Posts Tagged ‘Umar Cheema’

The News…or The Opinions?

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

The News (Jang Group)Jang Group boldly declares it’s English newspaper as The News, but based on what is inside, should the newspaper more appropriately be named The Opinions? Yesterday we looked at how Jang Group uses so-called “experts” to inject opinions into what are supposed to be straightforward news reports. Today, though, we want to look at an increasing practice that is not so subtle – the replacing of objective news reporting with opinions.

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In Wednesday’s edition of The News, readers who turned to page 3 of the National News section found very little news reporting. Instead, the page was filled with opinion pieces. Ahmad Noorani continued his reporting from the Supreme Court with a piece terming Aitzaz Ahsan’s reply to the court as “contemptuous and extra-constitutional”, and alleging that the Prime Minister has “ridiculed, insulted and humiliated the apex court and its honourable judges publicly”, suggesting that “the prime minister has crossed all limits of decency, morality and civil behaviour” – all clearly indicating a strong opinion, not facts.

Next to Ahmad Noorani’s piece, readers found more strongly worded opinion in another lengthy piece by Umar Cheema claiming that Aitzaz Ahsan is “writing concluding chapters of his career in the role of a villain, bashing the rule of law, a budding rebel to the justice system he struggled for”. According to Cheema, this latest piece is to reverse his previous opinion in a previous piece that defended the Prime Minister’s counsel.

Here’s a thought – why don’t Jang Group‘s reporters stop giving their opinions altogether and instead try reporting some facts? Then they won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of writing new opinion pieces when they change their minds.

But these weren’t the only opinion pieces on page 3. Almost half of the entire page was taken up with a critique of the legal reasoning in the Prime Minister’s reply to the court by none other than Babar Sattar, another of Jang Group‘s opinion makers. And Sattar does not stop with offering his personal opinion on the Prime Minister’s reply, he goes on to suggest that it is “capable of inflicting serious harm on our nascent notions of democracy, rule of law and constitutionalism”, accusing the Prime Minister of “striking at the roots of democracy, rule of law and harmonious institutional evolution in the country”! This from the same man who claimed that in a case of military officers and intelligence agencies using public money in attempt to manipulate elections, “disclosure need not be public”.

In addition to page 3, pages 6 and 7 of The News, as usual, include editorials and opinion columns. But even the addition page 3 was not enough to contain all the opinions published in Wednesday’s newspaper! On page 8 appears the ‘Viewpoint’ of MQM advisor Salahuddin Haider arguing that the government should carve out a Mohajir province in Sindh.

A typical edition of The News includes two pages dedicated to opinion pieces. As Jang Group editors expand opinion pieces beyond the properly labeled ‘Opinion’ pages, the question obviously arises why a newspaper named ‘The News’ can’t fill its pages with factual stories instead of the opinions of its employees.

Is Media Freedom a Cruel Hoax?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

media muzzleIn 2009, Kamran Shafi’s home was strafed with gunfire after he was warned not to report about security agencies. In 2010, Umar Cheema was abducted and tortured. Umar Cheema was lucky – he survived. In 2011, Saleem Shahzad was abducted and tortured to death, his body dumped on a canal bank in Mandi Bahauddin.

None of the perpetrators of these attacks have been caught, but in each case suspicion has fallen on members of national agencies. In the latest incident involving Saleem Shahzad, Senior Researcher Human Rights Watch Ali Dayan Hasan again suspects the invisible hand of security agencies.

Human Rights Watch says it was able to establish that Shahzad was being held by the ISI. “We were informed through reliable interlocutors that he was detained by the ISI,” says Hasan. Those interlocutors, he adds, had received direct confirmation from the agency that it was detaining Shahzad. In any case, Hasan says, “in a high-security zone like Islamabad, it is only the ISI that can effect the disappearance of man and his car without a trace.”

Human Rights Watch was also told that Shahzad was supposed to return home on Monday night. “The relevant people were informed that his telephone would be switched on first, enabling him to communicate with his family,” says Hasan. “They were told that he would return home soon after.” But by 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Shahzad had still not been heard from. At that point, Hasan recalled that Shahzad had sent him an e-mail on Oct. 18, 2010, that was to be released in the event of his disappearance. At the time, says Hasan, he was “fairly sure that sooner or later something was going to happen.” Human Rights Watch says it has made repeated attempts to contact Pakistan’s government and establish Shahzad’s whereabouts, but has received no response.

Nor can this suspicion be considered as part of a political agenda of one media group against the government since each of these journalists worked for different media groups. The only thing linking them was their willingness to investigate and report on the workings of the agencies.

Intelligence agencies have long been considered to use media as puppets in internal battles and for shaping public opinion about national issues, and suspicions about involvement in vote rigging and supporting political parties to influence the national direction have also been long held. Like the case of abduction and torture of Umar Cheema, though, investigations into these suspicions always result in a dead end.

As the nation has begun to demand answers related to issues of national importance including the Abbottabad case and the attack on our naval base in Karachi, confusion has been reigning supreme in the media. From bizarre and condradictory headlines on the front page of major newspapers, to the spread of conspiracy theories from propaganda rings associated with ex-officials.

Now that Saleem Shahzad has had his life stolen, the question has moved to the forefront of people’s minds, and the eyes of the world are focused on the national intelligence agencies. However, it should be noted that as yet other than anecdotal evidence and suspicions, there has not been proof made of the intelligence agencies being responsible.

But whether or not agencies are responsible, the current sentiments point to an important quesiton – Can the media be truly free if there is a fear that journalists live under threat for reporting on sensitive topics?

An independent investigation must be carried out not only to obtain justice for Salmaan Shahzad which is of course the first priority, but also to lift the weight of uncertainty about safety for journalists in the country. If national agencies are not involved, that needs to be shown by more than only the word of the agencies themselves. If the agencies are not responsible, they need to be cleared so that journalists can continue their work without being silenced by the “chilling effect” of living under the fear of harm.

On the other hand, if some member of a national agency acting either under orders or as a rogue element has been harassing and threatening journalists, these should be exposed and removed from their positions so that the agencies can no longer be considered a threat to media freedom.

Whoever was responsible for the death of Saleem Shahzad, the abduction of Umar Cheema, the shooting at Kamran Shafi house – these individuals cannot continue to go unknown if we are to truly have a free and independent media. Media freedom requires more than spreading sensational rumours and slandering politicians. If certain holy cows remain off limits to honest and objective reporting, then media freedom is nothing but a cruel hoax.

Cafe Pyala Sends The News (Jang) Back To Kindergarten

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

The News (Jang Group)Yesterday, we showed an example of The Nation using Wikileaks documents to support their conspiracy theories. Of course, they are not the only media group that is making sensational headlines out of the Wikileaks cables. But while The Nation may be mischaracterizing statements in order to support a conspiracy theory, The News (Jang Group) is simply getting the facts wrong altogether.

Good work by Cafe Pyala for noticing this one!

Back to Kindergarten for the Lot of You

Whatever else the merits of the Wikileaks expose may be, one thing is for sure: it is a DISASTER for some of Pakistan’s media. The huge information dump has resulted, annoyingly for our journos, in having to actually read things properly and double check facts, and far, far too much temptation to make laughing stocks of themselves.

Thanks to @sohaibgulbadan who pointed this out, here is The Newsversion of one on the released cables. Breathlessly, The News’ reporter Umar Cheema tells us on the paper’s front page:

Pakistan, a private nightmare for Obama

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By Umar Cheema

“ISLAMABAD: US President Barack Obama considers Pakistan as his “private nightmare”, a front-line ally in the war against terrorism that could surprise the whole world waking up one morning to hear that the country had been taken over by the extremists.

A diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks reveals that Pakistan is one of the major causes behind the US decision of not attacking Iran, amid fears that any strike against this neighbouring Muslim country could further fuel the militancy in Pakistan. Nevertheless, the US president understands that avoiding confrontation with Iran has portrayed his country as a weak superpower.

Obama, however, believes attacking North Korea would earn less criticism and also teach a good lesson to the countries harbouring nuclear-ambition. “He described Pakistan as his ‘private nightmare,’ suggesting the world might wake up one morning ‘with everything changed’ following a potential Islamic extremist takeover,” disclosed a cable. Obama expressed concerns about Pakistan in two consecutive meetings with ranking US Senator Codel Casey and Congressman Ackerman of the House’s Foreign Relations Committee before their visit to Israel for a meeting with defence minister Ehud Barak last year.

When asked if the use of force on Iran might backfire with moderate Muslims in Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the situation, “Barak acknowledged Iran and Pakistan are interconnected, but disagreed with a causal chain.” To the contrary, Obama argued that if the United States had directly confronted North Korea in recent years, others would be less inclined to pursue nuclear weapons programmes. “By avoiding confrontation with Iran, Barak argued, the US faces a perception of weakness in the region.”

Contrary to King Abdullah’s opinion of Zardari, the UAE rulers had very positive views of former President Musharraf, disclosed a cable narrating meeting of the US diplomats with the UAE Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander Mohammad bin Zayed, after the latter returned from a visit of Pakistan where he met Musharraf in 2005. First, he congratulated Washington for its decision to allow the US firm to bid for contracts to provide F-16s and other defence technology to Pakistan. “He said it was important to support Musharraf as he battled the terrorists. There was no alternative leader in sight,” said the cable. He also questioned the US suspicions that Pakistani authorities had deliberately delayed the news of the arrest of Abu Faraj al Libbi, negating the wrong perception towards Pakistan.”

Here is the actual cable. The operative part reads:

“11. (C) Barak reinforced his message regarding Pakistan in both meetings. He described Pakistan as his “private nightmare,” suggesting the world might wake up one morning “with everything changed” following a potential Islamic extremist takeover. When asked if the use of force on Iran might backfire with moderate Muslims in Pakistan, thereby exacerbating the situation, Barak acknowledged Iran and Pakistan are interconnected, but disagreed with a causal chain. To the contrary, he argued that if the United States had directly confronted North Korea in recent years, others would be less inclined to pursue nuclear weapons programs. By avoiding confrontation with Iran, Barak argued, the U.S. faces a perception of weakness in the region.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the person being quoted is former Israeli Prime Minister and then Defence Minister Ehud Barak, not Barrack Obama. The cable is from the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

Had Mr. Cheema and his editors at The News given it just a little bit of thought, by the way, why the hell would an American foreign mission be quoting their own president’s views to the State Department? A little bit of thought though seems far from some of the reporting going on.