Posts Tagged ‘Jang Group’

Ansar Abbasi: Double Standards and Smears

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Ansar AbbasiAnsar Abbasi today is continuing with his sad display of poor journalism and unsupported political attacks. His column in The News is titled “NAB used to target CJ on Presidency’s wishes“, but nowhere in the column does he present any evidence that such a claim is true. Rather Ansar Abbasi uses double standards and bald faced smear tactics to try to create some resentment against the government and promote his own political goals.

It’s ironic that Ansar Abbasi claims that the government is trying to “scandalise and ridicule the superior judiciary”, all the while his same newspaper publishes articles that uses phrases like “the government’s ugly effort” and “desparate”. Abbasi in his column says that “the government has launched this frontal attack against the Chief Justice”, but in another article in the same paper is titled, “Govt attacked, judiciary backed”. Which is it?

But that is not the only double-standard that is obvious. Ansar Abbasi says that in questioning the validity of President Zardari’s decision to reinstate the Chief Justice, NAB “ignored the basic fact that the issues regarding the judges restoration or those reappointed under the Naek formula have already settled and could not be questioned anymore.”

So the judges restoration which occurred in 2009 cannot be questioned anymore, but the Swiss cases which were dismissed in 2008 should be re-opened? NRO which was promulgated in 2007 can be repealed? Is there a rule that only that which can be used as a weapon against Zardari is fair to be questioned, and anything else is “already settled”?

This same logic is applied to the NAB statements about the restoration of the judiciary. Ansar Abbasi says that, “the NAB…has tried to question the validity of the March 2009 restoration of the judges through an executive order issued by Prime Minister Gilani”. He says that this cannot be questioned because “the Supreme Court in its July 31, 2009 decision has already settled all such matters”.

But Ansar Abbasi uses a different standard for NAB. He says that “The NAB’s reply to the Supreme Court in a BoP corruption case is not only contemptuous but is also flawed and filed by a person, Irfan Qadir, who along with the minister in-charge of the NAB Babar Awan is required to be questioned by NAB in the same BoP fraud case.”

According to Ansar Abbasi’s logic, Irfan Qadir and Babar Awan should not be able to file a reply in a BoP case because they may be affected by the case. But it is perfectly acceptable for the Supreme Court to settle the matter of its own restoration!

In fact, Ansar Abbasi tries to smear the names of Irfan Qadir and Babar Awan by saying they are accused by Harris Steel owner Afzal Sheikh. This is a bald faced attempt to smear the names of these men without giving them the proper right to have any complaints or accusations cleared in a court. For someone who claims to care about justice, Ansar Abbasi continues to be selective in who he believes deserves the right of fair treatment and who is guilty by his own decree.

Ansar Abbasi: Challenging Shahid Massod to be Chief Justice of Media?

And after he continues to behave this way, Ansar Abbasi has the cheek to whine that nobody will talk to him! He complains in his column,

The government at different levels was even contacted last week by a staffer of The News Investigations Wing regarding what was cooking up in the corridors of power against the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the superior judiciary but it was again denied.

Can you imagine this phone call?

“Assalamu Alaikum”

“Walaikum assalam. I am a staffer of The News. Please let me speak to the crony in charge of cooking up contemptuous attacks against the Chief Justice?”

“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”

“You know who I am talking about! He is in the Corridors of Power and works on the ‘Scandalise and Ridicule the superior judiciary’ portfolio!”

“Sir, I do not know what you are talking about. This is the government of Pakistan, are you sure you have dialed the right number?”

“How can you not know what I am talking about! It was reported in The News last month!!! So you are denying me to speak with the crony in charge of conspiracy to target the Chief Justice!”

“Sir, I am going to have to hang up the phone because we have important work to do in the government and do not have time to waste with prank phone calls.”

Ansar Abbasi calls the NAB’s reply “simply disgraceful, unprecedented and unheard of”. His entire column is a poison pen letter that makes accusations with double standards, innuendo, and no evidence. All of this he thinks is okay because his column has been labeled “News Analysis”. But this is not analysis. It is simply a political speech, and another embarrassment for Mir Rahman.

The News Droops Even Lower

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

The following post is a reader submission received from Muhammad Shahid Khan. As always, we encourage you to email your own posts to pakistanmediawatch@gmail.com if you notice some yellow journalism or factual problem in the media so that we as a community can keep our media held accountable.

The News (Jang Group)The News is no alien to yellow journalism. The whole Jang Group has an immense history of publishing concoted stories based on the unknown sources of investigative journalist in-charge Ansar Abbasi, the imaginations of Saleh Zafar and the conspiracies of Shaheen Sehbai.

But with the story about “lady guides” being given front-page importance by The News, it has become clear once again that it has drooped to the lowest levels of moral, journalistic and intellectual standards.

On July 2, 2010 it published the following story: ‘Lady guides’ hired during Zardari’s Turkey visit not paid

Firstly, the emphasis is again on President Zardari rather than stating that some guides hired for a state tour haven’t been paid. Then, the term is quoted in quotes again and again as “lady guides” and words used include to “facilitate the entourage”. The News without stating it clearly mean to say that the ladies were either escorts/prostitutes or were providing some “special” service. The term combined with the President’s name in the heading makes it clear that The News is trying to make it sound like (intentionally, of course) a sex scandal.

Today, the paper dropped even lower with an editorial on an issue.

The very first paragraph reads :

An FO spokesman has suggested they were interpreters; other accounts say they were ‘guides’. Everyone is of course free to reach their own conclusions. The fact they were hired from an unregistered tour operator, without the knowledge of the ambassador to Turkey at the time, may give further clues. The clandestine – and rather sleazy–nature of the whole affair was made worse by the failure to pay the girls until the intervention of a Turkish court.

The clear focus on “sleazy”, “guides” and the issue being “clandestine” is portraying the editorial desk’s thinking and intentions.Editorials handle important issues with the focus being on a short, all-encompassing rational and thought-provoking issue. When you lamented about editors not doing enough, here you have an editor doing precisely the worst thing possible. The Editorial again hints at the supposed misconduct that it wants to create out of the story. By stating “Everyone is of course free to reach their own conclusions” the editors have made clear their opinion that it is some kind of a sex scandal and linking it not with a state visit but directly to the President, it is clearly conducting the highest levels of criminal journalism. Such pieces of yellow journalism do not demand being given any worthy mention but coupled with the fact that the President is a widower, the newspaper has tried to portray the President as being involved in a scandal so as to capture the public’s attention on its alleged war against the President and deem him as having no moral authority.

Although it published a statement from the Presidential Spokesman as well, the newspaper is clearly and precisely hinting at sexual misconduct from the President.

I would never have covered it for such stories don’t deserve mention but the newspaper’s willingness to publish an editorial demanded that I should, as a responsible citizen, deem this as a crime and bring it to everyone’s notice how one news-media group is personally targeting people.

– Muhammad Shahid Khan

Media Muzzle and Media Accountability

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Have some elements of the media gone too far?

The media profession has been all a twitter this week following reports of a meeting between government and military figures to discuss formulation of guidelines for electronic and print media. It is our sincere hope that no such ‘media muzzle’ will come to pass, but we must ask whether some in the media are actually inviting these problems?

Daily Times today includes an editorial on reports that the ministry of foreign affairs, information, and the army’s ‘Joint Staff Headquarters’ (JSHQ) have discussed whether or not there should be media guidelines to ensure national security interests.

The first reaction of any honest journalist should be discomfort with any government constraints on a free press. Constraining the ability of the media to serve as a check on power is a sure path towards abuses of power. But as with any freedom, there are responsibilities. Actions have consequences: Just as eating too much sweets will cause diabetes and rot your health, so can unhealthy reporting rot journalism. Here is what Daily Times says:

Relative freedom of the media has been achieved after great struggle and sacrifice. But there is no such thing as freedom without responsibility. Some sections of the media have used this relatively new found freedom irresponsibly and invited this kind of intervention, as we have been warning repeatedly. The media has failed to self-regulate and hold itself accountable by setting up institutions and structures that provide mechanisms for redress of complaints by the public and affected groups. The Press Council instituted by former president Musharraf failed to become functional and there is no such forum for complaints against the electronic media. Even now, if the media houses come together and, while rejecting this external oversight by essentially the military establishment, produce a code of conduct and structures to regulate themselves, perhaps this ‘sinking’ ship can be saved.

The News (Jang Group)It’s worth noting that Daily Times warning about the problem of irresponsibility and unaccountability in media comes on the same day that The News, a newspaper of the giant media corporation Jang Group, publishes an article by Afzal Khan that could be read as wishing for the president to be assassinated. In an article about his hatred for President Zardari, Afzal Khan writes:

For many it may not be a very pleasant thought that he will not only survive to complete the present term but we may be condemned to bear with him even for another term. It is rather a dreadful scenario of having him as our helmsman and guiding our destinies. Unless he changes his wayward ways and crooked thinking, this is likely to be an unmitigated disaster. Yet it is a ground reality that we may have to face.

Certainly the author will claim innocence and plead his case that he means political survival, not a question of life or death. But why did he not say “stay in office”? Why did he choose the word “survive” which has a very clear meaning of life and death? Even if the reporter, Afzal Khan, could not understand that his article can be read as promoting assassination, was his editor asleep? How did such rhetoric make it to publication?

Even for a company that has admitted that they take anti-government positions to boost their advertising income, on the day following a multiple suicide bombing attack against such a place as the Data Darbar, is it unreasonable for the military and security agencies to worry that media is finally going too far? If a reporter suggests killing the President, is it possible for journalism to become terrorism? If so, at what point will the security agencies step in to stop it?

Despite reporters’ concerns about a crackdown on free press, Zardari and the government have been impressively silent as they suffer daily assaults – often completely unsupported by facts – from all corners of the media. From the moment Zardari was elected, many media elites have seemed determined to topple the government by hook or by crook, and have published a constant stream of ‘wishful journalism’ that is based not on any facts or evidence, but on a determination to cause Zardari to fail. This in itself is irresponsible, unethical, and unprofessional. But Afzal Khan, The News, and Jang Group crossed a line today with what was published.

The Daily Times editorial makes clear that the intention behind discussions of some JSHQ developed media guidelines has been to protect the national security. This is an important and laudable goal. But national security cannot come at the sacrifice of freedoms, otherwise what are we securing? Muzzling the media will only result in blowback from an already hostile press, and invite stern rebukes from the international media as well.

Unfortunately, if Jang Group is unable or unwilling to instruct its publishers, editors, and reporters to uphold a basic sense of responsibility and accountability, it may be that they place the muzzle on themselves. How the people at The News could think it is ever justified to wish for the death of the President of the nation – even if only rhetorically so – is beyond understanding. For the sake of the free press, it is time for the legitimate journalists to take back control of their profession and ensure a basic level of responsibility, accountability and decency. If they do not, someone else surely will.

[UPDATE]Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira on Friday ruled out any possibility of imposition of curbs on the media. While this is good news certainly, let us hope that it does not prevent Jang Group and other media corporations from taking their own responsibilities more seriously.

Anti-Government Rhetoric Cynical Ploy For Ratings Boost

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Watching TV news and talk shows or reading newspapers and blogs by media corporations, it’s not difficult to answer the question of what all these self-proclaimed ‘experts’ are against. They are against the government, they are against the US, but mostly they are against Zardari. The fevered pitch with which the chorus of anchors chants their anti-Zardari talking points seems puzzling at times. But why should it? Criticising someone is a great way to boost ratings. And since these anchors are never held to account for their own actions, they have nothing to lose. This phenomenon – our own media anchors criticising Zardari in a cynical ploy to to boost ratings - is beginning to be noticed around the world.

“They gossip and take hearsay from the streets onto the TV screens,” says Owais Tohid, a journalist and former director of English-language news at Geo, which has a 24-hour news channel and three other channels. “I know how desperate they become when owners ask them to improve their ratings.”

Pakistan’s television industry is doing well despite the nation’s shaky economic picture. Foreign investment is in the doldrums and Pakistan is reliant on International Monetary Fund loans due to a weak government fiscal position. But sectors of the economy that sell consumer goods to the nation’s growing middle class have expanded in recent years, and TV is benefiting.

Annual TV ad sales jumped 20% last year to $174 million, after rising 13% in 2008.

There are almost 100 satellite and cable channels in Pakistan today, some in English but most in the local Urdu language, covering news, entertainment, fashion and sports and reaching a third of the country’s 175 million people. Scores of TV channels have been created in recent years, boosting free speech and spurring social debate.

There is big money to be made in criticism of the government. US$174 Million is over Rs 14 BILLION. Do you believe that this is coincidence only and nobody has noticed? Certainly they have.

Mr. Aslam acknowledges some anchors go too far. He says that those who take extreme Islamist or nationalist stances have seen their ratings drop; but those with antigovernment slants are popular.

And these anti-government rants have a massive influence on public opinion.

President Zardari’s approval ratings have dropped sharply amid perceptions of his closeness to the U.S., which is unpopular among many Pakistanis.

In a poll published in August, the Washington-based Pew Research Center found 32% of those asked had a favorable view of Mr. Zardari, down from 64% in 2008. Meanwhile, 77% said the growing news media was having a positive effect on the country.

This is why it is so important that the media acts responsibly and does not try to influence the courts or other institutions.

Imran Aslam who is the president of Karachi-based International Media Corp., which owns Geo Television and the Jang Group, says that, “You have to hold these people accountable. The opposition’s not doing it.” Imran has the right idea, but he is going about it the wrong way.

Holding businesses and politicians accountable is a key role of a properly functioning media. But there is a difference between holding people accountable and spreading rumour and innuendo that proves nothing but only drags people down.

Imran Aslam says that he must attack Zardari for corruption because he was never convicted. But isn’t the real answer that if he has some evidence of corruption he should take it to the courts? Instead, what we see are outrageous accusations made constantly with a complete lack of evidence. The News is becoming as bad as The Nation for printing whatever conspiracy theories they can come up with, the facts be damned.

It’s a bad sign when Aamir Liaquat Husain complains that you are too biased. And yet that has happened.

“We are not players, we are umpires,” says Aamir Liaquat Husain, who anchors a controversial religious talk show on Geo. “We should act like a neutral person.”

He is correct. Journalists and TV anchors should be neutral and unbiased observers. Like umpires, they must be counted on to give an impartial report of events, not to try to influence the game. Maybe an umpire doesn’t like Shane Warne, but he shouldn’t call him out unless he is actually out. In the same way, journalists don’t have to like Zardari or anyone else – but they do need to be fair and impartial in their reporting.

TV ratings are great for media companies, and no one complains about the additional revenue generated from advertising. But those gifts may not last forever. What happens when Zardari is no longer in office? Will they just continue to criticise in the same way whoever is there? Eventually, the people will get tired of this game. Or, worse, the media may convince a less democratically-oriented government that they cannot handle the responsibility of a free press. And then all those ratings will come to naught. Who will pay for all those expensive suits then, I wonder?

Ansar Abbasi Needs New Sources

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Ansar Abbasi Out LBW - Learn Before Writing!

Ansar Abbasi has been listening to those voices that are his ‘sources’, and they appear to be giving him some pretty bad intelligence. Take his article in today’s The News, “A get-CJ Iftikhar operation on the cards?” in which Ansar hears from his nameless ‘sources’ that all the political parties are plotting to overthrow the Chief Justice. Only problem, the political parties are singing a different tune.

According to Ansar Abbasi,

Feeling insecure from a fiercely independent judiciary because of their tainted past, President Asif Ali Zardari and a group of his advisers, including a few federal ministers, all of whom have their personal grudge against the judiciary, have chalked out this strategy to muster much-required support of political and legal fraternity to target the top judge. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is also said to be on-board.

Sure to win the support of all its coalition partners, including the ANP, the MQM and the JUI-F, all of them not too happy with the independent judiciary because of its decisions affecting them and their leaders, the PPP is also confident to take the PML-N on-board.

Unfortunately, Ansar Abbasi’s ‘sources’ forgot to tell the accused plotters of their nefarious schemes. Not knowing that he is behind a secret plot to overthrow the Chief Justice, PM Gilani has been out praising the judiciary.

Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, addressing course participants at the National Defence University (NDU) on Tuesday, said the government was implementing the decisions of the Supreme Court.

“We respect the Supreme Court and have always worked for the restoration of the judiciary. I released the [detained] judges on the very first day of assuming office,” said the prime minister, adding, “We want independence of the judiciary, a free media and a vibrant civil society”.

In fact, this is nothing new. Just a few weeks ago it was reported that the PM had called the Chief Justice to assure him that the government was respecting him and his decisions and would work to ensure that parliament and the judiciary were working together.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani telephoned Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Saturday, informing him that the PPP-led government respects the judiciary and to assure the CJ of the government’s full cooperation in all matters, a private TV channel reported on Saturday.

“I telephoned the chief justice and informed him that the government respects the judiciary,” Gilani said while addressing a ceremony at the Lahore Expo Centre.

The prime minister said he assured the CJ that the government would take decisions on the reopening of the Swiss cases in accordance with the law and constitution.

Gilani said both parliament and the judiciary were passing through a process of evolution, adding that a clash among the institutions would not favour the country’s development and the democratic process.

He said he had no hesitation in working with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and its chief Nawaz Sharif in the greater interest of the nation.

Of course, this should really not be a surprise. Despite the voices in his head that are Ansar Abbasi’s ‘sources’, everyone who he asked said the same.

Information Minister Qamaruzzaman Kaira, however, when approached categorically denied this and asked how the PPP government, which gave its blood during the judicial movement and restored the judges through an executive order, could even think of targeting any of the judges.

‘Neither there is any such thinking nor it will happen,’ he said, adding that the PPP, the government or the Presidency have nothing against any judge. The information minister said the government respects the judges and the courts and is obeying their orders and directions. He said there is no issue of President Asif Ali Zardari as the 18th Amendment was passed by parliament.

PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal, however, emphatically said that his party, which has paid a heavy price for the restoration of the independent judiciary, would not let any attempt aimed at attacking it succeed.

Farooq Sattar (MQM) also told Abbasi that the rumour was rubbish.

Senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar, when approached told The News that no one from the government or Presidency has contacted his party for any such move against the chief justice.

ANP spokesman Zahid Khan also said the rumour is nonsense.

ANP spokesman Zahid Khan told The News that neither he was aware of any such development nor his party leadership was contacted by the government or the Presidency with such a proposal.

Even JUI-F spokesman Maulana Ajmad said the rumour is false.

JUI-F spokesman Maulana Ajmad when contacted said he is not aware of any such move and is hearing it from The News for the first time.

Actually, Ansar Abbasi even goes so far as to admit that he checked out more of the claims of his sources and could find no evidence.

The sources said Zardari’s confidants are also contemplating filing a formal reference before the Supreme Judicial Council against the chief justice.

About the grounds of such a reference, nothing could be ascertained by this correspondent except that the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Qazi Anwar, revealed to The News something is said to have already been received by President Zardari against the chief justice.

All of this raises the question – if Ansar Abbasi’s ‘sources’ tell him some rumours and all of his investigating shows that they are not true – why does he still write an article declaring it to be true?

Please, Ansar Abbasi, ‘Learn Before Writing’!

Who is Thomas Houlahan?

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Last week The News published a column titled, “US asked to stand by forces of law in Pakistan” that calls on the US to oppose the present government. Aside from the obvious problem of publishing an obvious opinion piece as “news,” the article raises several questions about whether The News is acting as a political propaganda machine.

The article is based primarily on another article written in an American newspaper called, The Hill. This appears to be a political newspaper for the US Congress. The article, published originally on 28 May, was written by one Mr Thomas Houlahan who says he is,

a former member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. He served as an election monitor during the 2008 elections in Pakistan

After looking into Mr Houlahan a little bit, though, it seems that perhaps there is more to this story than is being reported.

In a 2007 article, Mr Houlahan writes that Pakistan cannot have a democracy but rather required Pervez Musharraf and Army to rule.

Many commentators seem to believe that the only reason Pakistan has not developed into a smoothly running democracy is that the Pakistani army is constantly involving itself in politics.

I think those commentators have gotten it pretty much backward. It is clear to me that the Pakistani army ends up involved in politics because Pakistan lacks some of the key prerequisites for the smooth functioning of a democracy.

He went on to say that Musharraf was ‘clearly entitled to run’ and that, by sacking the judges, he saved Pakistan:

The recent state of emergency stemmed from an attempt by the Supreme Court to expand its power.

There was already tension with the judiciary over what the government felt was excessive use of its right to take up issues on its own initiative, known as “suo-motu jurisdiction.” Issues like road traffic, prices, environmental problems, and appointment and transfers of senior officials were increasingly becoming court matters. In addition, government and civil service officials were being called to court with increasing regularity and dressed down by judges.

Musharraf felt that the judiciary’s activity rose to the level of interference with the conduct of government.

It has also been reported that two Supreme Court justices warned Musharraf that the court was preparing to rule him ineligible for election as president.

Such a ruling would have gone against not only any reasonable interpretation of the constitution, but an April 13, 2005 ruling by the Supreme Court on the very same issues.

It may not look good for a serving army general to run for president of a country, but under the constitution of Pakistan, Musharraf was clearly entitled to run.

Musharraf’s declaration of emergency may have served his own interests, but it may have also forestalled what would have been a dictionary-definition constitutional crisis.

In fact, while issuing praise for Pervez Musharraf and military rule, Mr Houlahan has some very bitter words to say about Pakistan’s political parties.

The PPP is essentially the fiefdom of Benazir Bhutto, its self-described “chairperson for life.” Before her, it was the fiefdom of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed after having been convicted of authorizing the murder of a political opponent.

The PML(N) is the fiefdom of Nawaz Sharif. In fact, the parenthetical “N” in the organization’s name stands for Nawaz.

Because these parties stress loyalty to the leader over honesty and competence, all four administrations of Bhutto and Sharif ended early due to corruption and mismanagement on a massive scale.

So it seems that Mr Houlahan is far from an independent analyst, but actually has very strong political prejudices. This was also evident to Farrukh Khan Pitafi who received an email from Mr Thomas Houlahan in 2008 that supported Musharraf’s decision to sack Supreme Court judges.

On March 11, I received an e-mail from a Thomas Houlahan who, apart from mentioning that he was the Director of the Military Assessment Program, Center for Security and Science, Washington DC, also drew my attention to his report on the judicial crisis in Pakistan.While my detailed assessment of his report (along with the download link and the tricky quotes from the author) will be shortly available on my website (www.pitafi.com), I must submit that upon reading its 47 pages I was seriously dismayed. Despite the fact that the author displayed considerable knowledge of the Pakistani history, he was quite consciously distorting facts and making some glaring omissions that suited his thesis perfectly. They say an analyst should never start researching with preconceived notions in mind. In this case, however, the analyst had entered the fray with a clear view to vindicating President Musharraf’s stance on the judiciary.

In 2008, the same Mr Thomas Houlahan was on PTV talking with Ahmed Quraishi and saying that the justices removed by Pervez Musharraf should not be reinstated. See the video below:

Thomas Houlahan and Ahmed Quraishi

Thomas Houlahan and Ahmed Quraishi

Actually, Mr Thomas Houlahan is a regular guest of Ahmed Quraishi and has appeared on his shows more than once.

Mr Thomas Houlahan also works for the American Think Tank “Center for Security and Science” which is directed by Mr Stephen R Bowers who is a professor of government at Liberty University – a school that claims to be “the largest and fastest growing Christian Evangelical university in the world.” This school’s website says that:

Everything we do is designed to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge and skills essential to impact tomorrow’s world.

As for his claim of being an election observer in 2008, there are some reports from his colleagues that paint an interesting picture of Mr Houlahan:

Just as invitees were jelling in Islamabad, an American appeared unannounced on the scene as “group leader.” Short, fat, bald and given to un-ironic remarks like “listen, I’m from New Hampshire, we invented democracy,” Thomas Houlahan presented himself as almost a parody of the obnoxious American abroad. He’d show up at group meetings dressed in college sweats with his gut hanging out while loudly pronouncing on the Pakistani constitution.“Ya know Fox, CNN, the networks….I’m their go-to guy on Pakistan, there’s nothing I don’t know about what happens here.” Describing himself as a ‘distinguished constitutional scholar,’ he claimed to represent a Washington think-tank, the Center for Science and Security. That he was also ex-US military deeply concerned about the Dutch delegates, representing a peace group. He liked to name-drop, notably General Rashid Qureshi, Musharraf’s senior aide and a man much hated by Pakistanis. When we made a courtesy call on the president, Houlahan took with him his copy of Musharraf’s autobiography while nodding sagely at the strongman’s every remark. I told my colleagues of suspicions I’d picked up from diplomats that CMD was close to Mohammed Ali Durrani, a former information minister and a tight palace ally.

Two days out from the poll, we ousted a very agitated Houlahan in a coup. Munir apologized to the rest of us, claiming he had no idea what this guy was like. Then we tore up the CMD observer procedures and made our own, following EU guidelines. The group would have no official leader. But that didn’t stop Houlahan from spouting his pro-government line to the local press as our ‘leader.’ The rest of us were compelled to make our own media statements stressing our strict neutrality, dissociating ourselves from him and from CMD’s affiliations. Then we headed to the provinces to observe voting.

Obviously this all points to a political operation and not some independent analysis by Mr Houlahan. So why did The News take his words and republish them without doing any independent research? It took me only a few moments using Google to find all of this information. Surely with all their resources, the people at Jang could find even more.

It seems that nobody at The News bothered to check out this Mr Thomas Houlahan or investigate why he would be writing such things. Instead, they saw an opportunity to make a political hit. But that’s not reporting. That’s a political campaign.

Of course, all of this raises again the ridiculousness of a conspiracy theory being peddled by Ansar Abbasi and The News a few weeks ago. If you remember, at the the time Ansar Abbasi was trying to tell that the US media is being controlled by some secret forces in Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington. So again, I ask, was this article by Mr Thomas Houlahan a plant by the Embassy? Or does The News only believe conspiracies about stories that it doesn’t like? Why is one article a plant, and another worthy of front page publication?

Of course, when a newspaper will publish obviously fake stories without doing even a minute’s basic fact-checking, what do you expect?

The News sinks to a new low with report on Zardari's nationality

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The News has sunk to a new low in yellow journalism today by publishing an article that titled, ‘Website declares Zardari US citizen.’ Rather than conduct any actual research, The News appears to have simply repeated a rumour. Based on the content of the article, one has to wonder if the author, Azim M Mian, even looked at the website in question.

For the record, below is a screenshot of the profile of Asif Ali Zardari on the website in question, “Notable Names Database,” taken on 14 June 2010.

Screnshot from NNDB.com website

Screnshot from NNDB.com website

It very clearly says that Asif Ali Zardari nationality is Pakistan. Even if it said something else when Azim M Mian first saw the website, why would he believe it without investigating? Also it raises the question of who sent this website link to the reporter and what was their motive?

The individual who sent Mr Azim the link could have been a political operative who submitted a change to the website (anyone can email in a change to someone’s profile) and then sent the link to the reporter thinking that he is so foolish that he will accept it as fact without doing any actual investigating. Mr Azim should reveal who his source was so that it can be known.

But compare what the website actually says to how Azim M Mian reported the information in The News. He wrote:

A well-known US website, which contains the record of 36,000 prominent figures of the world, has declared President Asif Ali Zardari a US citizen, and said that he suffers from depression and is a diabetes patient.

First, one must ask why the reporter calls this a ‘well known US website.’ What is his reason for saying it is well known? The ‘Notable Names Database’is not a ‘well known US website’ like Facebook or Wikipedia, so if the reporter is going to claim that it is well-known, he should be able to provide some evidence to back it up. I checked how this website compares to actual well-known websites and look at what I found:

NNDB.com compared to Facebook and WikipediaObviously, this is not a ‘well-known’ website by the usual definition. So why did Azim M Mian write this?

Second, the article does not say that Zardari “suffers from depression and is a diabetes patient.” Both of these are misleading to the point of being outright lies. What the website claims is that Zardari has ‘Risk Factors’ for depression and diabetes. But even this claim is supported by absolutely no evidence.

This brings me to the reliability of the website on which Azim M Mian bases his entire report. He says, “The website says it collects such information about famous personalities through general sources, besides its own intelligence and other sources that are not known to the common man.”

The reporter’s claim is ridiculous. The profile of Asif Ali Zardari includes a bibliography of sources that include three sources of information. One is Wikipedia, the other is a website called “Public Information Research Namebase” which is only a blank page with a few links to other news stories. The third is the “Notable Names Database” itself! Looking at the website, it is laughable to know that someone to be so foolish as to believe that this website has “sources that are not known to the common man.” Does Azim M Mian believe anything that is written on the Internet?

Actually, there is no evidence for anything posted on this website’s profile of Asif Ali Zardari, and the reporter appears to have done absolutely no actual investigating of his own. Rather, it appears that this was a blatant attempt to use the media to smear a political office holder with complete disregard for the truth.

Azim M Mian goes on completely recklessly to imply that the Zardari could have taken an oath to “keeping US oath and interests supreme to all other loyalties and oaths.” Not only does the reporter fail to do any actual research to confirm a very public piece of information as a person’s nationality, but he then goes on to make libelous insinuations that the person is possibly not loyal to his country. This is a new low for The News, which should be ashamed.

This is a shameful example of failure on the part of both a reporter and the editorial staff who never should have let such a poor example of yellow journalism as this see the light of day. It does not matter that it is Zardari or someone else who is the target of such irresponsible and incompetent acts. The News and Mr Azim M Mian owe a public apology to their readers and to Asif Ali Zardari for such a failure. In the meantime, they may want to speak to a lawyer about their exposure to a legal case for libel. Truly shameful.

UPDATE: There is a website that says the White House in the US for sale! I wonder if Azim M Mian is going to try to buy it. Perhaps The News will publish an article about how Barack Obama is selling the White House. Because, of course, if it is on the Internet, The News thinks it must be true!

Geo's "Shattered Glass" Moment?

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Janet Cooke is a name that is probably not as familiar among the general public as it is among professional journalists. Ms Cooke was an American reporter for The Washington Post newspaper who won a Pulitzer Prize for a story she wrote about a small child addicted to heroin. The article was obviously considered excellent to win such a prestigious award. It was also fiction.

Janet Cooke had conned one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world. The Washington Post‘s immediate reaction was to go on the defensive. How could it be that their star reporter was lying? Still, though, the newspaper investigated the claims and discovered that they were true. The newspaper publicly apologized and returned the award.

Geo is having a similar moment today. Perhaps their star reporter Hamid Mir is innocent, but there have been serious charges made and evidence is piling up. Like The Washington Post, Geo appears to be very defensive. At least outwardly, there is little sign that the news agency is investigating what are very serious charges. This is understandable, to a degree – Hamid Mir is not someone who just walked in off the street. He is a veteran reporter that has many accomplishments.

But Hamid Mir is also a person. And people make mistakes sometimes. Everyone does. In fact, it’s not unusual for respected news organizations to have these problems from time to time. Like Janet Cooke at The Washington Post, there was Jayson Blair at The New York Times also and there was Stephen Glass at The New Republic also. A movie was even made about the story of Stephen Glass:

All of these reporters were well liked. They were nice, intelligent people who got caught up in a web of mistakes that grew from out-of-control egos combined with the fact that they were working for some of the most respected news organizations in the world. They became Media Baboos in their own minds. They believed that whatever they said was true simply because they said it.

Jang and its various news agencies demand transparency and accountability from the government. This is a proper function of media in a democracy, and Jang has many excellent reporters who do their job very well. But in order to be a legitimate and respected check on government, a successful news organization must provide the same transparency and accountability itself. This is why it is so important for Jang’s news agencies to be seen as acting in pursuit of the truth, whatever that may be.

So far, Hamid Mir’s response to the allegations has been rather silly. First he told The Guardian that it was a conspiracy by a blog controlled by the Ambassador Husain Haqqani. Perhaps he later found out that the blog in question – Let Us Build Pakistan – has posted materials critical of Haqqani, as well as many other PPP officials, from time to time. He has not mentioned this claim since.

Actually, this is not the first time that Hamid Mir has attacked the blog as being part of some big conspiracy. As we have defended them in the past, Hamid Mir did not provide any facts or evidence at that time either. It seems that these bloggers are simply an easy target for Hamid Mir when he gets upset. I don’t know why he has such a vendatta against them.

This accusation against the blog highlights an important part of Hamid Mir’s problem. In order to find out that they had published some articles critical of Husain Haqqani, all I had to do was use Google. If bloggers can use Google to check and verify facts, surely someone like Hamid Mir should be able to do the same.

This is a deep problem that we have in the media – reporters who do not seem to feel that they are responsible for checking their facts. Many of our most famous journalists seem to believe that simply wishing for something to be true is enough. Jang is not the only organization with some journalists affected by this problem – far from it – but they have been under the microscope since the Hamid Mir case has come to light. This actually gives Jang a great opportunity to take a leadership role and speak out against the problem, setting an example for other news agencies.

The other major part of the response has been for some of Hamid Mir’s colleagues to cast some wide accusations about a conspiracy to silence Jang for criticizing the government. But many news organizations besides Jang are critical of the government. Journalists look at the government with a critical eye every day in Dawn, Daily Times, The Nation and on all the TV shows. This is part of their job. Some reporters do it very well, and are able to critically analyse any government without having a political agenda guide their work.

It is interesting to note that the reporters who are so loudly crying out about a conspiracy to silence them, are really only the very small number of reporters who seem to have such a hard time checking their facts and providing evidence for their claims. Everyone else – the reporters who do their work and write excellent articles for their agencies – seem to know that they have nothing to fear from an investigation into the Hamid Mir tapes.

Jang Group is in an unfortunate situation, and I feel quite a bit of sympathy for all of their publishers, editors, and reporters who do good, honest work. Accusations against a member of their staff hurt. But we do not have Media Baboos in this country. Jang Group is bigger than Hamid Mir. If he did nothing wrong, it will come out and everyone will move on. On the other hand, if it turns out that Hamid Mir made some mistakes – if he was caught up in a moment and got carried away – Jang will be doing the best for itself and the media industry as a whole if it shows that it did a full and complete investigation.

Paranoia Growing at Jang Group

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Reading The News today, one would be forgiven for thinking that Jang was an oppressed minority rather than the wealthy corporation that it is. What is, perhaps, more interesting, however, is that the news organization has begun to write paranoid stories about super secret conspiracies against some of its employees. As usual, though, Jang knows just who the conspirators are.

To be sure, this blog does not condone any violence or destruction of property at demonstrations against Jang and Geo offices in Karachi. If the people have a problem with Jang, they certainly have the right to air their greivances – but this should be done only in a peaceful and constructive manner.

That said, Jang’s reaction in an editorial in today’s The News is a bit over-the-top. The hyperventilating writers call the protests “the face of facism,” not realizing that a protest by the people against a large corporation that engages in political propaganda is the opposite of facism. Then, Jang goes on to blame the present government for the protests, despite not providing one bit of evidence for such a claim.

 Its vandalism, its violence on those guarding our offices and the harassment of our workers, all are the latest feathers in the crown of the present ‘democratic’ government which has made no bones about its intention to target this group, and through it the whole of free and independent media. 

Jang, of course, sees itself as the ‘freedom fighter’ who is ‘speaking truth to power’ (this despite the fact that top Jang journalists such as Ansar Abbasi, Shaheen Sehbai, and Hamid Mir have consistently had a distinct problem with ‘truth’) and the present government as the face of all that is evil.

We are aware of the price of truth spoken in the face of power, particularly when power is reeking of corruption, incompetence and illegitimacy from top to toe.

Just yesterday, Ansar Abbasi wrote an article that made some claims about decisions made at a secret meeting at the Presidency (how would Ansar Abbasi of all people know anything that was discussed at Presidency?), and then made his own pronouncement that the government is in contempt of court!

This is not “speaking truth to power,” as Jang might want to believe, but simply making up storied and issuing pretend court decisions. It’s just silly.

But the paranoia does not stop there. Today’s The News features an unattributed article that claims that government is preparing fake tapes of Jang reporters. The article does not provide any sources, only saying that “highly reliable sources” have told him that

Surprisingly, however, in a departure from the past practice the smear campaign shall not be carried out by the Interior Ministry, but actually is being overseen by a group of intelligence functionaries considered very close to the bosses of the Law Ministry.

In order to believe this, you have to believe that the government is carrying out a super-top-secret plan to create fake tapes, and that they are telling the people who are targeted. It simply makes no sense.

Reading the list of supposed targets, though, I couldn’t help but chuckle.

The hit list comprises (so far): Hamid Mir (Host, Capital Talk), Shaheen Sehbai (Group Editor, The News), Ansar Abbassi (Editor Investigations, The News) Mohammad Malick (Resident Editor, The News Islamabad-Rawalpindi), Kamran Khan (Host, Aaj Kamran Khan Kay Saath) and Dr Shahid Masood (Host, Meray Mutabiq).

Ah, yes. Six of the most inflated egos in journalism today. Also six of the people who are, quite frankly, some of the worst journalists around. Certainly each of these would love to believe that the entire government was focused on him. While they are preening their pretty haircuts, they fantasize about being the heroes of the modern world fighting against the ‘fascists’ that were elected by the people.

If we could run power plants on the egos of some of our journalists, we would not have any energy crisis for centuries. Sadly, one of the many side-effects of an inflated ego is a growing sense of paranoia. The egoist believes that everyone is out to get him, even though the truth is most people don’t even care about him. There seems to be a growing sense of paranoia within Jang. Let’s hope they are able to find a little bit of humilty before their paranoia consumes them completely.

The Secret Lives of Pakistan's Journalists

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

The Hamid Mir conspiracy case has raised an important issue that deserves some real discussion. The issue is the secret associations that exist within the brotherhood of journalists in Pakistan.

Certainly all people have opinions about important issues, and journalists – by the nature of their work – talk to people involved in all sorts of political activity both good and bad. But Pakistan has a set of groups within the journalist community that have either intentionally or unwittingly been part of political activity.

Ayesha Siddiqa made this point a few days ago, and today Nadeem Paracha continues the examination of the problem on Dawn Blog in a must-read post:

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