Media is sometimes said to be a reflection of the society. Most people enjoy a little idle gossip now and then, and a favourite past time of media too seems to be speculating – at times even wishing – about what the facts might be. However there is a difference between chatting with friends and the media which is taken as a credible authority on matters. Two recent examples show just how pointless it is for media to engage in gossip instead of facts, and how how doing so can actually make us less informed about what is going on around us.
The first example is the much anticipated and debated issue of a new DG ISI term. Would Pasha be given an unprecedented fourth term? Or would a new face take over the head of the premier national agency? As we wrote last month, what you believed to be the answer probably depended on where you were getting your news. Today, though, the question can be answered with certainty. As The Nation reported on Friday night, PM Gilani appointed Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam as new ISI chief.
Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani Friday appointed Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam as the new chief of the country’s major intelligence agency, the Prime Minister office said. Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the incumbent chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will retire on March 18. “Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has appointed Lt. General Zaheer ul Islam, Corps Commander Karachi, as new Director General Inter Services Intelligence (ISI),” a brief statement from the PM office said.
This might be an unremarkable news report about a routine government appointment if only the same newspaper had not reported only a few weeks ago that PM Gilani was giving Pasha a fourth term.
Sources said the prime minister has been vocal in supporting Gen Pasha, claiming he (PM) has also taken on board President Asif Ali Zardari on the issue of Pasha’s extension. They were of the view that Gilani believes that certain media outlets had created some misunderstandings related to ISI DG and army chief by overplaying the memogate scam, but those were later removed. The prime minister, they said, was also convinced that some US agencies were actively involved in backing media campaign to malign armed forces and security agencies including the ISI to achieve certain objectives.
The DG ISI appointment is not the only issue that has caused a media group to turn a quick ‘about face’ recently.
In Decemeber, Editor The News Mr Mohammad Malick wrote a stinging piece about ‘Memogate’ in which he charged that “it’s only a matter of time before the real facts of the memo issue replace the perceived truths”. It was hard to not suspect that the Jang Group Editor was not reveling in a bit of personal attack when he claimed the president’s helicopter was delayed “reportedly by a perturbed and teary-eyed Husain Haqqani who, according to more than one eyewitness, was insistent that the president take him along” and that “word has it that he may already be wearing out his welcome at the prime minister’s house”. Petty gossip that has nothing to do with the substance of the ‘Memogate’ claim
A few weeks later, on 31st Demember, The News claimed in its editorial that “There are continuous efforts to politicise, even scandalise” what it termed “a simple case”.
On Friday, though, The News was singing a different tune. In its new editorial it now claims that the case is not so “simple” after all.
Some of the allegations made by Ijaz are grave indeed; but there is a creeping doubt emerging that they may not be of as much substance as he would have us believe. So far he has not produced any incontrovertible evidence. What he describes as a receipt from Haqqani for the email he sent is a BBM message open to alternative explanations and interpretations. Ijaz is thought by some to be pursuing an agenda beyond just sharing a truth.
Once people had a chance to recover from the initial shock of the memo and Mansoor Ijaz’s allegations, questions began to arise and proper scrutiny was finally given to Ijaz’s claims and his supposed ‘evidence’. Now, even The News is suggesting that it is time to move on.
This newspaper led the demand for an investigation into the origins of the memo. In several editorials we have focused on seeking a transparent inquiry and the ascertainment of all facts…But for truth and objectivity to be visible there has to be a lot more beef on the table than there has been to date. It is also clear that an early resolution of the memo issue is unlikely and, as such, should not distract the country from other, more significant and less confusing issues.
This is a perfectly reasonable position. It’s too bad it took The News so many months to get there. It’s especially too bad when you realise that it wasn’t necessary to take so long. Had The News showed a little less excitement about catching officials being naughty and a little more excitment about facts.
In both cases, media groups gave too much attention to rumours and gossips and too little attention to verifiable facts. In both cases also the expectations and understanding of the people could understandably be confused and possibly misled. We look to news media for facts. We’ll take care of the gup shup ourselves.