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.