Posts Tagged ‘Azam Swati’

Media, Rumours and ‘Public Importance’

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Media manipulation

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A report in The News today serves as an excellent example of how the media’s power to shape the way we perceive events can be used to serve a political agenda. According to reporter Sohail Khan, former Senator Azam Swati (PTI) through his counsel Tariq Asad has petitioned the Supreme Court to place the name of President Asif Zardari on the Exit Control List. Why? Because an article in The New York Times said that Zardari could be planning to leave the country after 27th December. Swati’s counsel argued that this raised a question of public importance per Article 184(3).

A few things should be noted here. First is the New York Times article which serves as the basis of Swati’s petition. Here is the part that Swati quotes:

Some Pakistani and Western officials said last week that if Mr. Zardari returned, it could be only for a cameo appearance before Dec. 27, the fourth anniversary of the death of Ms. Bhutto, the two-time former prime minister, in a gun and bomb attack in the city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

After that, Mr. Zardari would probably leave for a long — perhaps permanent — convalescence in London or Dubai, the officials said.

Who are these “Pakistani and Western officials”? Nobody knows. Are they opposition party members or some other kind of agents? Do they have any way of knowing the president’s plans, or is this pure speculation based on thin air and wishful thinking?

Additionally, the same New York Times article also says that “General Kayani told the United States ambassador at the time, Anne W. Patterson, that he “might, however reluctantly,” pressure Mr. Zardari to resign and presumably leave Pakistan”. Would this not result in a question of public importance per Article 184(3) also? Why does Swati selectively quote The New York Times article? Is it because he is using the media to report the facts or to promote a political agenda?

Actually, Azam Swati is not the only one who selectively quotes from the foreign media. In his own petition to the Supreme Court, Swati notes that “the news of NYT has been reported by all the newspapers of Pakistan”, giving it extra importance. But these reports also selectively quote the original article.

The Nation reported the Times story with the headline, ‘Zardaris return cameo appearance’, as if it were a statement of fact and not a speculation attributed to unknown people. And in its report, The Nation conveniently left out the part where Ambassador Patterson claims that Gen Kayani told her he was contemplating a coup.

The News included even less in its report, saying the Times “quoted some Pakistani and Western officials”, but failing to note that nobody knows who these “officials” are. The News even went further and removed every part of the original New York Times story about the military threatening the civilian government and making it seem like the president was thinking of running from the country.

Dawn pared the original report down to little more than just a headline, but at did note the Times’ claim that the Supreme Court was being “pushed by the Army” to investigate the president.

This was reported the same way in Urdu papers also. Jang carried the story as a brief news piece suggesting there was reason to believe the president might leave. Nawa-i-Waqt carried the brief version of the story as well, and Express even added a little touch of its own by reporting that “according to New York Times report, 27 pakistani officials and western ‘diplomats’ have said that his return is temporary” – none of which actually appears in the New York Times story.

In other words, there is a petition before the Supreme Court that is based on media reports that selectively summarise a foreign media report that paraphrases the speculation of unidentified people. As a result, the people’s perception of events may have been manipulated, and what they believe is reality may actually be a carefully designed version of reality that better serves a political end. Ironically, the foreign media group at the foundation of this case is one that is routinely criticised for “publishing anti-Pakistani reports” that are “planted to derail a country like Pakistan” when the claims it reports are viewed less favourably.

The public interest is not defined by political ends, but by knowing the truth. This is a shared responsibility of both media and judiciary. If one fails, it can cause the other to fail also. Reporting rumours and innuendo is not journalism, and legal decisions based on such rumours and innuendo is not justice. If the media fails to do its job responsibly, it can have disastrous consequences.

Journalists Or Political Stooges?

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The embarrassing case of dual nationality and the national media

Pakistan media - journalists or political stooges?

Pakistan media - journalists or political stooges?

Earlier this week a report was widely circulated in the media that some government officials were holding dual nationalities. Only there was one major problem with the story — the journalists did not investigate, and simply parroted what appear to be false accusations. This embarrassing episode raises a vital question about our media: Does our news media employ journalists or political stooges?

Tuesday morning, the headlines screamed across the papers: The News“NA echoes with concerns over dual nationality,” DAWN“Lawmakers oppose dual nationality for civil servants,” Daily Times“MPs want to ban dual nationality holders from public office,” Frontier Post“Govt urged to suspend dual nationality holder officials.” Ill-informed parliamentarians had read off a list of names of public officials who supposedly had dual nationality including Shaukat Aziz, Moin Qureshi, Hamish Khan, Hussain Haqani, Azam Swati, and Salman Farooqi. The newspapers dutifully reprinted these names without ever verifying if they were true, accusing government office holders of having questionable loyalties.

The next day, the newspapers were forced to print retractions and corrections, but by this time the damage was already done. The newspapers failure to verify the accuracy of the accusations they repeated gave readers the impression that they were true. The rumour was already started that these officials are holding foreign citizenships, even though there is no evidence to support the claim.

The scandal here is not so much that some politician would tell a lie in order to make attention for himself or to slander some opponent. Sadly, we have become rather accustomed to that. Worse, the scandal is that the newspapers – all of them – printed these statements without even attempting to verify the claims, despite the fact that they know good and well that such accusations must be verified. This is a serious failure on the part of the media to perform its most basic job.

Proper journalists investigate and verify claims, they do not simply repeat wild accusations. This situation could have been easily and properly managed if these journalists had done their job and simply requested the evidence of dual nationality from the parliamentarians making these claims. If the politicians cannot or refuse to provide evidence of their claims, is that not a key part of the story? The journalists could have easily called the respective immigration authorities in the nation where the official supposedly has dual citizenship. Surely they have telephones in their offices?

And this was not some minor claim that was being reported. These were serious accusations with serious consequences. The Constitution disqualifies for some government offices anyone who acquires the citizenship of a foreign state. One would think that, considering the seriousness of these accusations that the journalists would take a few moments to verify the claims before printing them. But, rather, each of the newspapers ran the story without question, printing the accusations as if they were not journalists but political stooges working in street level politics.

People rely on the media not to be an echo chamber of lies and half-truths used for political gamesmanship. Journalists are supposed to be more than just film stars lip-syncing to the playback of political speeches. The people rely on the media to report hard facts, not rumours and gossip. If the journalists who are writing for major newspapers are not checking their facts, it calls into question the very reliability of the media itself.

The media should do more than issue a correction on their websites. These are serious accusations that these news organizations have simply parroted. They owe their readers and the accused a proper response by investigating the claims and publishing new stories that state very clearly what the facts are in this case.