Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Nizami Full Court Press

Ah, this will probably most excite the hordes who flung (rather sleazy) mud at each other the last time we posted something about The Nation and the Nizamis duking it out. Seriously, we have never had as many comments on a post or as public a sharing of intimate bedroom details (I think anal sex was also featured at some point!), whether true or not. Now, the battle is rejoined.

Arif Nizami, the ex-editor of The Nation, who was booted out by uncle Majid Nizami and daughter Rameezah, and who has been revealing his general banality in columns in The News these days, has played his trump card and petitioned the Lahore High Court to wind up the company. On his side are heavyweights Aitzaz Ahsan and Abid Hasan Minto. You can find the reported details here.

If the petition is accepted, that would obviously be the end for The Nation as a paper. Shireen Mazari and her band of yahoos must be watching with at least a bit of nervousness.

Meanwhile, if for any reason you think that would be a bad thing, here's something to refresh your memory about the elder Nizami and the kind of paper he would like The Nation to be. Yes, the heading on that DOES read as follows: "We Must Be Ready To Fight Hindus, Says Nizami." I will quote the opening lines of the 8-column (!) story published in today's paper (bad English and all):

"LAHORE - Editor-in-Chief The Nation and Chairman Nazria Pakistan Trust Majid Nizami has said that we should remain well-prepared for war against Hindus as they were casting bad eye on Pakistan and our independence, which is a blessing of Allah."

All one can say to the elder Nizami is, dude, you've got "bad eye" on you from much closer quarters. Prepare for battle.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Najam Sethi Speaks - Update 1

Uh-oh. I think this is going to get ugly. Now Media Times (the parent company of Daily Times) Chief Financial Officer has responded to Najam Sethi's post on the journalists' mailing list. Of course, he was probably compelled to respond by what Najam said about him in his post...

So here's what Suhail Ahmed-the-CFO says, verbatim:

Hello friends,

I am amazed at this blatant fabrication by Najam Sethi and his claims of heroism for the rights of employees. Here are the facts;

(1) All he ever fought for was his own benefits and rights till 20th October 2009. He was trying to negotiate with the owners for a special deal for "his team" as he called it.

(2) The owners were fed up with his blatant abuse of their generosity, moon lightning at DUNYA TV for Rs. 1.2 million a month, padding expenses, misusing the Daily Times facilities to promote various personal ventures (all of which failed) including his TV channel.

(3) For a long period of time he barely visited the offices of Daily Times under the comic pretext that "his life was in danger".

(4) Sorry Najam you have been exposed many times before: please save us from this bullshit.

Suhail Ahmed.

CFO - Media Times Limited.

Someday I want to do a post about how much journalists are really earning these days. Watch this space for updates.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Najam Sethi Speaks

So, after a lot of speculation and mudslinging about the organizational downslide of The Daily Times and Aaj Kal among staffers and assorted journalists, the big man has himself broken his silence on a journalists' forum.

Here is what Najam Sethi himself wrote today:

Dear Friends,

You should know the facts: I resigned from Daily Times as Editor and from Media Times (which owns Daily Times) as Director on 11 October 2009 after six months of fighting with the management over employee rights, including salaries and increments and downsizing. I was accused by the Chief Financial Officer of taking the side of employees and "bleeding the paper". This is known to the staff. My senior colleagues Khaled Ahmed, Ejaz Haider and Ata Musawwir and Qasim Nauman have also resigned to back up my position. What more can we say?

Najam Sethi

Just so you remember, this is where we first wrote about the resignations. That was October 11, the exact date Najam now admits he resigned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Surreal Pic of the Day

No one, and by that I mean NO ONE, beats Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi in surreal wackiness.

Don't believe me? Have a look at this photo (courtesy The Independent):

These are hundreds of Italian 'escorts' from Rome. Those are apparently copies of the Quran in their arms. They are coming from the Libyan ambassador's house.

For the rest of the story, read here.

The Nation Vs The World

How's this for moving fast? In her short stint as the Editor of The Nation, Dr. Shireen Mazari has managed to turn virtually all her colleagues in journalism against her.

Take a gander at this letter, sent today by 21 of the world's top media organizations, to the government protesting at the "irresponsible" and "unsubstantiated" attack by The Nation on a journalist from the Wall Street Journal "tarring him" as a spy and thereby, according to the letter, endangering his safety. (And no, they were NOT talking about that other Wall Street Journal reporter tarred as a spy and later beheaded.)

For those who don't want to click through, here is the text of the letter:

"TO: Qamar Zaman Kaira,
Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Government of Pakistan
4th Floor, Cabinet Block, Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad

RE: Nation article about Wall Street Journal reporter

16 November 2009

Respected Minister Kaira,

We are writing to register our strong concern at a recent development that has caused alarm among international media organizations working in Pakistan.

On November 5, The Nation newspaper published a front page article accusing Matthew Rosenberg, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, of working for the C.I.A., Israeli intelligence and the U.S. military contractor Blackwater.

Mr. Rosenberg is a respected journalist of high standing. Not only was the article unsubstantiated, it critically compromised his security and raised questions about whether he can return to Pakistan to work safely in the future. 

The article also has broader implications. These are difficult times for all journalists in Pakistan. Our employees already face an array of threats, including violence and kidnapping, as they strive to provide timely and accurate coverage. Now those risks have been needlessly increased.

We strongly support press freedoms across the world. But this irresponsible article endangered the life of one journalist and could imperil others. It is particularly upsetting that this threat has come from among our own colleagues.

We recognize that courageous Pakistani journalists routinely face greater dangers than their international counterparts. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, five Pakistani journalists have been killed in the past 12 months alone. And we are heartened that several Pakistani media organizations have denounced The Nation’s story.

But we are also concerned that an incident of this kind – tarring a foreign reporter as a spy – could occur again. We ask the government of Pakistan to take note of this story and to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of all media personnel in future."

The letter is signed by the heads, the editors, the editors-in-chiefs, and vice presidents of virtually most major news organizations in the world. Count them, they are almost all there: ABC News, AFP, AP, Reuters, McClatchy, FranceInfo, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, Financial Times, The Economist, BBC, CNN, Radio France Internationale, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, Time, Newsweek, and even Al-Jazeera. Rather incredible isn't it? You have to have a certain je ne sais quoi (is 'touch' the word I am looking for?) to garner such collective denunciation, don't you think?

Just in case you were wondering, here is the original article, carried on the front page of The Nation on November 5, that sparked off this whole furore. I think it bears being reproduced here for people to judge for themselves how journalistically sound it is:

Journalists as spies in FATA?
By: Kaswar Klasra | Published: November 05, 2009

"ISLAMABAD – Agents of notorious spy agencies are using journalistic cover to engage themselves in intelligence activities in NWFP and FATA, sources informed TheNation on Wednesday.

To the surprise and shock of many, top bosses of Federally Administrated Tribal Area (FATA) Secretariat are allegedly feeding these journalists with secret reports and information regarding Pak Army and militant groups operating there.

Matthew Rosenberg, South Asian correspondent of Wall Street Journal, has been spotted travelling frequently between Washington, Islamabad, Peshawar and New Delhi during the last couple of months. His frequent and secret meetings with Secretary Law and Order FATA Secretariat, Capt (Retd) Tariq Hayat Khan, and Additional Chief Secretary FATA, Habib Khan, have raised several questions.

The sources alleged that both Tariq Hayat Khan and Habib Khan were equally responsible in facilitating and feeding Matthew about secret documents regarding Pak Army and sensitive information regarding ongoing operation against militants.

Despite the fact that Foreign Office and Interior Ministry have warned foreign journalists and foreign workers of NGOs not to visit NWFP and FATA, Matthew in a clear violation of this warning recently held a detailed meeting with Habib Khan that lasted for two hours and 17 minutes.

When contacted, Matthew Rosenberg confirmed to this scribe from New Delhi on phone that he had been meeting with Tariq Hayat Khan and Habib Khan since long, as he enjoyed good terms with them.

“Yes I have been in Islamabad and Peshawar many times and Tariq Hayat Khan and Habib Khan are also close friends of mine. However, let me tell you that I am not working on any hidden agenda,” Matthew said.

According to an official of law enforcement agency, who requested anonymity, Matthew was working as chief operative of CIA and Blackwater in Peshawar. The law enforcement agencies, he said, had also traced Matthew’s links with Israel’s intelligence agency Mosad as well."

So, basically (in case you missed it), it is anonymous sources (I would wager anything that it's ONE intel guy) who not only "spot" Mr. Rosenberg travelling between "Washington, Islamabad, Peshawar and New Delhi" but also intimate our intrepid reporter about his position as "chief operative of CIA and Blackwater" and his "links" with Mossad! Not only that, the reporter's meetings with the Secretary Law and Order and the Additional Chief Secretary for FATA (two government officials for God's sake!) have been scandalized as something improper and surreptitious. Er, whatever happened to proof? Or basic journalism ethics? Or libel laws? Obviously Shireen Mazari cannot be bothered with such petty things while leading the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious jihad for "national interest."

This is how The News, to its credit, rightly editorialized on the issue on November 12 :

Shoddy journalism

"Journalists lead dangerous lives in Pakistan. They are targeted by the terrorists whose actions they report and by politicians and bureaucrats whose failings and indiscretions they expose. All this is to be expected. What a working journalist may not expect, however, is to be stabbed in the back by one of his own, as has recently happened to Matthew Rosenberg, a journalist working for the Wall Street Journal. Mr Rosenberg has been accused in a local newspaper of having links to the CIA and Mossad and of acting in some undefined way as an agent of Blackwater. As if this were not enough to blight his life and career, he is further accused of having 'secret' meetings with Secretary Law and Order FATA Secretariat, Tariq Hayat Khan, and Additional Chief Secretary FATA, Habib Khan. Both are said to have 'fed' documents to Mr Rosenberg, thereby implicating them in his alleged espionage activities. The story is based upon information from a nameless source and has no supporting evidence. Mr Rosenberg has had to leave the country and is unlikely to be working here in the foreseeable future.

The editor of the Wall Street Journal has rightly and robustly sprung to the defence of his journalist and written to the editor of the newspaper that printed the story. The opening paragraph of his letter reads … "As a fellow editor I am writing to convey in the strongest possible terms our dismay and disgust over the slanderous falsehoods published on the front page of your newspaper on November 5th regarding our reporter Matthew Rosenberg." We might add 'grossly irresponsible' and 'unprofessional' to the list of printable adjectives that may be applied to this dangerous travesty of journalism. Accusations such as this, based on information from a single unnamed source are life-threatening in their gravity. At the very least there should one other corroborating source and preferably more than one where accusations as grave as this are made. The electronic media has recently reached a voluntary agreement to 'clean up its act'; and perhaps some sections of the print media need to do the same."

But to expect Shireen Mazari or her band of yahoos posing as journalists to show even the slightest contrition or introspection would be really like asking for the moon. The very next day, Ms. Mazari's editorial lapdog Ahmed Quraishi - a former PTV host who incidentally is a fellow traveler of loonyman Zaid Hamid on the PakistanKaKhudaHafiz blog - responded to The News editorial by a further front-page diatribe, which bore little or no relation to the substance of the criticism but chose the usual defence of the Zaid Hamid variety. That is, accuse your critics of a lack of patriotism and everything else. Just don't talk about the subject at hand.

Truly, as Samuel Johnson put it in 1775, "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fashionistas Get In The Last Word, And It's Oops!

So I'd hoped someone else on this blog would write a word or two about the Fashion Pakistan Week (FPW) which took place recently in Karachi. It had left me utterly conflicted between satisfaction that high profile events were continuing to take place in gloomy and precarious times, sympathy for the organizers who obviously were labouring in the face of dire security circumstances and global perceptions, and irritation at the over-the-top hype built around the event as the definitive answer to the Taliban on the other.

The Taliban must be cowering in their caves (Source: Outlook India)

As Faiza S. Khan wrote here:

"It was with some bewilderment that one read in the papers the next day of the display of a bare back and some thigh hailed as “snubbing the Taliban”, regardless of the fact that it was done in a private, carefully contained environment filled with people who were not remotely like the Taliban, i.e. socialites, designers, buyers and the inevitable twerp in gigantic sunglasses in the dead of night. There was the de rigueur cliché of how daring it was to see skimpily dressed models in a society where women generally cover up, entirely omitting to mention that distinctions exist between those people who cover up and those who don’t, and fashion models fall quite clearly into the latter category. One scribe wrote of how heroic it was to show exposed navels while war is simultaneously waged in Waziristan, as if these two are somehow connected, as if, perhaps, the navels were being bared in Waziristan or that the war would be won should the military choose to spend its budget on tank-tops rather than tanks."

Generally, however, all agreed that the fault lay with the gora war correspondents who had been drafted in to cover the absence of "real fashion journalists" who had pulled out of the event fearing their Pradas would be blown to smithereens in Pakistan. Obviously, the reasoning went, these guys could only see things in light of their own single-issue reason for existence in Pakistan - the war against militancy. So what is to make of this piece in India's Outlook magazine by Ayesha Tammy Haq, the CEO of Pakistan Fashion Week?

You can go and read the full article (bizarrely titled: Nargis...Let There Be Light), but the operative parts I shall reproduce below:

"To tell the truth, though, the Fashion Pakistan Week was not staged as a conscious act of defiance against any group, extremist or otherwise. Yet, showcasing the first-time event in these troubled times was truly an act of defiance. It was an act of defiance by an industry which, through Fashion Pakistan Week, was sending a message loud and clear—we will continue to work, generate jobs, provide livelihood. This is a message both pertinent and comforting in today’s Pakistan, considering our army is engaged in a war against an ideological enemy so that we can live and work with safety, in peace.

"Fashion week is really a trade show—no doubt, it’s glamorous but it isn’t entertainment. To become a serious business, it needs to be taken seriously. We articulated how Fashion Pakistan Week was all about the business of fashion, about jobs, exports, about earning foreign exchange and building a better Pakistan. An industry like any other, albeit with a higher glamour quotient.


"Security in Pakistan is an everyday concern, but naturally it’s more so with an event like the fashion week, high-profile as it is. Precautions were taken to mitigate risks. We kept the venue a secret and did things like printing different coloured cards for each day. But then the army general headquarters in Islamabad was attacked, making not only our international guests anxious, but leaving even those at home numbed with nervousness. We postponed the event from October 15 to November 4, and shifted our exhibition space. Karachi, our venue, was put on high alert. The security situation didn’t improve—but our morale did. Instead of postponing the event again, we decided that the way forward was to hold Fashion Pakistan Week. We advised all our international guests against gracing the event. We were more than compensated—instead of the editors of Vogue Italia, Vanity Fair and Velvet Magazine, newsrooms worldwide pulled their war correspondents out of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan and sent them to Karachi to cover the event.

"And as the curtain fell on the event, the night of November 7 became an emotional one for me for another reason—before the packed hall, Faiza Samee asked me to be her showstopper. Since this was a first for me, I was extremely nervous. But the audience was amazing; I loved it. I made my transition from corporate lawyer to fashionista the moment I stepped on to the ramp.

So, basically, what we learn from Ms. Haq is the following:

1. It was FPW that told the international guests not to come (sorry, "grace the event"); otherwise they were of course almost buckled into their seats on the flights here.

2. Having war correspondents cover the FPW was a GOOD thing, since those connected with international fashion might have focused on inconsequential things like enhancing "jobs, exports and earning foreign exchange."

3. The gora war correspondents were not just coming up with the 'defying-the-Taliban' line all on their own; FPW worked hard to get the message across, as evidenced by this article.

4. Ms. Haq herself was brave not just once but TWICE. Not only did she defy the Taliban, she also overcame her own insecurities and viewers' expectations by walking the ramp.

Sometimes, you know, it's better to leave certain myths unexposed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Waking Up to Slightly Old Breaking News

Trust Western journalists to come to stories a bit late on the draw. Or is it that there are certain seasons for Pakistan-related stories - the more salacious (sex, drugs, violence) the better? In recent days we've had stories about the operation against the Taliban (obviously), the flesh on offer at Pakistan Fashion Week (correlated with the Taliban onslaught), the insecurity of Pakistani nukes (ditto), the emptiness of Pakistani pop music (viz a viz the Taliban threat) and the growing distance between the establishment and Asif Zardari (how bad a thing that is when the Taliban are breathing down their throats). So, some hack has seen his chance to pitch another story about Pakistan's media.

The Maheen Usmani - Dunya TV sexual harrassment saga actually broke in June and even the debate about it kind of petered out over the last five months. Here is what The National from Abu Dhabi carried.. Expect to see other international media picking up on it.

Pakistan TV news stung by 'casting couch' accusation

Tom Hussain, Foreign Correspondent

Last Updated: November 11. 2009 11:34PM UAE / November 11. 2009 7:34PM GMT

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan’s growing independent television news industry has been stung by allegations of “casting couch” sleaze, sparking a debate within the media about the extent of sexual harassment of female journalists in the workplace.

The allegations, the first to be made public since the government opened cable channel ownership to the private sector in 2002, were levelled by Maheen Usmani, an Islamabad-based journalist and erstwhile host of the weekly show Meri dharti, meri dunya (My Homeland, My World) for the Dunya Television Network.

In a letter to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, since posted on its website, Usmani said she quit her job at Dunya on June 16 after management failed to act on her complaint that Yousaf Baig Mirza, the managing director, had used his position to offer her improved terms of employment – if she agreed to have an affair. Ms Usmani, the wife of a Pakistani diplomat, said that when she registered her complaint, her show was taken off the air and she was removed from the channel’s Islamabad bureau.

Statements of support from the journalists union and, subsequently, the International Federation of Journalists, based in Belgium, prompted Mr Mirza, a former managing director of state television, to accuse the union of jumping to conclusions, saying he was the victim of a smear campaign.

“The matter has been blown up, politicised and publicised by distorting and twisting the facts,” wrote Mr Mirza, in a letter also posted on the union’s website.

The management of Dunya has rejected the allegations, saying that an internal inquiry had cleared Mr Mirza of the charges.

Ms Usmani said her decision to make her case public, an unprecedented step, was motivated by a need to expose the frequency with which female journalists were being exposed to casting-couch ultimatums by their managers.

“I am aware that many female journalists choose to remain silent in the face of sexual harassment because they have little choice in the matter,” she wrote.

Television journalists have generally been reluctant to endorse Usmani’s contention that sexual harassment of their female colleagues was commonplace, however.

Habib Akram, the Lahore bureau chief for the Samaa news network, said: “In television news channels, the women are reporters and producers who confidently deal with and confront government functionaries and other men of power. I don’t see how any such assertive professional would allow anybody to harass them and get away with it.”

The consensus among television executives, journalists and anchors interviewed by The National is that the casting couch was a phenomenon largely associated with the glamour side of the business, where female aspirants tend to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are desperate for fame and fortune.

“In the drama, sitcom and commercials, it’s massive. It’s an unsaid prerequisite,” said a top male television executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak by his employers.

He said the “sex-for-fame culture” had spilt over into television news, where predominantly male managers who “use their deputies to lead the women up the path so that the boss can move in for the kill” preyed upon budding newscasters from poor families.

“But it’s not one-way traffic. There are many ambitious anchors that use the promise of sex to manipulate their managers and climb to the top,” he said.

Leading news channels, keen to ward off the stigma of the casting couch, have evolved strict codes of conduct for their staff.

Geo News, the most watched cable news channel in the country, has a stated policy of “not firing team members, once permanently hired, unless they have been found to be involved in sexual harassment”.

It has also formed a dedicated in-house committee to monitor such incidents, headed by a female manager, Nadia Mazhar.

However, the industry insiders said the knowledge that such two-way sexual manipulation takes place had made it immensely difficult for channel managers investigating complaints of sexual harassment, in which it is often a case of one person’s word against another’s, to find in favour of the female complainant.

“I’ve seen cases where the complainant and accused have both been fired on the grounds that the girl was alleged to have led the man on,” said another male executive, who also asked not be named.

“The fact is that equal opportunities for women do not exist in Pakistan’s electronic media. Even if she’s behind the screen, a woman is judged first on sex appeal and then on talent.”

However, a veteran female business news anchor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said sexual manipulation was “isolated” and that “one-off cases” depended on the working environment of individual networks. “Over the last five years, as dedicated news channels have split off from their hybrid mother channels, the glamour environment at major networks has been replaced with a corporate environment that is no different from that of a bank or telecom company.”