Why just Geo and ARY? Why Mr. Zardari’s supporters did not attack the offices of British newspapers, even when one of them called his son a ‘playboy’?
By AHMED QURAISHI
Thursday, 12 August 2010.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—For Pakistan watchers, there are major ironies in the raging war between the Pakistani government and two powerful media houses.
This episode is important because it shows once again the basic structural flaws in the Pakistani political system and the Pakistani democracy which lead this system to repeatedly crash and throw the country back to square one, wasting precious time that we don’t have.
Geo News and ARY News are off-air in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi and across the southern Sindh province for the past week. Today and yesterday, independent cable operators in Lahore and Karachi reported receiving direct threats and incurred damages to their offices as a warning for not dropping the two channels.
Bundles of the Urdu-language Jang newspaper and its English-language sister newspaper The News International have been confiscated from newspaper hawkers. Thousands of subscribers have not been receiving their copies for days.
Jang, The News, and Geo are part of Jang Group, possibly Pakistan’s largest media group.
Earlier this week, activists from Mr. Zardari’s PPPP surrounded the Jang Group headquarters in Karachi. For hours they threw stones, chalked vile graffiti and piled up shoes at the company’s main entrance.
All of this was retaliation for Geo News – and ARY News – covering the story of an old man throwing shoes at President Zardari during a public event in Britain.
This incident occurred during a PPPP rally in Birmingham. But no PPPP activists [some 2,000 of them attended the UK rally] dare use the same tactics against the British media, which also covered the story. No PPPP activists circled the buildings of British newspapers and threw shoes at them. They didn’t even protest when one British paper, the Daily Mail, blasted President Zardari’s son for politicizing a human tragedy in Pakistan and called him a ‘playboy’ in the story titled, Pakistan fury at president’s playboy son ‘using killer floods to boost political career’ that, regardless of the merit of its content, crossed a line in humiliating a foreign head of State visiting UK.
Pakistani politicians like Mr. Zardari dare not attack Britain or British interests because London is where most of them escape to after raking in millions experimenting with democracy in Pakistan.
The harassment facing Jang Group is so serious that its newspaper The News gave this headline in its Wednesday’s edition, PPP Activists Terrorize Jang Group, Geo Employees. Last week, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Geo TV correspondent in the southern city of Hyderabad. It is not clear if the incident was linked to the current tensions.
All the senior officials of the democratic government insist they’re not pursuing a vendetta against Jang. The government’s TV regulator, PEMRA, is also feigning ignorance. But cable operators insist they continue to receive threats if they carry Geo TV and ARY News. This prompted a columnist in The News to respond with a sarcastic piece titled, ‘It’s The Cable Who Did It’.
Some members of Mr. Zardari’s party are peddling a conspiracy theory where they claim a ‘third force’ is trying to create misunderstandings between the media and the political parties. This ‘third force’ is a subtle way of accusing the Pakistani military and the military intelligence agencies.
Pakistani intellectuals are in the habit of avoiding the truth. So instead of questioning this violent and intolerant style of politics practiced by Pakistani parties claiming to carry the mantle of democracy, our intelligentsia is willing to buy this kooky theory of a ‘third force’, as some apparently are.
But let there be no mistake about who is behind this campaign of terror against Geo News and its parent company. There are no forces in the shadows trying to pitch the media and political parties. If there was a ‘third party’ manipulating this, it would’ve been very easy to uncover it. The technical aspects of this ban, which involve the regulator and the cable operators, would have been impossible to hide and would have leaked by now if a ‘third force’ was involved. The Zardari government would have been more than happy to expose the involvement of the ‘third force’ considering how it has been trying for the past three years to clip the wings of the Pakistan military to please Washington and London.
It is no secret that Mr. Zardari’s media managers, and the alleged party ‘media cell’ operating in the dark under the watchful eyes of a presidential aide and her PR wizkid of a husband based in Washington, have been promoting online propaganda against the Pakistani media, pounding the critics of Mr. Zardari and defending his main allies in Washington. So no one should be surprised when emails start flying online out of the blue demonizing Mir Shakeel ur Rehman, chairman of the Jang Group, traceable to either PPPP-linked websites or unknown sources.
QUESTIONING A FLAWED DEMOCRACY
But despite the attacks on the media in a democratic Pakistan, most of the Pakistani media won’t be questioning these democratic imposters about their credentials. No one will be asking them if harassing the media is democracy. Of course this is the least of their sins and the charge sheet is long. But this is the same Pakistani media that, three years ago, welcomed Pakistan’s current crop of politicians as true democrats and refused to question them about their tainted past.
That’s understandable since the villain at the time was Mr. Musharraf. Most Pakistanis wanted to see him out of power for many right reasons [democracy being probably at the bottom of the list, if not there at all].
But in the heat of the excitement to kick out Musharraf, no one had time to question if Pakistan’s tested, tried and failed political elite is the right replacement. Anyone trying to pose this question was quickly dismissed as a supporter of the dictator. The Pakistani media, out of good intention, promoted these ‘democrats’ because that was the politically correct thing to do then.
Today Pakistan suffers because of this indiscretion on the part of most Pakistanis and on the part of our media.
The point is that the Pakistani media needs to get tougher. We shouldn’t accept a flawed democracy just because Washington approves it [for its own interests of course].
It is time Pakistanis asked questions about:
1. Why political parties maintain secret armed armies to intimidate and kill opponents?
2. Why political leaders maintain assets, homes and whole lives, in some cases, in foreign countries?
3. Why no politician has been seen on the ground helping flood-hit Pakistanis across the nation? Not a single one?
4. Why political parties have failed to produce any fresh political talent in the past 25 years?
5. Why longtime party leaderships can’t change?
6. Why internal party elections are a sham?
7. Why fake holders of fake college degrees, murderers, thieves, rapists, etc. continue to hold positions in most parties?
8. Why most politicians are also hoarders of basic food items and possibly responsible for the worst inflation and food shortages in Pakistan just over the past decade?
9. Why some of the senior most Pakistani politicians and government officials hold foreign passports?
The list is long. But without asking the right questions, there is little chance that a flawed democracy will survive in Pakistan. The only reason this flawed system survives is because some Pakistanis won’t ask the hard questions. This gives foreign powers the chance to push for their candidates in Islamabad. We need to ask the tough questions. And media should lead the way.
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