Last week, reports of a breakthrough in efforts by some groups to repatriate Dr Aafia Siddiqui filled the print and electronic media as reporters rushed to report that the US had agreed to return the Pakistani neuroscientist in a ‘prisoner swap’. After several days of heavy announcements, statements by political and government officials, and countless hours of analysis by so-called ‘experts’, it turns out that this is nothing but the latest media hoax.
Headlines announced that ‘US Agrees on Aafia Siddiqui’s Extradition’ and even quoted spokesman for Foreign Office Umar Hameed confirming the US offer, and electronic media was filled with talking heads debating and analysing the ins and outs of the agreement.
Politicians, too, chimed in with their own statements. PTI gave a press release rejecting American conditionalities.
Today, though, we learned that all the debating, analysing, and responding to the agreement was nothing but thin air.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad has officially denied that any agreement has been made. But this is not even a case of premature celebration. It turns out there was never even a discussion of extraditing the convict Aafia Siddiqui.
“No, the United States government is not in discussions with the Government of Pakistan on a prisoner exchange or transfer involving Dr. Aafia Siddiqi,” said Meghan Gregonis, a spokesman for the US embassy…”The United States and Pakistan do not have and are not negotiating a bilateral prisoner exchange agreement.”
There are three important points to be taken from this case. The first is to show just how quickly lies can spread through the media and create confusion in even the highest levels of government. Politicians and high-level bureaucrats have once again been humiliated by the media that has given them false information. And the most humiliated of all, of course, is the national media which appears to be filled with gullible fools who will believe anything.
The second point is just how easy it should have been to avoid all of this humiliation. Missing from the false reports of the extradition agreement were statements from any American officials. Did no reporter call the US Embassy to ask for a statement? Did no editor ask to check their reporter’s evidence for such a serious story of international relations? Obviously, the answer is no.
The third point that should be considered not only by our dear readers, but by every reporter and editor also, is just how easy it has become for someone with an agenda to manipulate our media and use it as a tool not to inform, but to mislead the masses who rely on media for factual information.
The consequences of these failings are greater than the humiliation of certain egos only. If we as a nation are willing to be led by the nose, never asking critical questions and demanding the inconvenient truth instead of convenient lies, how can we address the grave issues facing the nation and overcome even the simplest of obstacles? The success of the nation requires a media that reports facts.