Posts Tagged ‘FOX News’

Mullah Ansar Abbasi Imitates American, Indian Religious Extremists

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

In his latest bizarre religious sermon, Qadi Ansar Abbasi has explained the CWC 2011 semi-final loss to arch rival India as due to Allah’s anger at a lack of anti-American protests.

Ansar AbbasiAnd yet despite our weaknesses and faults, and our rigidity not to get ourselves reformed, we pray to Allah to give us success in a cricket match as if we would conquer the world. By the way why should Allah listen to us when we as a nation have shown no concern, as against our interest for the cricket, over the shameful events of desecration of Holy Quran by an American priest and on the shameful release of Raymond Davis. Not one percent of the people came out in the streets on these issues as compared to those who gathered on streets and roads of Pakistan just to watch the cricket match between Pakistan and Indian on mega screens.

Actually, Mullah Ansar is working from a popular tradition among media preachers of all religions. Using tragedies to incite hatred against political opponents.

In 2001, American televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell said 9/11 attacks were God’s wrath on pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and “people who want to secularize America”.

In 2004, Rajeez Srinivasan wrote an article suggesting that deaths from the deadly earthquake and tsunami could be attributed to “adharma gaining ground” in India.

Earlier this year, the FOX News commentator Glenn Beck said that the devastating tsunami and tragedy in Japan is the result of God’s wrath also.

“Whether you call it Gaia, or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent and that is, ‘Hey, you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well.’ Maybe we should stop doing some of it.”

Blaming tragedies on God’s anger with minorities or political opponents is a cheap trick used by forces of intolerance. By imitating American and Indian religious extremism, Ansar Abbasi further erodes his already severely damaged credibility.

Mullah Ansar Abbasi’s pseudo-religious ranting stands in stark contrast to the positive and well-reasoned reaction to our team’s performance by the editorial team at The News which wrote on the same day:

Our boys could not make it in the end but they fought like brave men and lost to a better side, which had the added advantage of playing at home before their cheering crowds. There could be many reasons and many scapegoats for our loss but it must be said that the Pakistani boys did a much better job in the World Cup than was being expected before the matches began. They defeated many stronger teams and reached the final four to lose to a better team. It was only a game of cricket but there are many bright sides to the entire mega event. The passion which the World Cup generated within the country and the way the entire nation united and rooted for their team, proved that Pakistanis could get together for a cause which inspires and motivates them. The politicians should better get a cue and start working to rally the people around a cause which the people can support with similar enthusiasm and unity of purpose.

Media’s ‘Myopic Zeal’ and Political Bias

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

The political bias of certain journalists is well documented. Nor is this a problem unique to Pakistan Nobody questions the conservative leaning of FOX News (USA), the liberal leaning of The Guardian (UK), or the establishment credentials of The Nation (Pak). When one looks to these media groups, the perspective that will be used is already well known. But unlike most other countries, Pakistan’s media is infested with political operatives who work under the cover of journalism. While such blatant propaganda operations may exist on the fringes of the international media, they are routinely found in the heart of our own mainstream press. This raises the question of whether Pakistan’s media can truly be fair and neutral while it lacks basic ethical guidelines around political propaganda.

In America, TV anchor Keith Olbermann was suspended and ultimately fired by MSNBC News after it was revealed that he was giving large financial donations to political candidates in direct contradiction to ethics rules.

“Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest,” the NBC News policy reads. “Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee.”

Another prominent American TV network, CBS News, fired four employees including eminent anchor Dan Rather after it was discovered that they had run a false story attacking George W. Bush.

The action was prompted by the report of an independent panel that concluded that CBS News failed to follow basic journalistic principles in the preparation and reporting of the piece. The panel also said CBS News had compounded that failure with a “rigid and blind” defense of the 60 Minutes Wednesday report.

Asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; 60 Minutes Wednesday Executive Producer Josh Howard; and Howard’s deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy. The producer of the piece, Mary Mapes, was terminated.

“We deeply regret the disservice this flawed 60 Minutes Wednesday report did to the American public, which has a right to count on CBS News for fairness and accuracy,” said CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves.

The panel said a “myopic zeal” to be the first news organization to broadcast a groundbreaking story about Mr. Bush’s National Guard service was a key factor in explaining why CBS News had produced a story that was neither fair nor accurate and did not meet the organization’s internal standards.

Obviously American media – home of FOX News – is no group of angels, and political bias exists there as well. But where in our own media can we point to high profile journalists and anchors being held to account for their political bias and inaccuracies?

The Nation is often blatantly partisan, on Sunday offering unqualified faith in PML(N).

One is certain that the Punjab government that is led by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, will do everything under the law to arrest the culprits.

Syed Ali Raza Abidi may masquerade as a journalist, but his true profession as political operative is quite obvious to anyone who cares to look. He maintains a profile on the website, and photos of him as an MQM activist are spread across the internet. Yet when publishing his writing, Express Tribune describes him only as, “A businessman who writes on politics and civic issues”. Aaj TV describes him as “A businessman and a young politician.” Abidi’s MQM activism is never mentioned in his by line, yet the writing of this ‘businessman’ follows a trend that is invariably pro-MQM and anti-government.

When MQM introduces a de-weaponization bill, Syed Abidi is there to support it in the media. This same ‘businessman’ also offers backhanded praise to the PM for ‘bailing out a failing government’ while saying that “Hopefully the MQM and PML-N have reminded you of what your priorities should have been in the first place”.

Syed Ali Raza Abidi MQM operative

Of course, Abidi is not alone and today’s examples are not the first people to use the profession of journalism as a path to Islamabad. Let us not forget that PML(N) MNA Ayaz Amir and PPP MNA Sherry Rehman were also journalists prior to their careers in politics. Nor is this to say that journalists must be devoid of personal political beliefs, nor does it mean that journalists should never change careers to politics. Actually both Ayaz Amir and Sherry Rehman were excellent journalists and also excellent MNAs. But if a journalist decides to change careers and go into politics, it should be a mystery to the public which party they will choose, so well hidden were there own political beliefs from their reporting.

Some of this problem is likely the result of the growing number of newspapers and TV channels that require more and more content to attract their audience and advertisers. Pakistan does not have enough trained and qualified journalists to fill the necessary positions. As a result, anyone who can write well and produce content for these groups is accepted. Becoming an ‘analyst’ is even easier. There one often simply needs a phone.

One part of the solution is for media groups to adopt corrective systems that ensure accuracy and accountability. Zohra Yusuf, Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R, makes an excellent suggestion in a piece for Aurora Magazine.

The answer to instilling responsibility in the media does not lie in any form of government control or oversight. The days of censorship should be firmly behind us. There are many workable and proven structures and systems of media monitoring and complaints commission available. It is the will that is needed and the consensus among media organisations not only to acknowledge the issue of accountability but to work towards setting in place corrective systems. The Express Tribune has done well to announce the appointment of Justice (Retired) Farkruddin G. Ebrahim as an ombudsman for the newspaper. In fact, it published all his contact details as well, encouraging readers to send their complaints to him. However, a solo effort by a small newspaper will have little impact unless major news organisations make a similar joint commitment.

By developing internal systems to hold journalists accountable for the accuracy of reports, media groups would ensure their own independence and freedom as well as their long-term business model. The more newspapers and channels enter the media space, being the first with ‘breaking news’ is already having diminishing returns. People see a report early, but they don’t believe it. That creates an opportunity for media groups to compete for the title of ‘most accurate’.

But ombudsmans and internal controls must also deal with certain questions of journalistic ethics such as what it means to be a reporter and what it means to be a political operative. Pakistan has no shortage of drawing room politicians. What we are desperate for are qualified journalists.

Funhouse Mirrors

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Media is ofter termed a ‘watch dog’ and indeed this is one important role of the media. Personally, I think this is a poor metaphor. For one thing, ‘watch dog’ assumes that there is an outside threat and that its master must be protected and never questioned. In the case of media it is too often the government which is seen as a threat only and the civil society never questioned. But government is not inherently a threat, and civil society is not without its own faults also.

Funhouse mirrorAnother view is that media’s role is a mirror held up to society reflecting what is good and bad both so that people can see the good and know where there are some improvements needed. In this case, media would show both the problems in government that need to be fixed and the good things that government does also. Media would do the same for civil society, showing the good of the people but also reflecting the blemishes in popular beliefs so that they can be mended and society improved.

But what happens when the mirror becomes warped?

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News on Sunday night, American President Barack Obama described the American media as a ‘funhouse mirror’ that gives people a mistaken impression.

While questioning Mr Obama on domestic issues; Mr O’Reilly, a strong opponent, abruptly asked him: “Does it disturb you that so many people hate you?” Mr Obama laughed a little and then responded. “You know, the truth is that the people — and I’m sure previous Presidents would say the same thing, whether it was Bush or Clinton or Reagan or anybody — the people who dislike you don’t know you. “But they hate you,” Mr O’Reilly stressed.

“The folks who hate you, they don’t know you,” said Mr Obama. “What they hate is whatever funhouse mirror image of you that’s out there and they don’t know you. And so, you don’t take it personally.” “You don’t ever?” prodded Mr O’Reilly one final time. “Doesn’t it annoy you sometimes? “I think that by the time you get here you have to have had a pretty thick skin. If you didn’t, then you wouldn’t have got here,” said Mr Obama.

For a variety of reasons, the media mirror has become warped not only in America but in Pakistan also. Mosharraf Zaidi brilliantly describes the state of things in his column, Drowning in our delusions:

The starkest revelation in the post-Taseer scenario is that the quality of journalism in Pakistan is in grave danger of becoming entirely hostage to ratings, profits and fear. For staunch defenders of the Pakistani media, this is not a pleasant reality to come face to face with. There is very little, however, to mitigate the cold hard facts.

Taseer’s position was pretty simple. He believed and stated that the Pakistan Penal Code provisions on blasphemy cause procedural lapses that endanger the lives of innocent Pakistanis. He believed and stated that there are skewed incentives, built into the provisions, for people to misuse them. Finally, he believed and stated that procedural change is required to give greater functional fidelity to the legal regime dealing with blasphemy.

This is not a particularly sophisticated position. It has long been shared by reasonable Pakistanis on all sides of the faux ideological divides we create in this country. It is a position that human rights advocates, political leaders and others have long taken.

Yet not only was this position rarely represented in the news media, it was repeatedly misrepresented. Watching young talk show hosts in their twenties make careers out of aggression is not unique. But when that aggression helps fuel paranoia and lies about someone that can then threaten their safety, we must draw a line. One such talk show host recently won the equivalent of the TV talk-show host lottery – a new job after a bidding war broke out for the host’s services. The new job is a reward for having repeatedly insinuating Salmaan Taseer’s blasphemous intent on a talk show. While one channel fired the host, it hardly matters. The new show will be even more bombastic. It will not fear facts, because facts often get in the way of ratings.

It is not only the facts that become distorted in the media funhouse mirror, though. It also makes it distorts the conversations about the problems the country is facing. And when we can’t see clearly what is wrong, how are we supposed to fix it?

Hyper-nationalist propagandists might believe that it’s better for us to lie to ourselves about the nation’s problems, but this is actually keeping us from making progress. That is also the conclusion reached by Mosharraf Zaidi.

Pakistan is being poisoned by false pride, self-pity and moral asymmetry. If we want Raymond Davis to burn, we should demand the same for Mumtaz Qadri. If the murder of three Lahori boys is unacceptable, we should be even more outraged by the untold death and destruction in Tirah Valley, in Bajaaur, in Orakzai, and across FATA that has been showered upon it by the Pakistani military. If we don’t like drones (and we shouldn’t), we must ask questions about what our helicopters and F-16s are doing in the north. If we don’t like targeted killings in Karachi, we should raise our voice against them in Balochistan too.

Pakistanis are too resilient, too beautiful and too good to drown in a sea of delusions. Now more than ever is a time for Pakistanis to be optimistic. The degree of responsibility in our optimism will make all the difference between perpetuating fantasies, or stemming the rot by promoting facts and reason.

Pakistan has the intellect and the resources to solve its own problems and clean up its own messes. We don’t need ‘patriotic generals’ or anyone else to do it for us. But before we can begin to improve things, we have to know what we’re looking at. For this, we rely on the media to be a mirror that reflects our nation clearly and accurately.

Is Name Calling Really Worth Journalists Time?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

For someone who is happy to label people as ‘liberal extremist’ or ‘liberal fascist’, Hamid Mir is very sensitive about anyone saying anything about him. On Tuesday, Hamid Mir asked in Express Tribune “Why these attacks against me?” after Khaled Ahmed pointed out the ridiculousness of Hamid Mir using the ‘liberal fascist’ label against other people.

Hamid Mir explains that he used the term because he had seen it used by an American author, Jonah Goldberg.

I would like to invite his attention towards the book Liberal Fascism written by American Journalist Jonah Goldberg, published in 2008. Mr Goldberg wrote the history of liberal fascism from Mussolini to the American Left and declared Hillary Clinton as a liberal fascist. If an American journalist can use the term liberal fascism then the Pakistani media can also make comparisons between religious extremists and liberal-fascists.

While it’s true that this term was used by the American Jonah Goldberg, the facts are a little more complicated. Jonah Goldberg is not a journalist like Hamid Mir or Talat Hussain. Jonah Goldberg is a right-wing political columnist who is a regular guest on Glenn Beck and a commentator on FOX News which he even described as a populist, tabloidy network.

Jonah Goldberg made headlines last fall for calling Islamophobia “a myth” and said that Americans should stop worrying about Muslim sentiments regarding plans to build a New York City mosque. Is this really who Hamid Mir is taking his ideas from?

For the record, here is famous American cultural critic Jon Stewart interviewing Jonah Goldberg about the book that Hamid Mir is such a fan of:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Jonah Goldberg
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

It should be noted here that this term was also discussed recently as the topic of Kamran Shahid’s show Front Line on Express News of 6 February.

As could be expected, Orya Maqbool Jan presented some fairly right-wing views, but nothing particularly noteworthy and overall the entire programme seemed to be an excuse for Kamran Shahid complaining about English-language media not allowing rebuttals – a complaint that is proven meaningless by the very English-language articles by Khaled Ahmed and Hamid Mir which consist of an ongoing debate and rebuttal on the specific issue!

Hamid Mir has been writing about the bogey of ‘liberal fascist’ for a month, and the only definition of what exactly is a ‘liberal fascist’ that anyone seems to be able to come up with is ‘someone who doesn’t agree with me’. Certainly Hamid Mir is entitled to his opinion, but we must ask whether the time and energy of our journalists is best spent having a debate about name-calling while the country struggles with serious issues of economy and security.

Credibility, and how to lose it

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Hajrah Mumtaz wrote an excellent piece in Dawn over the weekend about media credibility and how news organizations risk losing this vital piece of their business. Threats to media credibility are certainly not unique to Pakistan, but neither are these same threats missing. Also, our media is vulnerable to some of these threats at a time when the stakes are especially high.

Mumtaz mentions two ways that media can lose credibility. The first is when news organizations reduce the size of their staff and resort to ‘outsourcing’ the material for their reports. This can easily result in biased or propaganda pieces getting used in the place of actual reporting.

The second, which Mumtaz says is a more direct threat to Pakistan’s media is manipulated by political agents:

There is another way in which the issue of news credibility crops up, however, and that lies is in the influence and biases of the owners of news organisations, and their political links. Media and politics have become intertwined in the past decade: in terms of some media outlets, both print and broadcast, a consistent stance for or against a certain government, or political party, or leader, or even an issue, can clearly be identified. Matters are not helped by rumours that journalists have or can be bought, or not, or put in planted stories, or end up presenting as ‘objective’ news material that is little more than an official press release.

This is fairly clearly a problem already. This blog has found examples recently of major newspapers parroting political talking points without verifying the claims and printing anonymous opinion pieces as ‘news.’ While FOX News has already gained the reputation of a political propaganda machine in the USA, our own Shireen Mazari has made quite a reputation for herself at home and in the world, even being called the “Ann Coulter of Pakistan.”

Unfortunately, the two problems mentioned by Mumtaz are possibly working together for to the detriment of the nation.

The shrinking size of international media organizations makes it more likely that these agencies will look to the news reported by Pakistan’s media for stories and facts. So there is a problem if the stories are politically manipulated and the facts are not verified.

The result will be confusion in the world about what is happening in Pakistan. Eventually, people will stop trusting any information that comes out of our media as tainted by the reputations of these irresponsible media talking heads. Our media, as a result, will not be trusted in the world and people will not know what the real situation in Pakistan is. How would it be otherwise?

Pakistan’s media has many good journalists and excellent editors. These individuals have the ability to prevent this course by continuing to provide quality reports, but also by putting positive pressure on their colleagues to act responsibly and professionally, and to self-police the media and criticize their colleagues when they act outside the lines.

Together, we can make sure that the world not only gets the true story about Pakistan, but that they can believe it.

Open Letter to The Telegraph (UK)

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

In his recent column, “Pakistani TV performing vital democratic function,” Mr. Hasan Mansoor does a disservice to the facts about Pakistan’s media. While TV executives like Azhar Abbas may tell reporters that “their news helps inculcate democracy and gives a voice to the disenfranchised,” their actions tell a different story.

Rather than reply to media critics like Nadeem Paracha, Abbas instead suggests that criticism is part of a defensive strategy by the government. He claims that media critics fail to “counter argument with argument,” but this is simply not the case. For the BBC, Ahmed Rashid wrote a very eloquent and well documented piece about the glut of conspiracy theories in Pakistan’s media.

Rashid’s piece echoed sentiments in Adam Ellick’s excellent post on the New York Times’ blog that featured a video about the failure of pop-music stars to address Taliban violence, choosing instead to focus on anti-Western conspiracy theories. That Pakistani media – especially TV – has become a veritable marketplace of nutty conspiracy theories is not news.

Unfortunately, the failings of Pakistan’s media do not stop with harmless conspiracy fantasies. Take, for example, the recent international outcry around Pakistani newspaper The Nation in which a respected American journalist was accused, absent any evidence whatsoever, of being a spy for both the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.

Did the paper apologize for the obvious ethical problems, not to mention life-threatening dangers, associated with this lapse in judgment? No. Rather, the paper published a semi-coherent diatribe by TV personality and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, Ahmed Quraishi, in which Quraishi plead victimhood for The Nation having to suffer criticism for an act that could result in the murder of another American journalist in Pakistan. Have we already forgotten Mr. Daniel Pearl?

Talat Hussain’s claim that, “We adopt very democratic methods. Here you find people from both sides,” is eerily reminiscent of similar claims to “Fair and Balanced” reporting from a certain American TV station. This American station also proclaimed that it was giving a voice to the disenfranchised, despite the fact that independent research found that it’s viewers were less well informed than those of other major news outlets. Imagine a media market saturated with FOX News clones. Hardly a service to democracy.

Sadly, Pakistani TV today serves less a democratic function than a demagogic one. Though free from government intervention and control, TV executives and editorial boards have overwhelmingly opted to promote the sort of fantastic conspiracy theories one expects from basement-run Internet message boards, not responsible commercial media outlets. Mr. Abbas and his colleagues are doing democracy in Pakistan a disservice, and would be well advised to clean up their act.