World Is Cracking Down On Fake News: Is Pakistan Media At Serious Risk?

After Donald Trump brought the problem of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ to the attention of the world, internet editors have begun to ask questions about the credibility of so-called ‘news’ sources. The latest sign of a widespread crack down on fake news is the announcement that Wikipedia has banned using UK newspaper Daily Mail as a source, terming it as ‘generally unreliable‘. This is a major development because it is banning of a newspaper that was founded 120 years ago, not some shadowy website that popped up over night.

With wide spread concern about the ill effects of ‘fake news’, banning of Daily Mail  may be just the beginning, and Pakistan media may be at serious risk. Since the past several years, dozens of fake news sites in Pakistan have been exposed. The most famous example was blog Cafe Pyala that shined the light on shadowy propaganda rings that appeared close to the deep state including even a Pakistani fake news source called ‘Daily Mail‘! Then last year an APP report may have  accidentally busted another fake news operation with ties to ISI.

Tight control of Pakistan media by Army is already well reported in international media. In 2015, The Guardian published an expose about Army officials threatening journalists and forcing them to self-censor. How can such media be deemed as reliable if it is well known that it is threatened and coerced by Army? These threats have again come under view after a group of bloggers who dared question Army mysteriously disappeared earlier this year, resulting in new global attention to the dangerous turn of censorship in Pakistan.

However, it’s not just censorship that threatens the credibility of Pakistan media as a whole, it is also the number of obvious deep state puppets who dominate the media. There are the obvious jokers like Ahmed Quraishi and Zaid Hamid, but there are also the more ‘serious’ journalists like Mubashir Lucman, whose fake news cost ARY millions after being judged by an international court, or Moeed Pirzada who is widely seen as close to the establishment.

As the world makes moves to limit the negative influence of fake news, will Pakistani media find itself caught between the rock of international questions and the hard place of establishment operations to keep tight control over national discussions? If UK Daily Mail is termed as ‘generally unreliable’, what can we say about most of Pakistani news? As the world community takes on the problem of fake news, Pakistani media will be facing a lot of difficult choices.

CENSORED: Who Will Pay?

The following op-ed was originally published by The Nation on 26th Dec. It was quickly deleted from the newspaper’s website due to unknown orders from unknown offices. We are re-posting the piece in accordance with Articles 19 and 19(A) of the Constitution which guarantee “the right to freedom of speech and expression, and…freedom of the press” as well as “the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance”.

Pakistan Media

So Pakistan’s public will be made to bear the cost of about three million pounds damages and costs for the case filed by Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman (MSR) of the Jang/ Geo group against ARY channel for Mubashir Luqman’s twenty four libelous shows.
This will be the result of the UK High Court’s verdict against ARY for twenty four unbridled and defamatory programmes by Mubashir Lucman against MSR whilst at ARY.

But the UK court didn’t ask the citizens to pay, you might remark.
And you would be right to remark thus.
The court has stipulated ARY to pay out for damaging MSR’s reputation and endangering his life, as a lesson to ARY (and others) to not indulge in such activities.
But imagine: will the owner of ARY channel Salman Iqbal take this lying down, when he has no dog in the game except support from ‘the agencies’? A one-time loss he might even be willing to bear.
But given the slew of cases now being filed in the United Kingdom against ARY (including by the strongest Pakistani industrialist, Mian Mansha, and human rights activist Malala’s father) he would be inclined to bill the agencies for this bill, to set a precedent and basis for them footing the bills for all he has been doing at their behest.

Which brings us back to ‘Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency’.
Salman Iqbal will likely forward the bill to them.
And ‘they’ should rightly pay.
But what does that mean for us, the citizens? What it means is that in addition to its already invisible and unaccountable budget, millions of further pounds will have to be allocated, such that it can pay the bills for the new trend in foreign suits.

Is this, then, not the time for the people and the parliament to renew calls to bring the ‘the primary intelligence agency’ under democratic and financial oversight? This latest ARY casualty would just serve as the peg, the actual thousand leagues under the sea that is ‘the intelligence agency’ being the real target.

But here I must make a very important correction: in recent years the PR arm of the military has been a veritable arm of the military’s intelligence agencies, with the head of said PR agency, while leading the onslaught of military chief’s PR campaign, leading social media attacks on human rights and democracy activists, and leading social media attacks on ‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘ghaddars’ with his bevvy of the ‘Baloch girl’ army, has been reigning supreme.

So will this PR agency be made to pay part of the ARY bills (present and future)? Clearly, whilst ARY is now somewhat chained because of its broadcasts in the UK, BOL will carry on unfettered (to my knowledge it does not broadcast in other jurisdictions, and will cancel any plans to do so because of the ARY fiasco).

But what all this means is that we, the Pakistani citizens, will end up paying more for attacks against us, in the shape of (nontransparent) higher budgets for the country’s premier PR and intelligence agencies.

Moving on to Qazi Faez Isa and Najam Sethi’s take on the report: I was one of the first persons to identify the gaping hole in the honourable justice’s report.
That of not holding the Frontier Corp (FC) to account in any manner for the Quetta horror, obliterating in one fell an entire generation of lawyers and activists.
But Sethi saheb’s editorial of last Friday, whilst correctly criticizing Justice Isa’s report for not holding security agencies to account, ‘doth protest too much’ against the criticism of Chaudhry Nisar, the Interior Minister.
Not a word spoken against him in the Quetta Commission Report is untrue.
Did he not ignore all requests to proscribe Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Jamat-ud-Dawa Al Almi for months despite their claims (and no evidence to the contrary) of having perpetrated the Quetta lawyers massacre? Was he not caught hiding behind NACTA, which was hiding behind the ISI, which said, ‘they should have done their job per the law (despite the unwritten norms with regard to us’?

Whilst I’m the first one to agree with Sethi sahib regarding the egregious oversight with regard to security agencies far as the Quetta Inquiry Commission report is concerned, I am not with him in trying to exonerate the Minister of Interior.
I understand that what Sethi saheb is saying is that this is unfair.
But then rather than exonerate the boys’ man Chaudhry Nisar, why not question ‘them’? Why not try and expose ‘them’ rather than shield elements in the government? Let Chaudhry Nisar be the first casualty.
Only after might we be able to reach his enablers? My most humble submission to Sethi saheb: let’s catch what we can; only it can lead to the elements we have never been able to ‘catch’.
Let’s not exonerate obvious culprits.
Let’s try and get through to culprits via culprits.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist. Follow her on Twitter at @gulbukhari

Putting the ‘media’ in ‘comedians’

John Mccain

One of my favourite parts of Eid is always the new comedies that are released for the holiday. For example, ARY “News” reported that US Senator John McCain has called for Gen Raheel to be given an extension. To proof this report, ARY posted a Tweet by the American Senator showing a photo of him awkwardly shaking hands with our Army Chief.

John Mccain and Gen Raheel

Even US Senators are saying #ThankYouRaheelSharif! I can’t wait for the next ARY “News” reports about other important John McCain statements. For example, surely this is the US Senator telling Afghanistan that Taliban are the true freedom fighters!

John McCain Abdullah

Surely this is the US Senator telling American troops that they will now follow orders from the World’s Number One General COAS Raheel Sharif! Why don’t they show the American troops celebrating their liberation and raising the Pakistani flag?

John McCain talking to US troops

ARY was not the only channel carrying truly great comedies this Eid. There was also this hilarious news report by Ahmed ‘Qurazy’ for Neo

Don’t believe what you read about international isolation! American officials are the MOST PATRIOTIC Pakistanis! F-16s? Didn’t you see ARY’s report about US Senators singing the praises of our Army Chief? What? What about F-16s? The American Congress said they wouldn’t sell us F-16s because they want us to have EVEN BETTER planes than F-16s! Being such Pakistani Super Patriots, of course the American officials hate Husain Haqqani!

With so much tragedy in the world this year, it was so wonderful to know that I can always count on our professional co-media-ns to bring a lighthearted laugh on this blessed holiday. What is even better, though, is knowing that they will continue to bring us such comedies all year!

Shooting the Messenger

We are repeatedly told that no effort is being spared in the fight against militants across all the country. What is the reality? A new report by ARY News has found a shocking lapse in the national security.

An investigative team was able to easily smuggle weapons and bomb making materials without being detected by Railways Police. When they arrived, the reporters opened the packages and revealed the materials so they could be confiscated. So what happened next?

On viewing the dangerous contents of the package, the on duty Pakistan Railways personnel arrested Asif Shehzad and took all the items in their possession. An FIR number 197/14 was registered against Asif in which he was charged with sections 13/20/65, 9A CNSA, 3/14 and 109 of PPC for possession of illegal arms, narcotics trafficking and connivance/aid in crime. Two other ARY men were also nominated in the FIR.

GM has said that it will be up to the Court the fate of the arrested journalists. If there is any justice, they will be given a medal.

Waseem Badami weighs in on PML(N) allegations

Waseem Badami in his show 11th hour tries to find out reasons for the PML (N) and PPP tensions. He invites guests Sheila Raza (PPP) and Senator Mushahid Ullah PML (N) to discuss reasons behind the escalating political tensions between the two parties. He further tries to find out if the alleged PPP war with the judiciary is really an issue, or if PML (N) is just using judiciary as a political card for its own agendas.