Posts Tagged ‘Blogs’

Wajahat S. Khan examines the anti-Malala media campaign

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Following the attempted murder of young education activist Malala Yousafzai, many news reports in the West heralded what was supposedly a uniting of Pakistani society against the Taliban. While this was going on, however, efforts were being made to break this unity and turn Pakistanis against the young girl by terming her as a pawn in an American conspiracy to attack Pakistan – or worse, an American agent.

Wajahat S. Khan examines how this media campaign against Malala took shape, and the false narratives used to spread confusion and misinformation among the masses.

Sensationalism and ratings – Who is responsible?

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

It is a well accepted notion that one of the causes of media sensationalism is the desire to increase ratings. Ratings, however, are not a trophy that media groups seek simply for the sake of having good ratings. Rather, it is the basic capitalist drive to make money that makes ratings important. The higher the ratings, the more subscription and advertising revenue a media group is able to accumulate. In other words, media is a business that sells a product – both the information that is contained in the newspaper or TV shows and the advertising also. But if media is the seller, who is the buyer? The answer is you and me.

This creates something of a problem for those of us who want to see less sensationalism in the media – in a capitalist market,  will media owners and producers choose to reduce the amount of sensationalism if it goes against their profits? This question was examined in an excellent blog post by Kazim Alam for Express Tribune titled ‘Journalism and Sensationalism‘.

These days, such stories will most likely be about Memogate, Imran Khan, Zardari, judiciary, ISI and Veena Malik. Ever wondered why business stories are conspicuously missing from the three most popular lists? That’s because it takes extra effort on the readers’ part to understand hardcore business, economic and financial journalism.

Op-ed pieces on the politics of Imran Khan – awash with meaningless words like ‘undercurrent’ and ‘middle-class narrative’ – are a dime a dozen in our newspapers. That’s because one, the writer doesn’t have to research the topic; and two, readers love to consume frivolous commentary on politics.

Okay, so we love drama. If that is what the people want, that is what the media groups will provide to improve their ratings. It seems that everyone gets what they want.

Just because everyone gets what they want, though, it doesn’t mean we get what we need.

While most ‘news junkies’ – a fashionable way of describing oneself in Twitter bios – know the flip-flops of Mansoor Ijaz, I wonder how many of them have read about the government’s plan to import 1.2 million tons of urea.

The news that the state was going to import 1.2 million tons of urea because it couldn’t supply the promised amount of gas to Engro’s newly built plant would’ve caused public outrage in any other country. Not so in our case.

Spend all of our time on sensational stories, conspiracy theories and the latest drawing room gossip is like filling up on sweets and never eating any meat or vegetables. The media serves a function in a democratic society other than simply ‘infotainment’. We rely on the media to inform us of facts and developments related to the most important issues of society so that we can make informed decisions about how to transform the country.

Media groups have a responsibility as producers to provide factual and unbiased information about issues, and we, as media consumers, have a responsibility to seek out unbiased facts so that we can make informed decisions. There is nothing wrong with entertainment, either producing or consuming it, but we all need to take responsibility for making sure that the facts we need to improve society are available to everyone.

Lessons From Forged Wikileaks Story

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Wikileaks Forgery

I don’t want to spend too much time on the forged Wikileaks story that was exposed by The Guardian yesterday as it has been covered fairly extensively already. But there are some important lessons that should be discussed, and so I will spend a short time on those.

Some have laid the blame squarely on Jang Group, but that’s not quite fair. While Jang certainly shares some fault, they were not the only media group to run the story and neither were they the originators. Actually, the story was also run by The Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt as well as Express Tribune. That this story was not carried by one media group only but by a wide selection suggests that the mistake was not intentional but the result of two common media problems.

The first problem that is highlighted is the rush to ‘scoop’ other news organizations and be the first to publish headlines – especially if those headlines will get attention – without doing proper background checks to confirm the facts. We see this far too often. In the case of a bomb blast, news programmes will report a certain number of deaths before their reporters have even arrived to the scene, only to change their reporting several times until the facts are known. There must be a balance between reporting news quickly and reporting it factually. It is better to be second to break a story and have it correct than to be first and be incorrect. In this case, Dawn did not run with the original story, and comes away looking more reliable because of it.

The second problem is the habit of relying on questionable sources. This story appears to have been first broken by the website, a website that has previously been exposed as part of a propaganda ring. According to today’s The News,

A check on the Internet as well as The Guardian report showed that the story was not based on Wikileaks cables, and had in fact originated from some local websites such as The Daily Mail and Rupee News known for their close connections with certain intelligence agencies.

This blog and others have been trying to bring to light the question of intelligence agencies and other vested interests using journalists as puppets. Perhaps some times there is money changing hands, perhaps other times a reporter is awed by access to a well-connected source, perhaps the reporter simply believes the story is too good to pass up – whatever the reason, we see too many incidents in which news reports make claims based on statements by ‘reliable sources’ that never come true and then fade away. This is not to say that journalists should ignore their sources, but perhaps they should do a little more investigation to verify the story.

Both of these lessons center on the same point – the need for better fact checking.

Express Tribune has published a retraction and public apology letting readers know that the story was a mistake. Jang Group has also been forthcoming and published front page stories explaining that the story was a mistake and revealing the source for the material as some questionable websites. These media groups should be commended for their honesty in retracting the story and admitting the mistake. Unfortunately, today’s issue of The Nation continues to peddle the story even after it has been shown as a forgery.

In journalism, mistakes are made. This is why many newspapers include a ‘corrections’ section where they can let readers know in the event of a mislabeled photograph or some details that have been reported and later learned to be incorrect. For larger incidents like these forged Wikileaks documents, a full article such as published by Express Tribune and The News is appreciated. We hope that the lessons will be taken and all media groups will use the unfortunate incident to remind their editors and reporters of the importance of getting the story right.

Ansar Abbasi's Bizarre Performance on Dunya Today

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Ansar Abbasi on Dunya TodayAnsar Abbasi appeared on yesterday’s episode of Dunya Today to discuss Wikileaks. What could have been an informative and productive discussion of an important event in both national and foreign policy turned into something of a circus, though, as Ansar Abbasi began reciting conspiracy theories instead of actual facts. And from there, his performance only got more bizarre. But where this episode was unfortunately not as informative as it could have been about the topic of Wikileaks, it was quite informative about the guest Ansar Abbasi.

About 5 seconds into the second video clip, Dr Moeed Pirzada asks Abbasi, “You said in our last program that Wikileaks is a conspiracy against Pakistan and the Muslims of the world.” Ansar Abbasi replies, “I am still saying the same thing, the exact same thing.”

This claim that Wikileaks is a conspiracy against Pakistan and Muslim countries is being passed around the media by the usual cabal of factless conspiracy theorists. It should be noted also that this line is being spread mostly Urdu media, not English-language, though it was published by The Nation last week also. Like most conspiracy theories, it seems that people believe that it is sufficient evidence to keep saying it.

Pressed by Mosharraf Zaidi to explain how this is a conspiracy, Abbasi simply says that “they use people, not just journalists; they use entire governments for their conspiracies.” Again, he makes this claim by simply stating it, presenting no actual evidence or proofs to back up his claim.

To his credit, Mosharraf Zaidi presents an important counter weight of reasonableness to Ansar Abbasi, terming it a “poison that we have in our nation that we look at everything as a conspiracy theory.” Zaidi goes on to explain:

All I am saying is that we don’t need to start scratching on every surface just to say there is a conspiracy brewing. There are so many other things that have come up here which can promote freedom, democracy and the truth. We should concentrate on those things instead of painting everything as a conspiracy theory so that we don’t ignore the guilty (as well as the innocent) involved here.

Mr Zaidi’s statement should be printed and hung on the wall of every Editor’s office in the country. Editing in journalism is about more than looking for minor grammatical or spelling mistakes. It is supposed to be about ensuring that the media is providing what The New York Times famously calls, “all the news that’s fit to print”. The operative word here being “fit” not “all”.

But I want to mention something else that may have been overlooked by casual viewers. A few minutes after Zaidi states his comments about how conspiracy theories are a distraction from real problems, the conversation took a turn for the bizarre as Abbasi began rambling about religion, saying:

Allah says the enemies of Islam do a lot of planning but Allah is the biggest planner of all. Americans can think of plan whatever My Allah has a plan for them.

This was so bizarre that even Dr Pirzada asked what he is talking about. However, I was immediately reminded of Ansar Abbasi’s recent fatwa against Fashion Week (again published in the Urdu-language Jang as if to perhaps hide it from his English-language audience) in which Mullah Abbasi wrote:

But the real sadness is over how, despite the clear instructions of Allah and His Prophet (PBUH), and despite the promise of the Constitution of Pakistan that an environment based on religious values and Islamic teachings will be created in Pakistan so that Muslims can live their lives according to the Quran and Sunnah, there is no one to stop those making fun of Islamic values. I don’t know who allowed such a fashion show to be held. This trend of fashion shows and catwalks began in Pakistan a few years ago and because of a lack of any controls, has gone, as in the West and India, towards obscenity.

Ansar Abbasi is clearly speaking to a particular audience here. He is repeating conspiracy theories about Wikileaks being an anti-Muslim plot without providing any proofs or facts to support his claim. He is making religious judgments about punishments for acts that he determines to be un-Islamic. This is all fine for Ansar Abbasi the Mullah or Ansar Abbasi the entertainer – but Ansar Abbasi is supposed to be Investigative Editor for one of the largest news organizations in the country. Ansar Abbasi can believe whatever he wants, but it does not make it news just because Ansar Abbasi thinks it.

Ahsan Butt writes an excellent question about the exchange on his blog Five Rupees:

The thing is, I completely agree with being reasonable and tolerant of other people’s opinions, and I am pretty tolerant for the most part — being at grad school sort of forces this upon you, even if you are not personally inclined that way. However, there is a big difference between respecting other people’s opinions (which I think I do) and respecting other people’s facts (which I do not and will not).

Mosharraf Zaidi and Ahsan Butt are correct. Each person is entitled to his own opinions. Nobody is entitled to his own facts. Ansar Abbasi is supposed to be an investigative journalist. He is supposed to ‘investigate’ – to find facts and report them. Perhaps he thinks he can hide from the rest of the world by behaving this way behind a veil of Urdu, but the world is not so divided as he might like to think. By spreading unfounded conspiracy theories and playing on the religious sentiments of the people, Ansar Abbasi is doing a disservice to his readers, his reputation, and his profession.

Web of Deceit: Cafe Pyala's Expose of Internet Propaganda

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The blog Cafe Pyala recently published an incredible expose of the tangled web of deceit an Internet propaganda ring being run by a group of supposed journalists (original in full below the jump). Far from the conspiracy theories that are relentlessly promoted on several of the blogs that have been exposed, the work of the bloggers at Cafe Pyala shows what investigative journalism is all about – looking at the facts and connecting the dots. It also serves as an important reminder that readers must always consider the source of news, and whether the journalists or publication are reporting facts or simply political talking points.

According to the independent research of the bloggers at Cafe Pyala and their readers, there is a long list of blogs and Internet news sites that appear to have been set up by at least two individuals – Moin Ansari and Ahmed Quraishi – under false addresses and company names for the purpose of spreading a particular political message and attacking those with whom they disagree. Many of these websites appear to have been taken down following their exposure, more evidence that Cafe Pyala’s findings were correct. The list includes:

Ahmed Quraishi is relatively well known to Pakistan Media Watch readers, as he has been exposed several times by this blog for his pseudo-journalistic work as a political consultant – a fact that Quraishi himself does not dispute. And while some of the other pseudo-journalists exposed by Cafe Pyala like Moin Ansari are less well-known outside of conspiracy blog circles, the practice of using journalism as a cover for political operations extends well beyond these exposed websites. Connections with intelligence agencies run deep in parts of the media, and it is often difficult to decipher what is true and what is merely propaganda.

The lesson here is one that applies not only to Internet journalism, but to all forms of media. As readers of Pakistan Media Watch have commented previously, there are times when sources should be anonymous or can justifiably use a pseudonym to protect their security – especially when criticising authority. This works because the facts should be able to speak for themselves. Individuals are entitled to their own opinions, but no one is invited to his own facts.


Jang Group Credibility Takes Another Hit

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
Mahmood Shaam

Mahmood Shaam leaves Jang for ARY

The credibility of Jang Group, one of the nation largest media companies, has taken another hit with the departure of Mahmood Shaam to start a new Urdu language newspaper under the ARY banner. Cafe Pyala blog reports that this is is a major shakeup in the media world.

Now, those who follow Pakistani media in general and Urdu publications specifically, will realize how big a coup (at least in perceptual terms) this is for ARY and how big a blow it is for the Jang Group, whose CEO Mir Shakilur Rahman (MSR) and Group Managing Director, Shahrukh Hassan, are both currently out of the country. Shaam has been in journalism for almost 50 years and is known as an author and poet and in certain circles as a progressive intellectual as well. He was considered close at one time to Pakistan Peoples Party leaders, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, and was also jailed briefly during the martial law of General Ziaul Haq and saw his own weekly Mayaar (Standard) banned for some time under martial law regulations.

Adding to the feeling of the coup is the fact that most in the Jang Group had no inkling about what was about to happen and only learnt about it once ARY began to crow about signing up Shaam, first as breaking news on its television news channel and subsequently as a detailed report during its news bulletins. ARY actually ran footage of its management bigwigs sitting with Shaam as he signed (apparently) his new employment contract and continued to run tickers of congratulatory messages from its CEO Salman Iqbal – the nephew of owner Haji Abdul Razzaq of ARY Gold fame – and other management figures to Shaam. It almost seemed as if ARY were desperate to ensure that Shaam had no second thoughts and to ward off any possibility of MSR attempting to persuade him against going through with this change of loyalties.

Pouring salt into Jang’s wounds, however, ARY has also nabbed the Resident Editor of Jang Rawalpindi, Rana Tahir Mehmood, who will be the Group Editor of the about-to-be-launched newspaper. It is expected that a number of other Shaam loyalists may also depart. Keep in mind that Jang will have to contend not only with the departure of some of its biggest names, but also eventual competition from the announced newspaper. (Incidentally, the announcement also shows that ARY – currently languishing near the bottom of the media market – felt it needed a print presence to combat the Jang / Geo media juggernaut and even the daily Express / Express TV combine. Jang had earlier lost a number of its most well known columnists to Express which had thrown oodles of money to wean them away.)

While there are many rumours surrounding this mass exodus from Jang, one important question is whether or not it was due to some frustration with Mir Shakil ur Rehman using Jang Group to push a political agenda.

Those who know Shaam had been saying for a while that he seemed deeply unhappy at Jang of late. Part of the reason had been the synergy promoted by MSR between Jang and sister concerns such as The News and Geo. In the last one year, The News’ exclusive investigative reports and some op-ed writers had been made an automatic staple of Jang as well and some of Geo’s anchors were given their own columns in Jang. Obviously, regardless of the business and editorial sense of this sharing, it had led to Shaam losing a lot of control over his own paper. But he had also been resentful of what he often saw as an agenda-driven hard line taken by the Jang Group against the government, and imposed as a fait accompli on the staid Jang. He was also said to be not particularly happy about the suddenly increased interference from MSR in the day-to-day workings of the paper.

Obviously, this is not confirmed as Mr Shaam has made no statement confirming or denying such. But Jang Group has certainly had its problems with several of its top reporters being shown to regularly use their media platform to promote political talking points including unsourced rumours and predictions that do not have any supporting evidence.

The question for Mir Shakil ur Rehman is, will he take notice of these departures and order his employees to return to responsible journalism, or will Jang continue down a path of destruction? Only time will tell.

Nadeem Paracha on Media Reaction to Shoe Incident and Aftermath

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Nadeem Paracha, writing for Dawn Blog today, analyses the media reaction to the ‘shoe incident’ and the resulting protests by political activists against the media. One can’t help but come away thinking of an old song lyric.

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

The attacks were a highly undemocratic act and supposedly coming from members and supporters of the country’s largest political party made it even worse. However, if everything about this condemnable act was undemocratic, one must also ask exactly how democratic and wise were the following acts that the same media group has been embroiled in?

How wise and democratic was the role of one of its religious talk-show hosts who blatantly instigated violence against a minority sect in Lahore in 2008?

How wise and democratic is the fact that one of its many anchors was accused by the son of a slain former ISI man who was kidnapped by a group of extremists and allegedly killed on the suggestion of the anchor? The anchor has pleaded that he was not involved and the voice on a taped conversation between an extremist and him was not his. How far has the channel gone to fully investigate the issue – even though personally, I am a fan of his and would be most happy if he proves his innocence once and for all.

How wise and democratic was the way one of its former talk-show hosts – with an obsessive habit of making outlandish predictions about the downfall of the current government – ridiculed the Sindhi folk culture on the occasion of the Sindh government’s ‘Sindhi cap day’ early last year?

The list can go on. I am part of the media myself, but refuse to toe the line many of my contemporaries at the protest rally were toeing. But what was this line?

Briefly put it goes something like this: Sensationalising (on air) an event that sees a man throwing a shoe at the president is freedom of expression; but getting the same treatment from those incensed by the nature of reporting that the event got on your channel is an attack on this freedom?

Same way, suggesting that the president’s tour of Britain amounted to him ignoring the floods but forgetting about the floods yourself at the wake of the shoe-throwing incident was OK? The channel did begin to obsess about the ‘issue’ like an excited group of high school pranksters. ‘What floods, where? Get me that shoe story, now!’

The above are just questions that I aired during my meeting with some contemporaries of mine at the rally.

I fully appreciate that some of them are taking their status of being the society’s watchdogs very seriously. But many of them know as much as I do, that within our community of crusading, pen-pushing do-gooders can be found a number of characters who are as lecherous, fraudulent and arrogant as those individuals each one of us loves to bring down for being corrupt and deceiving.

What’s more, recently the local electronic media has grown another edgy tentacle. That of constant self glorification, self-righteousness and peachiness, all queerly entangled with a huge persecution complex.

Exactly when or who gave us (the media), the mandate (and the audacity) to become judge, jury and executioners?

'Shoe Incident' a Real News Story? Or Political Theatre?

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Shoe throwing gained global prominence as a protest tactic in 2008 when Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi threw his shoes at the then-President of the US, George Bush. Since then, it has been a popular form of protest for many different nations. The same tactic has been used against Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in 2009, and throwing shoes at politicians has become practically a sport in India.

The strange part of this latest shoe throwing story is that the public rally was filmed and broadcast on television – and nobody saw any show throwing.

Anti-government commentators promise that video evidence will appear soon, but still no one has seen it. In the meantime, news media has been reporting the incident and airing interviews with the alleged shoe-thrower, substituting rumour and conjecture for actual evidence of the act.

Even the alleged-shoe thrower’s story is a curious claim. According to The News report,

Sardar Mohammed Shamim Khan, 57, said Asif Ali Zardari’s speech had incensed him so much that he spontaneously decided to unlace his size 10 leather shoes and hurl them at the bewildered Pakistani leader.

There are several problems with this man’s story that any junior reporter should be able to pick up on. First is the shoe size. Perhaps it is mere coincidence that Mr Shamim Khan reports that he threw a “size 10 leather shoe”, which is the exact same description of what was thrown at Mr Bush two years ago.

But Mr Shamim Khan’s claim that his action was “spontaneous” is even less reliable when it is learned, as reported by The News, that Mr Shamim Khan “managed to sneak into the invite-only political rally”. Was this really a spontaneous act? Or a carefully planned bit of political theatre?

There are several signs that perhaps it was the latter.

The day after the alleged incident, The Nation reported, an Internet game appeared encouraging people to throw the shoe at the president. What The Nation failed to ask, though, is how this game was created and distributed so quickly after the incident unless it was prepared before the incident even happened? And if the game was already in the works, how could Mr Shamim Khan’s act really have been spontaneous?

That’s not the only troubling aspect of this entire episode. Writing for the popular blog All Things Pakistan, Adil Najam reports that almost immediately after the alleged incident, someone began circulating fake photographs of the incident on media email lists.

And now there is the fiasco about the shoe hurling. It is still not clear what really happened. But the fuss created around it is huge. As is the embarrassment: not just for Mr. Zardari, but for Pakistan itself. If ever there was need for proof that we are all purveyors of tamashbeen politics, this is it. Within hours of the news a clearly fake ‘picture’ was being touted by a supposed ‘journalist’ on a media email list. Indeed, the supposed photo of Mr. Zardari being hit by a shoe was so clearly and nauseatingly a fake that one had to wonder about the deprivation of the mind which would even offer it in this age of the magic of Photoshop.

Adil goes on to offer a scathing criticism of Pakistan’s media which has been all too quick to report rumours and unsubstantiated claims around the alleged shoe throwing without doing the slightest bit of actual research.

But at some point one also starts getting tired of the relentless badgering by some in the mainstream media. Government actions, such as the reported closure of GEO and ARY in certain areas, are to be condemned and condemned unequivocally. But those in the mainstream media need to realize that even as they create public opinion, the media is itself being judged by public opinion. The line between news and entertainment has long been erased as has been the line between fact and opinion. Now we find ourselves trespassing into the realm of slander.

As one of the institutional that many Pakistanis – including this Pakistani – has been proud of in recent years, this slide is disturbing to watch. Vigilance and transparency for those in power – as for example on the fake degrees issue – is the media’s duty. But ultimately the media will be judged – within Pakistan and abroad – for its sense of balance and fairplay. A sense of media integrity is a precious commodity for any society. A society as precarious as Pakistan’s can ill-afford the embarrassment of that integrity being questioned.

As for shoe-hurling as a means of political commentary, there are still too many things that we do not know about the incident (including the government insisting that it never even happened).

If there are still so many unanswered questions, another question must be asked – Who is behind this, and what are their motives? In fact, certain media companies have been quick to re-frame the story from one of political protest to one of tension between “the media” and the government, with “the media” being the victim.

The News, which has been severely criticised for anti-government political bias, wrote 25 percent of its “Top Stories” accusing the government of targeting Jang Group and Geo (The News is part of this same Jang media empire) – the same as about the floods which have affected millions of citizens.

In effect, Jang Group appears to be using the claim of alleged “shoe throwing” as a means to create the perception of a more general “media vs. government” tension. This has resulted in the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Syed Sumsam Ali Bukhari, issuing a statement assuring everyone that the government will not impose curbs on the media.

The reaction from certain sections of the media is both disappointing and deeply troubling. Whether or not someone threw a shoe at the president should be easily confirmed or denied. If the media cannot provide actual evidence beyond the claims of political operatives, it should not report the incident as having actually happened. What is more disturbing, though, is that these same news organizations continue to fail to provide answers to obvious questions about Mr Shamim Khan’s claims and the timing of things like an Internet game and doctored photos that appear to be pre-planned before the supposed “spontaneous” incident occurred, and instead have begun attempting to create the perception of government crackdown on media freedoms, despite lack of evidence for such a claim.

Whatever happened – if anything – should be investigated and reported by the news media. But journalists and media organizations should not be involved in creating or advancing political theatre.

Ayaz Amir's warning

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

It’s not unusual to find journalists defending the media. Often there are articles by journalists and TV anchors lamenting the sad state of our media circus, but still defending its right to continue without correction. And one certainly does not have to look very hard to find a politician willing to chastise the media, perhaps even secretly wishing he was the ultimate judge of media content. But it’s rare to find someone who has sat on both sides of the chess table and can see this situation from both points of view. When you find this person, you should probably listen to what he has to say.

Such a person we have in Ayaz Amir, a career journalist who finds himself now in the National Assembly on the PML-N ticket. Writing for The News yesterday, Ayaz Amir makes a persuasive claim that much of today’s media attacks are essentially the work of ‘ivory tower’ intellectuals who are attacking for the sake of the attack, and not for any constructive purpose.

If the political class did not get earlier it should do so now. The target of the campaign set in motion last year was not just Asif Zardari. It was the political system as a whole, all in the name of fighting corruption, the slogan with which every road leading to hell has been paved in Pakistan since 1947.

Zardari was just a metaphor and a symbol. The wheels of intrigue, with a band of media jehadis in the lead, would not have stopped with him. They would have gone on to Nawaz Sharif, ending eventually in that dream of most retired senior mandarins, an ‘interim’ government on the Bangladesh model.

This is an interesting claim, and one that ought to be taken seriously. The blog “New Pakistan” found an older article by Shaheen Sehbai that suggests a “one down, two to go” plan.

The main responsibility of this state of affairs rests with the PPP and its leader Asif Ali Zardari, who has astounded his critics, and supporters, by adopting an almost irresponsible attitude, for reasons not yet known publicly, though there is a lot of talk and buzz that he was having some serious intra-family problems, specially with his own children in Dubai.

Mr Musharraf has to be blamed a lot for this continuing uncertainty as he did not have the grace to admit that he was now a problem and the sooner he got out of the way, the easier it may be for the country’s political system to settle down.

He has uselessly wasted his time and energy to hang on to a broken branch, which may snap at any moment but in the process he has dragged the system down and consumed whatever positive momentum the new government had to tackle major issues.

But given his state of mind, no one should have expected him to show grace and should have been booted out earlier. According to all the signals emanating from his old constituency, there would not have been a single soul worried about his departure had it been done properly and quickly. Even now, no tears would be shed if a surgical operation gets him going out of the country, or in a safe house within.

A greater responsibility also rests with Mian Nawaz Sharif, who has been consistent in his positions but has failed to take political decisions in line with that position to let the system move on.

He fears that if he breaks the coalition, the system will go down. This is absolutely not the case and no one in any power corridor can think, or is thinking, of disrupting this set-up and bringing in anything wild like the Bangladesh option or a replica of the 1999 Musharraf coup.

Ayaz Amir does note that it is very possible that this is all simply the result of self-righteous media representatives cynically exploiting the news to make fame for themselves without considering the consequences.

There is a self-righteous streak in our middle class, especially the non-voting middle class, which makes it adopt over-pure positions, which far from doing any good end up rolling out the red carpet for military saviours.

But even this is rather strange, if you think about it.

Politicians can be the world’s biggest scoundrels but it would be a dreary and bleak world if they were the only scoundrels around. Every profession has its rogues, every calling its blackguards. No one will accuse generals and judges, or lawyers for that matter, of being saints. No one in his right mind will describe journalists as knights of any round table. Why raise the bar to the skies when it comes to politicians?

For all their complaining about corruption, the media is not so innocent itself. The blog Let Us Build Pakistan published a report on tax defaulters from the media recently, why this did not get so much attention, I wonder? What other bodies are buried in the yards of our sacred cows on TV and in the newspapers?

Of course, this is not to suggest that corruption should not be exposed, only to question why the double standard for the political class and not the journalists? What if we got rid of all the journalists who ever wrote something that did not come true, or did not pay their taxes, or took a drink of some alcohol or flirted with some woman? Who would be left?

There are bombings nearly every day it seems, and yet The News, just for one example, is filled with stories about where someone got their degree, and what the HEC is thinking about the matter. Is this a good use of media? Or is it avoiding the real news? Ayaz Amir is a journalist and a politician also. He can see from both sides of the chess table and provide a unique perspective on the media-political situation. It would be worth our time to pay attention.

Shaheen Sehbai's Defamation Double-Standard

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
MNA Azeem Daultana quotes Shaheen Sehbai's own words - is this defamation?

MNA Azeem Daultana quotes Shaheen Sehbai's own words - is this defamation?

One would think that after a 42-year career in the field of journalism, Shaheen Sehbai would have grown a slightly thicker skin. Instead, it appears that he’s grown quite a bit of cheek! Apparently the Group Editor of The News had his feeling hurt by an article penned by MNA Azeem Daultana and has responded with a Rs 100 Millions defamation notice. Reading The News report about the defamation notice, one wonders if Shaheen Sehbai is asking to be treated with a different standard than he himself observes.

Shaheen Sehbai’s complaint, filed against two province-based newspapers, claims that,

On May 30, 2010, the Editor-in-Chief of The News International received for publication from the Principal Information Officer of the Press Information Department an article entitled ‘Differentiating between journalism and ‘churnalism': a case study of Shaheen Sehbai’s (‘Defamatory Article’ authored by Azeem Daultana, PPP Parliamentary Secretary for Information).

Besides making several aspersions on the professional integrity, credentials, character and intentions of Shaheen Sehbai, the article specifically stated that Mr Sehbai ‘sought an ambassadorial position from Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP government and when Mr Zardari and the government denied him the coveted position and office of profit, he embarked upon a revenge mission against Mr Zardari.’

The PPP MNA was given an opportunity by Mr Sehbai to retract his baseless allegations through an e-mail dated June 12, 2010, within one week and tender an apology for the defamatory accusations. Instead of withdrawing the defamatory accusations and tendering an apology, the article by Mr Daultana was given wider dissemination and was published in two province-based newspapers, besides some suspicious blogs.

This defamation claim is particularly curious because the complainant, Shaheen Sehbai, is notorious himself for writing “baseless allegations” and “defamatory accusations”.

Just in the past few months Shaheen Sehbai has written numerous columns that include charges and allegations that he even admits have no factual support.

On 28 June, Shaheen Sehbai wrote:

The latest in the Zardari camp is to attack the judges, on the one hand, threatening to withdraw their Executive order and throw them on the street by Rehman Malik’s executive power, while on the other to secretly encourage General Musharraf to seriously come back and put together the remnants of the PML-Q under his wings and then cooperate with the PPP against Raiwind.

Where is Shaheen Sehbai’s evidence for such a claim? Or is this merely “baseless allegation” and “defamatory accusation” as well?

On 10 May Shaheen Sehbai wrote:

Brimming with self-delusional overconfidence, President Zardari and his closest minions are also quietly planning a similar offensive against the Establishment, which includes both the Pakistan Army and the country’s bureaucracy.

Against the GHQ, the presidency has plans to restructure the top hierarchy of the services chiefs and reports have been deliberately leaked from the top that the heads of the army, navy and the air force may be brought under a Chief of Defence Staff or CODS.

Of course this never happened. Isn’t this also “baseless allegation” and “defamatory accusation” as well?

On 23 April, Shaheen Sehbai wrote:

Inside the prison, the first objective for an influential, moneyed person is to develop a network of loyalists who can bypass the jail procedures, the manual, deceive the jailors, provide facilities to make life easy, bribe or negotiate with captors and judges and find conduits to communicate with the outside world. This is what Zardari did in his years of jail. He developed the hard core of his cronies – a jail doctor, a hospital owner, a business caretaker, a protocol provider, a media handler, a few political artists, a number of mafia-type jobbers, some trouble shooters, a couple of well-dressed attack dogs and a bunch of gun-wielders who he calls as his loyal security guards.

Where is Shaheen Sehbai’s evidence for such a claim? Or is this merely “baseless allegation” and “defamatory accusation” as well?

It seems that Shaheen Sehbai has a very long history of writing defamatory accusations about President Zardari. So why is he shocked when someone writes of him,

The extent of the writer’s venomous hatred for the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, is well known to the readers of this newspaper. It can be judged by a recent piece written by Sehbai titled “Why is the President scared of political actors” published in The News of April 23, 2010, in which he sadly used words like “fiendish” and phrases like “attack dogs” to describe the person and the official staff who – whether we like it or not — represent the office of the President of Pakistan.

Shaheen Sehbai may not like what Azeem Daultana has to say, but at least he has provided some evidence in the form of Sehbai’s own words. That is more courtesy that Shaheen Sehbai ever extended to the president, is it not?

In fact, Azeem Daultana’s supposedly “defamatory” article is filled with quotes from Shaheen Sehbai’s own articles followed by corrections. Does Shaheen Sehbai allege that he has defamed himself?

Sadly, Shaheen Sehbai cannot even help but to make some defamatory statements in his own complaint about defamation. For example, why does he write, “…the article by Mr Daultana was given wider dissemination and was published in two province-based newspapers, besides some suspicious blogs.”

Mr Daultana’s article appears to have been published on the popular blogs Pak Tea House, which is editied by Raza Rumi, a regular columnist for The News, as well as Let Us Build Pakistan, which is edited by a group of Co-editors, all of whom are publicly listed on the website. So why these blogs are called “suspicious”? Is this not yet another example of merely “baseless allegation” and “defamatory accusation” as well?

Shaheen Sehabi has been writing column after column of rumour and innuendo against President Zardari and others. His allegations are regularly made without any evidence, and his predictions have repeatedly failed to come true. He hides behind the cloak of ‘professional journalist’ and uses this title as a talisman to ward off any criticism. Even though Shaheen Sehbai has no problem criticising others, when someone dares to criticise him, he makes a defamation claim. Does Shaheen Sehbai believe he should be held to a different standard than his own?