As the details of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti begin coming to light, journalists are scrambling to meet deadlines and be the first to have the lead report on the topic. In this rush, mistakes will be made and facts will go unverified. But a much greater problem plagues media accounts – the willingness of journalists and bureau chiefs to give consideration to politically motivated conspiracy theories.
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The first conspiracy theory registered states that, despite the Taliban claiming responsibility for the killing, it was really a CIA operation. This was stated by chief of Jamaat-i-Islami Sindh chapter Asadullah Bhutto and duly reported by Express Tribune.
It must be asked why Express Tribune believed it was important to publish such a statement, especially in an otherwise factual report. Often the excuse for reporting such conspiracy theories is that sensationalism sells, and this is only feeding the demands of the public. But there is increasing evidence that the answer could be that a significant number of journalists actually believe these conspiracy theories.
In an email discussion immediately after the assassination on Wednesday, several prominent journalists including a Bureau Chief wrote the following:
Zahir Shah Sherazi, Bureau Chief Dawn News wrote in an email:
A question always come to my mind, Do you all believe its always the militants and extremists elements who are doing it OR there may be another hand involved to cash in on such controversies, we have to keep in mind that also
Mian Najib Ur Rehman, Publisher/Editor Daily Lahore Post wrote the following:
Yes! if Raymond Davis is being investigated for having links with terrorist networks . then this issue automatically links itself with Raymond Davis i am sure he must be knowing that people are coming for gun down the minister today . i must say again it is a very sad day again for Pakistan after the assassination of Sal-man Ta seer .. today once again the voices gunned down – -
lord save us . our country. and its people ..
Journalist Khalil Ahmed writes,
May be another Raymond Davis killed the Minority Minister to further pressurize Pakistan. Its too early to comment who is behind this assassination. Thanks.
Journalist Yasir Zahoor writes,
Yeap Khalid ahmed I m agree with u ……….before some days American CIA was already warned to Pakistani intelligence agency (as foreign media reported) that they would take revenge of Raymond Davis issue ……… should also mention this ……. except blasphemy law …
Conspiracy theories have already reduced much of Pakistani media to a mockery on the world stage. It has become a regular feature in international headlines that ‘transparently silly’ conspiracy theories are the bread and butter of our mainstream journalism.
Often journalists and editors are given the benefit of the doubt and it is accepted that this is more cynicism than incompetence on the part of the journalists. But if we have entered a phase in which news reports are being filed and edited by journalists who cannot tell the difference between fact and fantasy and who readily accept wild conspiracies over obvious truths, then we are in serious trouble indeed.