Posts Tagged ‘speculation’

Security threats real and imagined

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

The News (Jang Group)A new report by Ahmad Noorani for The News claims that Haqqani’s missing Blackberry ‘could significantly help CIA, Mossad and RAW’. However, a quick review of the facts suggests that this is nothing but more sensationalist media fear mongering.

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Husain Haqqani was summoned to Pakistan on 16th November 2011. landed in Islamabad on 20th November 2011. A few days later, the Supreme Court barred Haqqani from leaving the country. A month later and the former Ambassador could not even leave PM’s House, much less the country. And there he sat until the Supreme Court lifted the ban on travel on 30th January.

According to another report by Ahmad Noorani, Husain Haqqani instructed the Attorney General for Pakistan to direct Embassy staff in Washington to locate the device and deliver it via diplomatic pouch.

In an extraordinary development Pakistan’s ex-ambassador to US Husain Haqqani has instructed the Attorney General for Pakistan to direct the staff at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington to search his Blackberry Blackberrys from his luggage and dispatch them in a diplomatic bag to Pakistan, lawyer of Haqqani, Syed Zahid Hussain Bokhari confirmed to The News.

A few days later, the Attorney General informed the commission that despite a thorough search, officials were unable to locate the Blackberry device in either the Embassy or the Ambassador’s residence.

While Haqqani was under virtual arrest, officers were instructed to search both the Embassy and the Ambassador’s residence for the missing device. Can there be any doubt that every inch of both buildings was overturned in the quest? Still, officials claim they did not find it. Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps the Blackberry remains sitting in some drawer or overlooked under a pile of papers. But that can hardly be the fault of a man who was sitting under virtual house arrest for more than two months over 7,000 miles away.

Ahmad Noorani’s latest report is supposedly based on the concerns of anonymous “Foreign Affairs Ministry officials”, but it should be noted that none of these officials point to any actual sensitive information being compromised. Neither does the report quote any officials from security agencies warning that any sensitive information had fallen into the hands of ‘CIA, Mossad and RAW’ or that a missing Blackberry could even present such a grave threat to the national security.

The timing of this report should also raise eyebrows. As noted previously, Husain Haqqani requested officials to send his personal Blackberry via diplomatic pouch over three months ago. If the device presented such a security threat, why was it not a security threat three months ago when Ahmad Noorani reported that officials were unable to locate it? Does it really set a security threat? Or is it just a convenient headline?

Perhaps it is worth considering another recent report, this one discussing a new survey that revealed “most Pakistanis feel the local media spreads negativity, is sensationalist and is sponsored by political parties”. If there is legitimate evidence against Husain Haqqani, it will be worthy of a news report. Until then, however, the public does not need to be fed empty speculations about hypothetical security threats. In short, facts please. Or is that just too much to ask?

What’s next for Pasha? Depends where you get your news…

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha was offered a historic third term as DG ISI last year. As the end of his appointment once again draws near, rumours and speculation have begun to run rampant about what is next for the ISI chief. At times like these, people look to the media to inform them of what is happening in current events. Once again, though, people can have two very different perspectives based on where they are getting their news.

On the front page of Pakistan Today, readers were told that Gen Pasha is likely to move Strategic Plans Division – the institution that controls the nation’s nuclear assets.

Pakistan Today front page

On the front page of The Nation, readers were told that Gen Pasha is likely to receive an unheard of fourth term as head of ISI.

The Nation

Which is true? There can only be one person who knows for certain – the PM himself – and he is not talking about the matter. With that known, how is it that two newspapers can carry contradictory front page headlines about the same issue? It’s very simple, actually, since neither newspaper knows for sure. What determines their position, then? Is is wishful thinking? Are anonymous sources with their own agendas giving statements to journalists in order to build a media narrative one way or the other?

The only thing that is known for certain is that where Gen Pasha lands after his current term expires will not be known until an announcement. Then it will be news. Now, it is speculation only.

Lacking evidence, Ansar Abbasi gives speculation

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

The News (Jang Group)An article appearing on the front page of The News (Jang Group) asks, ‘Is PM Gilani using Pasha’s extension as a bargaining tool?’ The piece, which is not published on the Opinion pages but rather the front page and is not even in any way labeled as opinion, viewpoint, or commentary suggests that the PM is using the possibility of another extension for DG ISI Lt Gen Shuja Pasha as a bargaining chit in the memogate case. Abbasi, however, presents no evidence for this suggestion. Rather, the article is based in his own personal speculation.

That Ansar Abbasi’s article is speculation and not evidence-based is admitted by Abbasi’s own words:

Talking to media persons on his return from Davos after attending the World Economic Forum Conference, the prime minister is reported to have said, “Any decision about the extension of DG ISI would be taken at an appropriate time.”

There is no explanation as to why did the prime minister say this but given the track record of the rulers and their style of soiled politicking, Gillani may use the extension card as a lever to get Pasha softened on memo issue.

In other words, “There is no explanation as to why did the prime minister say this but” I am going to invent an explanation anyway.

Ansar Abbasi is, of course, entitled to his own speculation and whatever conspiracy theories are born in his head. And if Jang Group believes Ansar Abbasi’s fantasies and conspiracy theories are worth publishing, they have every right to do so. But such inventions are not reporting, they are opinions and should be properly published on the pages clearly marked as containing opinions so that readers are not intentionally or unintentionally misled into thinking that Ansar Abbasi’s speculation is something other than what it is.

Media Speculation Wrong…Again

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Immediately following the president’s departure, media began speculating that the president would not return. Zardari’s brief trip to Dubai for medical treatment was immediately jumped on by the usual suspects who added another chapter to their never ending predictions of the president’s early departure, or immature and petty insults by the type of ‘freelance journalist’ who demands that people “stop making highfalutin statements from abroad that you love Pakistan”…from New York City, USA. Of course, lo and behold…

Zardari is back

As we expected when the president left, the new media circus was just a re-airing of the same “journalistic garbage” that has been heaped on the president since day one. No coup. No resignations. No revolution…no truth to so much of the reporting and commentary by the same old media hacks who choose to spend countless hours on rumour and speculation instead of doing honest journalism. It’s not just a shame, it’s a re-airing that’s quickly getting old.

New media circus same as old media circus

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Pakistan Media Circus

On Tuesday, President Zardari left for Dubai to receive medical treatment. Within minutes, the media circus began and rumours of a coup began to circulate. While no one has yet to provide a single piece of evidence suggesting that Zardari will resign or a coup is imminent, the story continues to dominate media headlines.

Part of the reason may be attributed to the way government officials like to give out as little information as possible, opening the doors to speculation. Arif Rafiq, a US-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues, wrote on The Pakistan Policy Blog yesterday that Farhatullah Babar’s statement was clearly not the whole truth, which resulted in some journalists jumping at the opportunity to attack the president. This theory was echoed by Tariq Butt in The News the next day.

While a lack of fully forthcoming statements is a problem, especially in politics, it does not excuse reckless and irresponsible behaviour on the part of the media. Official spokesmen have a responsibility to give the press true and accurate information. But if they don’t, it does not give journalists license to simply make up whatever they wish were true.

One of the reasons the rumours took on such a life was that they were being reported not only by the well-known anti-Zardari types, but even those such as Najam Sethi whose show on Tuesday night helped fan the flames of rumour and speculation.

Frankly, we were surprised by Sethi’s tone. This is, after all, the same journalist who strongly criticised exactly this behaviour just a few months ago.

Some well-known journalists have been predicting the end of the Zardari regime for over a year now by regularly giving D-Day deadlines. But President Asif Ali Zardari continues to defy their hollow predictions, prompting Javed Hashmi to wisecrack that a PhD in politics may be required to fathom his brand of politics. Considering how very consistently wrong they have proven to be, one may be forgiven for wondering whether it is lack of intelligence or scarcity of credible sources that lies at the root of their helplessness and rage. Or is it plain wishful thinking and personal vendettas that are masquerading as serious front-page political analyses?

Given that this was an unusual deviation for Sethi, and his claim to have been receiving word from ‘sources’, the rumour was given credibility. And yet, as the days go by, any actual substance to the rumours remains elusive, and the story has shifted from reports of speculation to reports about reports of speculation. Is there anything sillier than media reporting about how it’s reporting about rumours?

That’s not to say the rumour-mongering has stopped. Multiple newspapers including Dawn and The News reported on Thursday that a US magazine (Foreign Policy) claimed that President Zardari “may resign from office on account of ill health”. The News featured the story prominently on the front page. Despite the sensational headlines, the article they are reporting about actually says something quite different.

The original article by Josh Rogin does not report that the president may resign over ill health – that was only one speculation by an unnamed former US official. Actually, the article’s greater speculation is whether the military is plotting a coup against the government. But again, even in the Foreign Policy article, this is only rumour and speculation.

Moreover, what our media is not reporting is that the same magazine updated their article to say that the president will not resign, and that “The rumors of a silent coup are sometimes a way of trying to effect a silent coup”. Additionally, Foreign Policy published a new report yesterday saying that “Zardari won’t resign”. Will Jang consider this worthy of front page news also?

As the actual story of the president’s health condition and treatment lay to rest rumours of coups and resignations, responsible journalists should take note of what ‘sources’ were giving them what information. There they might find a much more enlightening story than the silliness we’ve been fed over the past few days.

Making Sense on Memogate

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Dunya TVIt is unfortunately more common that our reports examine inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour by our respected journalists. Occasionally, however, there are moments that make us proud to be associated with the profession and we do like to recognise these as well. After a week of media circuses, we are pleased to be able to once again post some praise, this time for the responsible manner in which Mujib Shami handled the memogate story on Nuqta-e-Nazar.

What is important to note is that in his handling of the issue, Mujib Shami’s main point is not that one side or the other is correct or incorrect, but that too much of the media reports have been based on conjecture and assumption. For example, consider the way the conversation starts:

This entire case has rested on conjectures or assumptions. The conjecture is that Mansur Ijaz wrote a memo and that the letter was delivered and once delivered action was taken. But the alleged memo, what does it have? It asks Mike Mullen to immediately contact Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and warn him that he should not dare to overthrow the democratic government in the country. And that if Mullen gives this warning to Kayani and to Mr Shuja Pasha and they stop and the democratic government survives then the government will do the following for you. But since memo is unsigned we don’t know who wrote the memo.

Now tell me, did Mike Mullen call Kayani?

No.

Did Mullen warm him?

No, he didn’t.

Did they stop because of the warning? Were they going to do a coup?

That is a conjecture. They were not going to do a coup.

When all these are conjectures/assumptions then I am worried that where are we going, what are we doing and what kind of a country have we become?

This last line may be the most important line spoken on television in decades. When we start to treat conjecture and assumption with facts, where can we possibly go as a nation?

Actually, such behaviour has direct consequences on the ability of the nation to function. As Shami points out quite clearly.

That people got after Husain Haqqani so in a way it was important for the government to remove him because they felt that he would not be able to work in such a controversial environment. But please remember that an inquiry has to still take place. Now this is very interesting that the resignation has been taken even before the inquiry.

What if an independent inquiry clears Husain Haqqani’s name? Then an innocent man will have been forced to resign because of a media circus.

This is a serious consideration as we have written before that media coverage of the issue so far has been dominated not only by speculation, but that much of that speculation has turned out to be incorrect.

Once again, Shami lays this all out perfectly.

If Husain Haqqani had to run away from the country why would he return? Even before he returned our media started saying that he wont return. And the Indian papers said that he has sought asylum in US. Then we asked him to resign, he resigned. And when he Tweeted that he has resigned there were counter assertions by the PM house that he had not offered but was asked to resign. So petty are people…

So petty, indeed. Rather than help the people cut through the confusing mess of conjecture, assumption, rumour and innuendo, too many of our most popular media personalities are jumping at the opportunity to give their own opinions and add to the controversy. As Mujib Shami correctly notes, too much of what we believe is because we are not being told facts, but conjecture and assumptions. He is not saying that one side or the other is correct, he says quite clearly “please remember that an inquiry has to still take place.” Husain Haqqani has resigned, and there is a new Ambassador Sherry Rehman. Contrary to media assumptions and speculation, Husain Haqqani has returned to Pakistan and has turned over his Blackberry for investigation. An inquiry is being prepared and the facts will come out. This is what the media should be reporting – facts, not conjecture.

When the cameras are turned off, many people find Mansoor Ijaz’s story thoroughly questionable, but there are still some questions remaining and no one wants to pass up the opportunity presented by such a sensational story. The problem is, writing exciting and controversial stories isn’t be the basis legitimate news programmes. Such stories are for drama serials.

News..or Gossip?

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

“It is also being said…” by who? Who is saying this? What is their credibility?

“If we can speculate…” Please don’t! We need facts, not rumour and innuendo.

This is not news. This is just gossip.

Jang Group Promotes Sensational PNS Mehran Conspiracy Theory

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

A front page article in The News by Mayed Ali that claims to report on the assault on PNS Mehran on Sunday night, but after listing details about the combat radius and onboard radar of the destroyed Orion aircraft the reporter ventures into the land of Hollywood movie-style conspiracy plots.

However, it is believed, the exact info on the details of the complex, which is not visible otherwise, the hangar and the aircraft suggests the plan just cannot be a work of amateur terrorists. The way the entire mission was executed, the sources in Pakistan Navy believe, it seems some specialists must have worked on the plan quite extensively. Moreover, the ex-Navy officials were of the view it was an inside job, implying that someone from within had provided vital information to saboteurs for the mission. And, if the investigation zeroes in on the possibility of sabotage from outside, the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), Mossad (Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations) or even the CIA (Central Investigation Agency) could be a suspect. Interestingly, in such a scenario, the US technicians, working on the new Orions, might have to be interrogated.

Notice that this conspiracy is pure speculation, which the reporter reveals through the careful use of conditional words such as “if” and “could be”. Actually, the initial claim of this conspiracy is not even attributed to an “official source”, rather the reporter simply claims that “it is believed…” Believed by who? We do not know.

The conspiracy blaming the PNS Mehran attack on CIA is particularly weak when one considers that premises that it is based on: Americans were on the base and knew the maintenance-cycle of the Orions. As Mayed Ali reports, there were seven Americans on the base. But there were eleven Chinese also, and as as the reporter also notes, “the attackers did not touch any other aircraft (Fokker) or helicopter (Chinese ZA-6) parked in the same vicinity”. Based on this information, one could just as easily speculate that the operation was carried out by Chinese intelligence to drive a wedge between America and Pakistan. Of course, if you believe this alternative conspiracy theory you would be just as foolish, for there is no evidence for this either.

Unfortunately, this is not the only article from Jang Group that promotes this baseless conspiracy theory. On page 2 of The News reporter Shakeel Anjum goes beyond his colleague’s pure speculation and quotes unnamed “senior intelligence sources” as saying that the attack was “accomplished by RAW certainly with the consent of CIA and a group of al-Qaeda”. Furthermore, according to this anonymous source, “a group of al-Qaeda and Taliban got training in a base camp of RAW in Afghanistan”.

Shakeel Anjum admits that the evidence is “circumstantial”, but even this requires readers to believe that any evidence exists at all. Obviously, none of this evidence is actually presented for readers to judge for themselves. Rather, they must accept the word of an unnamed “intelligence source” – not even an intelligence official.

But most important to consider is that believing this conspiracy theory requires that one believe the following statement: US, India, Taliban, and al Qaeda are all working together. In order for Jang‘s conspiracy theory to be true, you have to believe that extremist fundamentalist Islamists are conspiring with Hindu nationalists. You also have to believe that Taliban and al Qaeda are both fighting and killing American soldiers and also working with American soldiers.

Dawn reports that an officer-in-charge at the base who spoke with the militants described the attackers as speaking clear Urdu with a local accent. The same report details that the militants tried to kill the Americans on the base who were saved only by bullet proof vehicles. So now Jang Group‘s conspiracy requires us to believe that RAW trained al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and taught them to speak clear Urdu with a Karachi accent. Then RAW and CIA sent these al Qaeda and Taliban militants to PNS Mehran with permission to kill Americans along with Pakistanis.

And while Jang Group published in its English language newspaper a front page story with a slightly more speculative tone and put the more sensational conspiracy on the second page, its Urdu newspaper Jang boldy proclaims the wild conspiracy theory as fact from the front page headlines.

25-5-2011-Daily-Jang

Following the past weeks attacks on the nation’s security forces, people are looking for answers. Government officials and military leaders are holding hearings and announcing investigations into security lapses. Rather than play its role as watch dog and ensuring that the hearings and investigations are carried out openly and honestly, media is spoon feeding the people sensational conspiracy theories that would embarrass a C-grade bollywood screenwriter.

Lage raho media bhai…