When we were first shown a copy of the email sent by Kamal Siddiqi advising Express Tribunestaff against writing against Jamaat-e-Islami, PTI, extremism, militancy, TTP or any other terrorist group, a debate began about whether we should say anything. After some heated discussion, an agreement was finally made that out of respect for the journalists who were facing the very serious life threats from Taliban militants, we would refrain from making any statement either supporting or condemning the decision by Siddiqi Saab, who is a respected and accomplished professional in our field. Not being in his position, we decided that we should not second guess his position. If Express Tribune began to write only about sport and entertainment…it would be sad, but there were certainly worse things to worry about. Since that time, though, something we did not expect has happened and we feel that we must break our silence.
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It is one thing to tell staff to avoid criticising terrorists out of fear of retaliation. We can disagree on whether such a move is worthy of a media group of Express Tribune‘s prestige, but it is one that honest people can agree to disagree about. If Express Tribune does not want to be part of the solution, to terrorism, however, turning their guns on the only people who actually do speak out against the terrorists makes them part of the problem. Unfortunately, this is what we are seeing more and more of each day.
Last May, PPP lost re-election and were relegated to the opposition benches. Despite losing power, there were no threats made to disrupt the country through extended street actions. Jiyalas did not take up arms and begin savagely murdering innocents by the bus load in an attempt to force the government into ‘peace talks’. Rather, the outgoing party did what political parties are supposed to do in a democracy: They licked their wounds, accepted their defeat, and after some reflection, began re-organising and speaking out in opposition.
Having been instructed not to criticise JI, PTI, TTP, or other militant groups, ExpressTribune is left with few punching bags. The PML-N is one, certainly, but criticising the party in power threatens the two A’s crucial to any media group: Access and Advertising. This leaves only the PPP for Express Tribuneto beat up on. Recent pieces published by Express Tribune have taken a noticeably harsh tone, including terming Bilawal as ‘incompetent‘ and even going as far as predicting ‘PPP’s end‘.
The problem is not that PPP or Bilawal should not be criticised, but that if PPP is being criticised while others are not, the appearance is that Express Tribune is against liberals and, by not giving equal criticism to Taliban and their sympathisers, it ends up actually appearing like it is projecting a pro-Taliban ideology, even if unintentionally.
As we noted at the beginning, terrorist attacks against Express Tribuneoffices and the memories of journalists who were martyred make the decision of whether or not to continue reporting on terrorism a difficult one and one that only Kamal Siddiqi is in a position to make. With all due respect, though, media cannot decide to stop criticising one side only without at least the appearance of taking sides. If Express Tribunebelieves it is in their interest to stop criticising some political groups, they have a responsibility to stop criticising all political groups. Express Tribuneprovides a valuable perspective in the national discussion, but only when it is free and impartial. When it is not, it can lead to confusion.
Even before his full entry into the political arena, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is already facing media attacks usually reserved for more seasoned political veterans. The Nation on Tuesday lobbed a rather serious attack against the young PPP Chairman, terming his attitude as ‘defiant’ and claiming that he has ‘attempted to threaten the judiciary from the safety of New York’. Has the young PPP Chairman decided to enter politics on the path of confrontation? It turns out that comparing what Bilawal actually said to the way it was described by The Nation, however, one can’t help but wonder if the editors actually knew what Bilawal had said.
According to The Nation, Bilawal struck a defiant tone and declared that the executive would disobey the Supreme Court.
This defiant attitude shows that the Co-Chairman is of a mould that supports the party policy of protecting a single individual from the consequences of his actions, even if that means one organ of the state, the Executive, refusing to do what another, the Judiciary, tells it to, even both are duty-bound to do so.
Actually, Bilawal’s speech which lasted almost 20 minutes included less than three minutes of discussion about the judiciary. Here is what Bilawal actually said:
We believe a truly independent and impartial judiciary is a fundamental component to a democratic Pakistan. This is why we respect the majesty of justice and accept the rulings of the Supreme Court despite reservations. We will not violate the Vienna Convention. We will not violate the Constitution of Pakistan. If this Court sees it fit to do so; if this Court insists on trying the grave of Shaheed Mohtama Benazir Bhutto; to repeat the mistakes of history; to refuse to redeem itself for the role it played in the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then the ultimate decisions will lie in the court of history, and the court of the people.
The Pakistan People’s Party must set the precedent for democratic governments to come, and we will therefore continue to follow the principles of democracy and the principles of justice, whether we agree or disagree with the Supreme Court.
While we can agree to disagree on whether justice is being done, we must all agree that a basic principle of justice is not only that justice should be done, but justice should be seen to be done. The judiciary in Pakistan will never build its reputation as a truly independent and impartial judiciary if there are double standards.
It is highly inappropriate, for instance, that in the case of the Chief Justice’s own son, the investigator, the prosecutors, and the judges who will hear the case are cherry picked by the Court. My hope is that the Court will find its rightful role and carry out its duties in such a way that it restores its institution’s credibility. If the Court cannot, or if the Court will not, we the people must call for judicial reforms needed in a mature democracy.
This is much different from the way his speech was represented in The Nation‘s editorial. Rather than supporting “policy of protecting a single individual from the consequences of his actions” or “refusing to do what another, the Judiciary, tells it to”, Bilawal said precisely the opposite. He called for a single standard of justice to be applied uniformly to all citizens, and that justice should be truly independent and impartial.
This instance is especially troubling as it is not the first time that The Nation has misrepresented Bilawal’s own words to make a political attack against him. Journalists have a responsibility to verify by checking facts and sources – even if they don’t support their target’s politics.
While we understand that there is no love lost between the editors of The Nation and the PPP, we do believe that the media should at least refrain from putting words in Bilawal’s mouth. Since the editorial begins by noting that they are responding to what Bilawal “is reported to have told a party convention”, this could be a case of misunderstanding. But that is simply not good enough for a major media group like Nawa-i-Waqt.
Last week one of the PMW team Tweeted about an article published by The News and Daily Jang as ‘National News’. The piece referred to was written by Abdur Rehman Bawa whose Khatm-e-Nubuwwat is an Anti-Ahmadiyya group. Leaving aside for the purposes of this post the question of whether it is appropriate for a media group (certainly one of Jang‘s influence) to publish articles against one religious group or another, the fact that the editors published the piece as ‘National News’ was entirely inappropriate. If the piece belonged in a reputable newspaper at all (which we do not support), it would only be appropriately published as an ‘Opinion’.
By publishing the piece as ‘National News’, Jang blurs the line between opinion and fact. This was demonstrated by the reactions we received to the Tweet, many of which supported Jang‘s decision to publish the piece as ‘News’ claiming that it is a factual report on the 7th September 1974 constitutional amendment that declared Ahmadiyyas as non-Muslims. But this is not what the article was about. The author included several statements in his piece that defy not only reason, but are obviously given with the intention of provoking hatred. Why else would he include in his piece the claim that “even if a small child of a Muslim dies, a Qadiani would never offer his funeral prayer” or that “Qadiani conspiracies” resulted in their poor treatment. We will not dignify the Mullah’s piece with any more attention – this is already more than it deserves – except to say that there is simply no way to justify the publication of this piece as ‘National News’.
It is also worth noting that this problem is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of poor editorial judgment at Jang. The day after the anti-Ahmadiyya piece was published, The News published two more pieces as ‘National News’ that were clearly opinion pieces.
One by controversial American linguist Noam Chomsky was given the headline, ‘Why America and Israel are the greatest threats to peace’. Whether or not one agrees with Mr Chomsky’s assertions, the unavoidable fact is that the piece presents Chomsky’s personal views on issues, not verifiable facts. This is even acknowledged in the piece itself as it includes certain passages like the following:
If Iran is indeed moving toward nuclear-weapons capability — this is still unknown to the US intelligence — that may be because it is “inspired to do so” by the US-Israeli threats, regularly issued in explicit violation of the UN Charter.
“If”…”may be”…this is the opinion of Mr Chomsky, not ‘News’. And nowhere in the piece is Pakistan mentioned at all. So how did it come to be published as ‘National News’?
Could it be that the piece was published because it seemed to give a black eye to the Americans for one of their own celebrity academics to make such claims as that they are one of ‘the greatest threats to peace’? Possibly. If so, the editors may want to do a little more research before giving too much praise to Mr Chomsky as he has also termed Pakistan as “the paradigm example of a failed state and has been for a long time”, telling AAJ TV that the nation “is in danger of collapsing”.
It’s not just anti-Ahmadiyya or anti-America opinion pieces that are being published by Jang as ‘National News’. Also on Saturday the same media group published a piece by PPP Leader and Former Central Secretary Information ARD Munir Ahmad Khan that carried the headline, ‘Nation must salute political sagacity of Zardari’. This piece reads like a PPP campaign rally speech, not an objective news report.
Could it be that Khan’s piece was given special treatment after The News published another piece of ‘National News’ on 27th August which claimed:
“the incumbent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government has not only failed miserably to check the ever-soaring inflationary pressures on the public, but has also found itself all at sea when it comes to restoring law and order, resolving the grave energy crisis or in curing the ills plaguing the economy”.
The period marred by mega corruption scams, sky-rocketing inflation, dismal governance, court defiance, terrorism, worsening law and order, grave energy crisis and ailing economy has haunted Pakistan during these last 1,615 days.
Whatever one’s personal opinion of the PPP or the incumbent government, this is obviously a personal opinion, not a ‘National News’ report.
Neither is the incumbent government the only party to be the subject of a political opinion being published by Jang as ‘National News’. Last month the same media group published a piece by former Information Secretary PTI Punjab Andleeb Abbas who sings the praises of Imran Khan. Once again the question remains why Jang published this as ‘National News’ and not ‘Opinion’?
On any given day, a newspaper will carry different types of articles. Each of these – news, opinion, business, sport, leisure – are carried on their own pages so that readers do not, for example, confuse the opinion of a political worker or religious extremist with the factual reports that inform them about the country and the world. By blurring the line between ‘news’ and ‘opinion’, Jang risks leaving its readers confused and misinformed about the world, and therefore more likely to make decisions based on false or misleading information. The perspective of the opinion piece doesn’t matter – it is inappropriate to publish opinions as news. And that’s a fact.
Is the government threatening the security of the country by cutting development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme? Or is the government improving the security of the country by investing in a modern nuclear weapons programme? According to The News (Jang Group) the answer is yes to both.
In Monday’s copy of The News, Ansar Abbasi warns that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is not a top priority of the present regime, and that because nuclear development has not been funded properly, it “has been stopped”. According to Abbasi, an “informed source, who has been one of the top nuclear managers of Pakistan’s nuclear programme” (his initials wouldn’t happen to be AQK, would they?) explained that because of the policies of the present government, our nuclear programme is experiencing “technical roll back”.
Former UN weapons inspector David Albright, reported that Pakistan appears to be building a fourth plutonium reactor at the Khushab complex, and is expanding plutonium separation capabilities at another site.
Another report, from a US think tank, says Pakistan now has 70 to 90 nuclear warheads, more than its rival India. This puts Pakistan on track to command the world’s fourth-largest nuclear weapons arsenal by the end of the decade.
The evidence suggests that Pakistan is trying to develop a second-strike nuclear capability. Pakistan has tested cruise and other missiles that can carry strategic warheads from land or even from submarines.
That hardly sounds like the defence policy of a government that is turning a blind eye to security. In fact, The News reported advancements in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme in April also when the military successfully tested the Nasr, a ballistic missile of Hatf series, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead can hit targets up to 60 km.
Strategic planners term the test a ‘new and very significant development’ since the missile falls in the category of tactical nuclear weapons. “This is a low-yield battlefield deterrent, capable of deterring and inflicting punishment on mechanised forces like armed brigades and divisions,” said an expert in the field of missile technology. “This takes care of the Indian Army’s obsession with finding space for limited war under the nuclear umbrella.”
Addressing the gathering at the undisclosed location, DG SPD Kidwai said the test was a very important milestone in consolidating Pakistan’s strategic deterrence capability at all levels of the threat spectrum. He said in the hierarchy of military operations, the Nasr Weapon System now provided Pakistan with short-range missile capability in addition to the already available medium- and long-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in its inventory.
The president and prime minister have congratulated the scientists and engineers for their outstanding success and warmly appreciated the successful test.
Is Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme threatened by budget cuts made by the present regime? Years’ worth of reporting by Jang/Geo provide ample evidence that successive governments including the present one have dedicated a vast amount of resources to the nuclear weapons programme that have yielded great advancement in both the number of warheads as well as advanced tactical technologies. In trying to accuse the PPP of weakening Pakistan’s nuclear programme, Ansar Abbasi only exposes his own lack of credibility.
The recent violence that engulfed Karachi was a tragedy of immense proportions. If any good can come of such a tragedy, it will begin by taking a critical look at the root causes of violent outbreaks, and work towards a solution that respects the rights and the needs of all Karachiites. Unfortunately, this discussion is rare. What one finds more often are those who exploit such tragedies to score cheap political points. A perfect example of this can be found in the response of Talat Hussain to Karachi’s latest surge of violence.
Talat Hussain’s response to the situation in Dawn notes that “the provincial capital, has slipped into hellish violence, its peace buried under the ever-increasing piles of dead bodies”. And where does the senior journalist lay blame for this hell on earth? Where else, but the convenient scapegoat of President Zardari and the PPP-led government.
There are several problems with this piece by Talat Hussain, but we will mention only two. First is that the author’s thesis rests on one initial premise that completely misses the point – namely, that it is not “Sindh” that slipped into a war-like state of violence, but Karachi. This is important to note because Talat Hussain’s blame game rests on the fact that the provincial government is indeed led by the PPP. But despite being in Sindh province, Karachi is not controlled by PPP. This is an important point because the complex politics in Karachi are behind much of the violence there. It is hard to believe that Talat Hussain does not know this.
Actually, it would be wrong to lay the blame at the feet of any single political party, though it is a common reaction by party activists to blame their opponents by terming them as gangsters. This gets to the second major problem with Talat Hussain’s column – in order to place blame with Zardari and the PPP, he oversimplifies a complex situation.
According to Talat Hussain, the solution to the crisis in Karachi is simple.
It is important to recount all of this to contextualise the endemic problem of violence in Karachi. These incidents do not happen without warning. There is a well-established pattern followed by any serious law and order breakdown. It is for the government to closely monitor this pattern and position resources and strategies to ensure that the slide down the path of chaos is halted. It is also for the government to engineer long-term and effective administrative solutions to address chronic sources of violence.
In the case of Karachi, this means taking on gangs that have virtually overthrown the writ of the state from vast swathes of the city and run these areas like their fiefdoms. The attempt to disinfect the city of these gangs through `reconciliation` was bound to fail since most of these gangs are politically aligned, with their roots embedded in the provincial body politic. You might set a thief to catch a thief, but that is hardly the way to deal with killers.
The PPP government and all of the party leadership should know this. After all, they have been the biggest proponents of strong-arm action against extremists in Fata and elsewhere, saying that this is the only way to deal with, in American idiom, `irreconcilables`.
So this is Talat Hussain’s solution to violence in Karachi? He believes that Gen Kayani should march troops through the streets to ‘clear and hold’ the city of 20 million? Perhaps he suggests drone attacks on Orangi?
The crisis in Karachi is the result of complex economic and demographic issues, not simple law and order problems. Certainly there are gangs and mafias, but these are the symptoms, not the disease. Anyone familiar with the history of politics in the city would know that a PPP government going into Karachi with guns blazing would be like pouring petrol on a flame. The fire would not be quenched, it would grow and spread. The solution to the violence in Karachi lies not in more violence, but in honest analysis and open dialogue between all affected parties to work out a political solution.
In a lame attempt at humour, Talat Hussain concludes his piece by suggesting that “Perhaps in his next speech, President Zardari can offer tutorials to his opponents in the useful skill of how not to govern”. And in this, Talat Hussain has clearly offered a tutorial on how to not to write critical analysis.
The News (Jang Group) has taken a particularly adversarial tone against the government lately, with Jang’s celebrity journalists coming out with bald faced political attacks on the president and parliament based on nothing more than rumour, speculation, and conspiracy theories. We have already covered Ansar Abbasi’s baseless attack on parliament over devolution of HEC. But actually Saturday’s The News included several articles that crossed the line of responsible journalism.
More dangerous is Mr. Sehbai’s totally baseless and unfounded assertions that the Government is pitched against the honorable courts. To say that confronting the honorable judiciary is a “declared policy” of the Government is totally false in fact, and highly malicious in character, depicting mala fide intentions of the writer. It is most regretful that the Group Editor of your esteemed newspaper is deliberately pitching two pillars of the State by painting imaginary scenarios of animosity and conspiracy, when there are none in reality.
In fact, Shaheen Sehbai does not even bother pretending to have ‘informed sources’, offering only his own insults and accusations. This is considered reporting by Jang Group?
While Ansar Abbasi and Shaheen Sehbai may be expected to make baseless attacks on the government, they are not the long voices. Also joining the chorus is Tariq Butt, who wrote on Saturday that “President Asif Ali Zardari is seeking the shoulder of the highest judicial forum to cry on while he has asked his minions to do everything to attack the superior judiciary”. Like his colleagues, Ansar Abbasi and Shaheen Sehbai, Tariq provides no evidence of a presidential directive to attack the judiciary.
On Sunday, the assault continued with a front page article by Hamid Mir suggesting that the president’s praise for the judiciary is insincere and that he “masterminded this reference just to embarrass teh Supreme Court by playing the Sindh card because all the judges who gave the verdict against [ZAB] were from Punjab”. The only evidence Hamid Mir can provide for this mind-reading of the president is “an impression in many political circles”. No doubt these “political circles” include certain Group and Investigative ‘Editors’ at Jang Group.
It should be noted that for all the accusations from Shaheen Sehbai, Hamid Mir, etc of playing Sindh Card, neither the president nor his representatives have uttered any such thing. Rather these accusations come from ‘journalists’ claiming to be able to read the mind of Zardari. On the other hand, the opinion page of Sunday’s The News includes a cartoon of a ‘Sindh Card’. In addition to the articles mentioned above, one cannot help but wonder who it is that is actually attempting to exploit provincial prejudice and whip up the emotions of their base.
Pakistan’s media needs to use its independence responsibly. Unfortunately this is not happening. It targets the government because it does not fear the former. It does not hold the military to account because it is frightened of their power. HRW is of the view that the greatest threat to media freedom emanates today not from the elected government which has shown respect and tolerance as it should for the media. Rather, it stems from the intelligence agencies, non-state actors such as the Taliban and, finally, from the judiciary which has exploited over-broad contempt laws to stifle criticism of the institution.
Media’s role includes responsibly keeping the people informed about the actions of government and politicians. But The News appears to have passed beyond the line of responsible reporting and crossed into bald faced attacks on the president through rumour, speculation, and conspiracy theories based on nothing but the imaginations of its staff. Worse, there appears to be the possibility of a renewed campaign to instill distrust and tension between the executive and the judiciary. This is not journalism, it is politics. We encourage Jang Group to review the editorial policies of it’s prize English language newspaper and work to put in place policies that ensure reporting is based on facts, not political opinions, and that reporting is objective and not biased. At present, star reporters of The News are offering neither.
In a front page article for The News on Saturday, Jang Group editor Ansar Abbasi once again deals in rumour, speculation, and misrepresentation – this time regarding devolution of the Higher Education Commission (HEC).
According to Ansar Abbasi,
The HEC is facing the wrath of the parliamentarians after it had refused to accept any pressure for the verification of the MPs’ degrees, more than 50 of which have already been declared invalid whereas above 200 degrees were termed suspected.
Though holding the title ‘Investigative Editor’ of The News, Ansar Abbasi produces no investigative research or evidence to support his claim that somehow 342 parliamentarians have overcome all political difference in a united conspiracy against HEC .
“The HEC act will be revisited and reframed to shed its role as centralised funding authority because under the ‘new state structure’ emerging in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment, there is no room for such a role,” the commission’s chairman, Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, said at a press conference here on Tuesday.
Actually, it is not only HEC that is being affected by devolution. According to the report in Dawn
The ministries being devolved are: education, social welfare and special education, tourism, livestock and dairy development and culture. The portions include lotteries, capital gains tax and GST on services from the finance ministry, navigation and inland water wing from the ports and shipping ministry, arms act (issuance of arms licence, except banned bore) from the interior ministry, wills and testaments, trusts, arbitration, bankruptcy and insolvency from the law and justice ministry and a portion of the commerce ministry.
Ansar Abbasi further claims that devolution of the 18th Amendment threatens $250 million assistance under the Kerry-Lugar Act. His only evidence comes from anonymous “informed government sources”. It should be noted that earlier this year a three member Judicial Commission termed Ansar Abbasi’s sources ‘incorrigible liars’.
Former Federal Minister for Education Ahsan Iqbal (PML-N) is now serving his third term representing the people of Narowal as a Member National Assembly. In a paper published last month as part of the ‘March for Education’ programme, MNA Iqbal describes the problem of funding education – including the HEC – as a complex set of challenges involving devolution under the 18th Amendment, the need for a national education policy that serves all parts of society, and a number of ‘structural deficits’ in the budgeting system. In addition to these structural challenges, the role of international aid is also termed significant, but “what that role is has never been fully or clearly articulated”.
Article 25a of the Constitution terms education as “a fundamental right”. It is imperative, therefore, that the government work transparently and honestly towards the goal of developing a revitalized education system that serves all the people. In a democratic system, it is required that both ruling party and opposition MNAs must work together to develop this system for the good of the nation. In order for this to happen, media must inform the masses with the facts and not use this fundamental right as a weapon to score political points.
The News has had a difficult time lately with its star journalists using double standards for politicians that they like and don’t like. Mostly this has been making excuses for PML-N and giving no mercy to PPP. This would be fine if it was only on the opinion page, but rather it has been more and more affecting the entire newspaper. The latest example exposes a bias across the entire news team.
But it is not simply this giving more coverage to one political party taking a popular position (in effect an attempt to convey that the other party is not speaking out), there is a distinct double-standard at work if you look at how the newspaper treats PML-N and PPP.
The coverage of PML-N leaders speaking out against the resolution that their own members passed is meant to demonstrate this this was the action of some rogue MPAs who were not following the party line. In fact, The News takes this PML-N talking point at face value in their editorial today.
PML-N leader has called for the expulsion of the mover of the resolution, member of his own party and has accused him of trying to cover up his crime of faking his degree. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has said that he ‘cherishes the free media as much as he likes an independent judiciary in the country.’ A belated damage control effort within PML-N appears to be underway.
Obviously, it is possible for some MPAs to act out of turn and The News is perfectly happy to give the benefit of doubt to Nawaz and Shahbaz.
But when it comes to PPP, the standard is different. Instead of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, The News takes the position of ‘assumed guilty’! In an adjacent editorial about a leaked letter that is allegedly by NAB Prosecutor General Irfan Qadir questioning the reinstatement of CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry, The News lays the blame firmly on the PPP.
If they were not the views of the government of Mr Gilani, then whose views were they and what was afoot with Mr Qadir seemingly playing a lone game? NAB is under the control of the Law Ministry which itself is piloted by Law Minister Babar Awan. Presumably the Law Ministry is accountable to somebody at a higher level and who else would that be but the prime minister – unless ministers have been given a freehand? Babar Awan increasingly seems to be a law unto himself.
So where does this leave Mr Gilani and his statement that Mr Qadir’s views were not those of his government? They might not be the views of his government, but again, his might not be the only government operational today; which might also explain why the law minister is able to act as he pleases – above or below the law.
Do you see what they have done? Nawaz and Shahbaz are praised for speaking out against out-of-line party members, but PM Gilani is insinuated to be a liar and the government is to be held accountable for any misplaced comma of a PPP member. This is a double standard so obvious that it is hard not to think that The News is acting not as journalism but as propaganda to promote one political party over another.
That is not all. Other so-called ‘journalists’ for The News continue to use innuendo to smear politicians they don’t like (PPP only).
Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani is incapacitated under the case law and statute to appoint a crony as the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) because he has to convince two other key consultees about the credentials of such a nominee before notifying his selection, legal experts say.
The remainder of the article discusses the legal process and requirements for appointing chairman of the NAB. There is no presentation of any evidence that Gilani or anyone in government is trying to appoint anyone but the best, most qualified person. Instead, Tariq Butt simply assumes this is the case and smears the PM by implying as much.
The pro-PML-N bias of The News is easily proven today. Obviously, editorial pages are for opinions and the authors can take whatever position they choose. But when the opinions of the reporters and editors are so obviously using double standards and those double standards begin to color the entire reporting – that is not journalism but is political propaganda.
Perhaps Jang Group needs to update the name of its English-language newspaper from The News International to The News (PML-N). Then the readers would at least know what to expect. Better, though, would be for Jang to require some objectivity and fact-based reporting so that The News can be useful to the entire nation, and not only one political party.
On Monday we reviewed The News‘s latest failure feature, Amir Mateen’s gossip column about PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif. As promised, we will continue this series of reviewing Mateen’s juicy gossip columns so that you can spend your time reading actual news. After attacking Nawaz under the guise of profiling PML-N, Mateen turned his sights to the PPP. Of course, by PPP Mateen only means ‘Zardari’ and by profile, he only means ‘slander.’
Part I of Mateen’s latest profile makes no pretense of being an unbiased, well-researched report. Rather, the author jumps immediately to outlandish statements, most specifically claiming to speak for the late Benazir Bhutto and claiming that it is better for her to be dead. Apparently, Amir Mateen knows neither journalistic ethics nor shame.
All of this, though, is merely a set-up for the true target of Mateen’s poison pen – Asif Ali Zardari. Mateen quickly begins to throw slanderous accusations at Zardari, claiming that the President “treats his wife’s friends and close party colleagues with contempt.” Mateen provides no anecdotes, no examples, nor any statements from these friends and close party colleagues who he claims are so ill-treated.
Strangely, though, Mateen’s major problem with Zardari seems to be that he has changed some things in the PPP, including sidelining people who treated him badly in the past. I suppose Mr. Mateen only invites his own enemies to dinner. Amir Mateen says that Benazir Bhutto treated with respect those who “treated her like a kid and thought they they, not she, should lead the PPP.” Even here, Mateen manages to slander Benazir in her grave.
In part II of his gossip column, Amir Mateen continues his unsubstantiated tirade against Zardari as well as his Benazir Bhutto slander. Mateen writes,
A furious Zardari made hysterical calls from New York, shouting at everyone and anyone who was foolhardy enough to have answered his phone. This may be the reason why he has not forgiven Yousuf Talpur, a PPP veteran, who now lives his life on the outskirts of the party power circle.
Because of such incidents, the cabal of Zardari’s friends and family felt that they were held back because of Benazir’s advisers and close associates. And now that they are in power, they are settling the scores. Benazir’s life-long associates are easy prey for Zardari’s wrath and vengeance.
Not even Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani dares messing with the president’s friends. But it is difficult to forget that these friends include the people who were not even allowed to enter Benazir’s house or office. She disliked many of them. Benazir once got angry when Fehmida entered her office in Naudero without permission, because “the woman gives me a headache.”
This is quite a claim! Was Mateen present when Zardari made these alleged ‘hysterical calls from New York’? And has the PM told Mateen that he ‘dares not mess with the president’s friends’? Mateen even makes up some story about chanting at a rally. Obviously, he does not quote any sources or provide any evidence. Mateen oh-so-cleverly subtitled this column, “sub par bhari” but I believe it would be better subtitled, “Sub Par Bollywood” because Shahrukh Khan would have nothing to do with this ridiculous plot.
In Part III of his gossips, Amir Mateen – true to his “Sub Par Bollywood” style – adds a twist to the plot! No longer is he slandering Benazir’s grave by painting her as both too weak to stand up to bullies in her party and also a wicked woman who treats her friends badly; Now Amir Mateen as a kind hearted soul who worked tirelessly to make everyone feel loved.
Benazir turned this raw PPP energy into structures and forms. It took her over 30 years to devise a system in which she could cut across all tiers and communicate with the workers at the lowest rung. She was informed about the minutest details; she knew the PPP office-bearers in every Tehsil, their electoral history, and even about their wives and children. A charismatic leader, she left an impact on those she led and all the workers who had met her had a story to tell. The stories of what she ate, wore or said to, say, Sitara Baji in Denmark to Hassan Akhtari’s mother in Sahiwal.
Benazir stayed in touch, sharing joys and sorrows by sending birthday cards, wedding gifts, condolence messages and, the prized trophy, her signed photographs. She called party leaders at all levels personally, sent them emails and SMS messages, sometimes hundreds a day. When the workload became heavy, she became more selective about sending the replies herself, but for all intents and purposes, everyone thought she was the one responding.
She was very particular about the party structures at the district, divisional, provincial and national level. She may have worked through a kitchen cabinet, but she also gave a general sense of participation to the office-bearers at every level. And while she realised that the elected members were the face of the party for a certain section of society, she knew the provincial and district leadership was very important. She tried to maintain a balance between the two, but when needed, she tilted towards the latter. She ensured that the various party wings – women, labour, youth – and the committees on, say, foreign policy remained functional and effective. Benazir turned the party’s organisation into a well-run machine that survived the times, especially the bad ones. And herein lay the PPP�s strength.
Why, just the day before, Amir Mateen told us that Benazir was a heartless woman who treated Fehmida Mirza with cruelty. Now she is a saint. Amir Mateen, it appears, is not even concerned to keep his story straight, rather he only wants to keep the plot juicy!
The entire point of this episode of Mateen’s drama, though, is to say that Zardari is destroying the PPP with his power-hungry incompetence. Which is ironic, of course, since Zardari has just voluntarily signed away many of his powers as President to the PM, Yusuf Gilani. One would think that Zardari might not do such a thing since Gilani is – according to Mateen – so scared of him. Actually, I think Mateen just forgot that he made this claim in part I. So there is some small plot holes, let’s keep going.
Remember the past few episodes in which Zardari was a power-hungry bumbling idiot who was causing the PPP to crumble, ruining the legacy of Saint Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (except when it was more convenient for Mateen to Slander Benazir, of course). Well, in the final episode, Zardari is not a bumbling idiot! No! Now he is an evil GENIUS!!!
Beneath this facade of a seemingly powerless Presidency lurks the most potent political and administrative machinery this country has ever seen. He has got twice the size of senior bureaucrats overseeing his invisible government than Musharraf had. The dictator was often accused of running the entire show from the Presidency and his prime ministerial troika was dubbed as a mere rubber stamp. But Musharraf only had four director generals of grade 20. Zardari’s administrative colossus has five additional secretaries of grade 21 (Zaid Zaman, Shahzad Arbab, Ishaq Lashari, Zafar Qadir and his press secretary Taimoor Azmat); the sixth slot vacated recently by Abdul Shafiq who got promoted as Secretary is to be filled; Justice (R) Ali Nawaz Chauhana gets the equivalence of additional secretary as legal consultant; Additional Secretary Hassan Javed of the Foreign Office has been replaced by Director General, Farrukh Amil; and at the top is Secretary to the President, Asif Hayat. There is a team of baboos and finally, at the top of this pyramid sits a super babu.
The team of baboos runs the invisible government of Zardari where they get a soft copy of every important file – involving lucrative deals, leases, exemptions, quotas, awards of contracts, important transfers and postings – from every ministry, division, or corporation. A discreet system has been devised where a copy (called “soft” because it is not officially required and acknowledged) of every important file from every government department lands at the Presidency. Once it is approved at the Presidency, after the “deal” they say, the message is conveyed to the concerned department or ministry either on telephone or through a coded message like, say, a green “tick” mark.
Really, Amir Mateen’s “Sub Par Bollywood” plot has become so ridiculous, I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Now it is not corrupt, stupid, and incompetent Zardari that is ruining the PPP. It is evil genius Zardari who has made the PPP into an unstoppable political machine. All in 24 hours, it seems.
Amir Mateen even includes some international intrigue by claiming that Dr Qayyum Soomro “is believed to have kept a visa of Afghanistan and a vehicle ready on the border to whisk him away…” As usual, Amir Mateen’s extensive journalistic experience could not be bothered to find any evidence – not even a phony quote from some ‘anonymous source’! No, he only says it “is believed.” Sorry, brother, I don’t believe it.
Actually, Mateen does finally make a phone call to get a quote in this episode. He calls Farhatullah Babar to get some evidence about the “invisible government” that the evil genius has secretly constructed. Only problem, Farhatullah says it is nonsense. Amir has come too far to let this get in the way of his “Sub Par Bollywood” plot, though, so he simply dismisses the only evidence he has:
“Babar being a straight and honest soul would not know of such mechanisms.”
Amir Mateen really makes things too unbelievable, though, when he claims that the media is controlled by Zardari through his team of Farahnaz Ispahani and Dr Qayyum Soomro. Really? Am I supposed to believe this? I think perhaps Amir has access to some other media than I do if he thinks Pakistan’s media is a tool of Asif Ali Zardari.
And thus concludes Amir Mateen’s latest Gossip Column AKA “Sub Par Bollywood.” Until next time, here is a quick preview of Amir Mateen’s next column:
The Nation never fails to impress us with the some of the conspiracy theories that they publish. Today is no different as the editorial writers venture into the world of economics. Unfortunately, rather than ask an economist for advice and explanation, the editorial writers chose to create a conspiracy theory to explain what they do not understand.
The editorial explains this bizarre conspiracy when The Nation talks about “the real trap.”
However, the real trap the government needs to escape, is that of the IMF, which is only offering aid because Pakistan is helping the USA, which is allied to Europe, which names the IMF Managing Director, in its War on Terror. The IMF conditionalities, combined with government extravagance, are causing the unchecked growth in debt by a government which never tires of its concern for the poor. While Pakistan might need assistance to tide over the difficulties it may be facing, such assistance should not be at the cost either of the national economy, or of national honour and dignity. As the increase in the debt burden under the PPP-led government shows, turning to the IMF has meant not just the sacrifice of national honour, but a worsening of the national economic situation.
Let me see if I can sort out this tangled mess of conspiracies.
First, the IMF is only offering aid to Pakistan because the USA wants it to, and the USA only wants it to because the USA is allied to Europe and Europe names the IMF Managing Director. Apparently there are some conditionalities involved with the IMF aid (as there are with all IMF aid), though The Nation doesn’t let us know what exactly they are. The Nation also tells us that there is some government extravagance (again, undefined). These mysterious conditionalities mix with the extravagence and cause massive increases in debt because according to The Nation PPP cares too much for the poor! All of this together, of course, hurts the national honour and dignity.
If you found that hard to follow, take no worries, dear reader. I have created a chart that explains it perfectly clearly.
Did that help explain? Don’t worry, I don’t understand either.
The national economy is not only a topic of debate but an issue that affects the lives of everyone. Because it is an issue of such seriousness, it deserves to have serious discussion. Making up some fantastic conspiracy theory by throwing in every bogeyman that you can think of (IMF, USA, Europe, War on Terror, “conditionalities,” poor people) and then saying that these are all mixing together to harm the national honor is a waste of time that could be better spent discussion real solutions to such important issues.