Pakistani media: a noise box

Shaharyar Niazi on Geo

Due to the “absence of adequate evidence”, the Scotland Yard cleared, MQM chief Altaf Hussain in the money laundering case. According to Pakistan media, Metropolitan Police confirmed it that the investigation into the money laundering case against the MQM chief and others has been concluded.

Altaf Hussain was facing the media trial on the above mentioned case for more than three years. While his case was under investigation by the Law Enforcers of United Kingdom, the electronic media in Pakistan had convicted him with the crime.

Pakistani electronic media especially the evening talk shows are losing the credibility among the viewers. They have become more like a noise box than informative medium for the public. When it comes to journalistic ethics and norms, Pakistan electronic media has opted it out for the choice “Pay as you go” trend. The International Journal of Communication from the University of Southern California did a study called “Beyond the Western masses: Demography and Pakistani Media Credibility Perception” based on survey. The study examined Pakistani media’s credibility among the people of Pakistan with respect to their ethnic backgrounds. They found out that ethnicity is a key indicator in predicting media credibility. According to their result, the minority ethnic groups tend to find domestic television to be less credible, and international television to be more credible, than do members of the majority Punjabi group. In the study, “local television” was used for any type of television channel run by government or private media companies and serviced through aerial or cable/satellite connections in Pakistan, distinguishable from international television. But according to survey, in Pakistan the International media like CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera has smaller audiences as compared to Urdu-speaking channels.

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#CyrilGate: Has ISI Changed Its Tune on Fake News?

Corps CommandersNation’s top military leadership (in other words, the nation’s leadership) met to discuss the latest threat to national security: This news report in English daily DAWN. At the meeting, Army leaders ‘expressed their serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated story’ to the media. The confused and contradictory nature of officials’ response to the story has given it some credibility, and it must be noted that DAWN has defended the report saying it was only published ‘after verification from multiple sources’. However I am not writing to defend or deny the report’s authenticity. Rather, I am writing to ask whether there has been some change within the establishment’s position on fake news stories?

Disinformation and propaganda has been a tool of the establishment for decades or longer. DAWN itself has been a willing participant in such activities as can be seen on the archived pages from 1971 war.

17 December 1971 Dawn front page

One does not need to go back that far to find evidences of fake news stories, though. It was only a few years ago that Pakistan found itself facing international embarrassment after it was discovered that our media were reporting on a fake wikileaks cable in order to embarrass India. At that time, Ahmed Quraishi actually responded by defending the feeding of false and fabricated news stories. Today, without even a drop of shame, he is hosting a TV programme demanding an official commission to investigate the same.

hypocrite Ahmed QuraishiAhmed Quraishi’s shameless U-turn on the cleverness of false and fabricated news stories raises further points. AQ has actually been connected with several fake news operations during recent years along with others. Earlier this year, Umar Cheema exposed the fake news site ‘ABC News Point’ just as Cafe Pyala had exposed a dozen or more fake news sites being run under shadowy circumstances (also connected to Ahmed Quraishi!)

It remains to be seen whether the top brass have the good sense to cut their losses, but one has to wonder whether ISI’s M-Wing, which is headed by a Rear Admiral and staffed by several Brigadiers and other officers, sees the irony in having the Army Chief himself serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated stories.

Army’s Media Operations: Who Are They Trying To Convince?

Hypernationalist Military Media AllianceAnother report has appeared in the international media about Army’s use of media to raise their own image as national saviours but disparaging civilians as ruining the country. This is a topic that has been discussed many times in the international press, including global media power houses BBC and New York Times. If the whole world sees through GHQ’s spin operation, the question is what are they getting out of the billions spent on these official and ‘un-official’ media operations?

It doesn’t makes sense as long as we believe the media operations are meant to convince the outside world. But what if, instead, Army’s media operations were never meant to convince the outside world. What if all these billions being spent were meant only to convince ourselves?

There is nothing wrong with reporting good news. Actually, it is important that people be informed of Army’s successes so that we do not lose hope during a time of war. However it is equally important that people not be given false hopes by reporting that things are better than they are. We have been told since day one that terrorists had their back broken and were no longer a threat, but attacks continued! Yes it is true that attacks have declined, and we should be proud of this,  but we should not pretend that the problem is gone. Giving the people a false hope is begging for disappointment.

Same is true for Army’s treatment of civilian officials. Nobody denies that there is corruption in the government and that it is a problem, but why do we ignore the same or even greater corruption in Army? This is no secret either, but by not reporting the facts what happens is we are left with rumours. Media reports can give some information on this, but because the Army is controlling the media, nobody knows what to believe anyway.

The world is not fooled by ISPR. This is clear from the reports that the international media gives exposing ISPR’s operations. So who are they trying to fool? And is it working? These are the questions we should be asking.

The Producers: Has Lollywood become Pindiwood?

MaalikCanadian director Ashir Azeem’s new film ‘Maalik’ is being met with great controversy as many are asking what is going on with this film. Why is ISPR making movies? What is this narrative we are pushing? Who is paying for this?

Supporters of these films will quickly point out that if Hollywood works with the American military what is wrong with Pakistan military helping make authentic war films. The answer is that there is nothing wrong with the Army consulting on films to help make sure they are authentic. The problem comes when the Army goes from advising on authenticity to controlling the strings and using films as pro-war propaganda. This is a problem that even Americans question, so why can’t we question it also?

However there is also a big difference between the relationship between American and Pakistani military films which is that in America the movie producers pay the military for their help.

“The rule of thumb for us is that there’s no additional cost to the US government,” says Strub. “So if they’re filming typical flight operations on an aircraft carrier, we wouldn’t charge. But if you wanted to control the aircraft, then we would charge exactly what it costs the squadron.” These costs vary: from $1,000 an hour for a tank, to more than $25,000 for an F-15 jet fighter.

Who paid for all of the soldiers and equipment used in Maalik? Did this come from the military budget? If so, why is Army spending so much making movies when it is also once again demanding that it does not have enough funds? How do movies help the defense of the realm?

There is also the issue that the film is enflaming ethnic divisions by projecting certain ethnicities as corrupt, some as target killers, and others as ‘saviours’. This becomes obvious as the ‘heroes’ of the story are Punjabi and the ‘villains’ are Sindhi. Is it coincidence that this film is released while Rangers are conducting Karachi operation?

Privately, some analysts are also expressing concern that the rise of Mumtaz Qadri phenomenon is being driven from certain quarters who are trying to counter the influence of out of control Deobandi groups by building up Barelvi groups as an alternative. However, this clever game is having the result of militantising Barelvis and creating a society that is quickly becoming even more radicalised, not less.

The biggest question, though, is why the military is being involved in making action films while the nation faces serious threats from enemies within and without. There is also a growing feeling of unease with the problematic narrative that is being promoted as can be seen from reactions on social media. This is the obvious point that those behind such efforts are missing. ‘Maalik’ is actually dividing the country, not uniting it. The military has a critical role to play in defence of the country. Making poorly-conceived action movies is not part of it.

Recent Spy Stories Need Better Script Writers

During the past few weeks there have been a couple of particularly sensational developments regarding RAW involvement in Pakistan. The timing could not have been more perfect as we had previously witnessed the case of the disappearing evidence and the case of the disappointing dossiers.

First was the capture of alleged RAW agent Kulbhushan Jadhav AKA Hussein Mubarak Patel. Any doubts about Agent Kulbushan’s true activities were wiped away when ISPR released his video confession.

The video is impressive and is fool proof evidence for many people, but after watching the video many others have begun to have their doubts. There are a few questions that are hard to answer.

If this is a video confession, why did ISPR spend so much effort in the editing and production? There are multiple camera angles, sound effects, editing in different photographs, and subtitles. Actually it is the last one that first drew some questions, not because there are subtitles but because the subtitles are necessary since the confession was given in English. Why is an Indian agent giving a confession in Pakistan in English? Was this confession scripted for a foreign audience?

The alleged RAW agents words, too, raised some eyebrows. If he is a RAW agent, why did he repeatedly say that he was working for “anti-national activities”? For an Indian, anti-national would not be anti-Pakistan. And his description of his activities too is very strange. He says that he was working for “deteriorating law and order situation” and that he was carrying out “activities which are criminal which are anti-national which can lead to maiming or killing of people within Pakistan”. Is he reading a charge sheet or giving his own words? Later he even confuses his story by saying that he “became aware of RAW activities” and was following orders of his “handlers in RAW”. However earlier he said that he was “directing various activities in Balochistan and Karachi” and that he was “the man for Mr Anil Kumar Gupta who is the Joint Secretary RAW”. He also says that he “commenced intelligence operations in 2003” but later says he was “picked up by RAW in 2013”, ten years later?

All of these questions and more have created serious doubts about whether Kulbushan’s confession was authentic or was it a combination of scripts by a couple of Brigadiers which is why there seem to be multiple story lines and wrong phrases like “anti-national”. Is this the reason that, despite such ‘fool proof evidence’, the world has completely ignored ISPR’s video?

If Kulbushan Jadhav was an unreliable witness, the next proof of RAW activities to come forward would surely get the world’s attention. A few days ago a key former UK diplomat who worked closely on the issue revealed that Altaf Hussain told the British government that he was a RAW agent supporting insurgents in Balochistan.

UK diplomat Once again, though, questions began to be raised about the authenticity of the story almost immediately. The “key former UK diplomat” turned out not to be a UK diplomat at all.

Background investigation by this scribe reveals that Shaharyar Khan Niazi worked at the British High Commission for nearly 12 years. He gained experience and influence in the process and it was in 2010 that the British government took the unusual step of making him the deputy head of mission as the UK went for austerity measures and appointed many bright non-British diplomats in their missions abroad.

Once again, the story began to smell strange as the same journalist who reported Shahryar Khan Niazi’s revelations had only a few days early filed a report saying that he ‘quit his job in mysterious circumstances and its believed that he has been under pressure ever since in Pakistan to remain quiet about his time at the heart of the decision making with reference to Karachi’. Now he has suddenly resurfaced only to read a very familiar script.

News reports have become like cheap TV dramas using recycled scripts. Like the Kulbushan Jadhav ‘confession’, the world has completely ignored Shahryar Khan Niazi’s revelations also. Is it because of a Western conspiracy against Pakistan? Or could it be that the world is simply not interested in these low-budget dramas? This all may be beside the point, though. There is also increasing chatter among analysts that none of these productions were actually for export. They were created for the domestic market only.