
Unfortunately, Editors at The News do not appear to have asked why the two neighbours are still miles away from building bridges and what role the media, including The News itself, plays in projecting misinformation and prejudices against the other. While it is true that Jang Group has taken steps such as supporting the Aman ki Asha campaign to develop stronger relations between Pakistanis and Indians and this should be applauded. But that does not excuse the rush to report sensational headlines and conspiracy theories that reinforce negative stereotypes and undermine the work of their own Aman ki Asha campaign.
Since originally reporting the false conspiracy theory that Zeeshan Abbasi was fed acid by Indians, The News has since reported the correct information that the blind cricketer had actually drank a diluted soap solution that was erroneously left on a banquet table and was treated, released and pronounced fit to play.
Unfortunately, this may be a case of ‘too little too late’ as the anti-Indian conspiracy theory, once let out of the bag, has been grabbed up by those whose interests are served in prolonging suspicion and hatred between the two neighbors. Even if they will not admit it publicly, we hope that this is also a lesson that The News has taken from the incident.