Sheeda Tully aka Sheikh Rashid Ahmed
Keep in mind that the man is contesting for a bye-election in NA-55, his own constituency in Rawalpindi, a seat he won 6 times in a row until 2008 when he was trounced in an anti-Musharraf wave. Two years on, the seat was declared second-time empty when the PML(N) MNA 'Haji' Pervez Khan was disqualified for cheating in an examination (Haji Pervez - who obviously did not absorb much spiritual rectitude from his hajj experience - won the first bye-election earlier when the original winner Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the PML(N) vacated the seat in favour of another constituency). Tully's main contender in the elections this time is the PML(N)'s Malik Shakeel Awan, a grassroots party worker without much name recognition but who has the entire PML(N) heavyweight leadership at his back.
The polls take place a few hours from now. According to the Election Commission rules, the campaigning officially ended at midnight between Monday and Tuesday, a rule enforced to calm voters down after the rhetoric of campaigning. So what happens?
Enter Mr Hamid Mir of Geo's Capital Talk. He proceeds to dedicate his whole programme to ridiculing and discrediting Sheikh Rashid, in what can only be termed a blatant attempt to influence the outcome of the polls. In addition to dredging up Tully's connections with the Chaudhries of Gujarat, General Musharraf and Asif Zardari - obviously calculated to refresh them in voters' minds - he also takes "expert" analysis from third raters like Irfan Siddiqui and Jang Pindi's magazine editor Farooq Aqdas. Not only that, he takes vox pops from a random selection of people in one market as well as the opinion of, of all people, 'Maulana' Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid and fleeing-in-a-burqa fame, all of whom berate Tully as a 'lota', as 'dishonest' and as a 'killer of innocents'.
Now, I don't know if anyone else noted that Irfan Siddiqui was sitting with the top leadership of the PML(N) when the party recently met for an internal meeting. Little wonder then that Tully blew his top later on the Geo news bulletin, accusing Siddiqui and Hamid Mir of being on Nawaz Sharif's payroll, the programme of being "paid for" by the PML(N) and Geo of stabbing him in the back.
I will come to my point later. Here are the clips of the entire programme, if you have the patience:
Clip 1 in which Mir sets the tone for the programme with some selective clips of Nawaz Sharif and Sheikh Rashid from their rallies, and of Sheikh Rashid and Imran Khan in a 2005 programme in which Imran calls Rashid a "lota" (turncoat).
Clip 2 in which Farooq Aqdas calls Rashid "siyaasi taur pe bad-ehd aur bay-wafa aadmi" (politically a traitorous man), makes fun of the assassination attempt against him, and reminds the PPP worker of Tully's anti-PPP venom. Mir then adds a few clips showing Tully praising Musharraf...
Clip 3 in which Mir runs some two dozen vox pops, two-thirds of them against Sheikh Rashid (with people calling him a "lota" and dishonest and accusing him of being responsible for the killings in Lal Masjid) and including at least four anti-Tully people repeated more than once. To his credit, one of Mir's studio guests, Humayun Gauhar, calls out Mir's approach as the "target killing" of Sheikh Rashid...
Clip 4 in which Humayun Gauhar dismisses the selective targeting of Rashid without a contextualization of the larger political scenario...
Clip 5 in which Mir plays a clip of Mullah Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid moaning about Rashid not having apologized to him (for what, one might question) and of how he has not received compensation yet (he should be compensated?!?) and Farooq Aqdas is called on to accuse Rashid of wearing Gucci clothes and smoking Havana cigars, i.e. being elitist. Then Aqdas and Gauhar get into a bit of a tussle over the credibility of Mullah Aziz and Mir wraps up by pretending to be neutral.
Now. Whatever one may think of Sheikh Rashid, this was a one-sided, deliberately vindictive and unfairly selective character assassination of one contestant in an election. More importantly, it was done in a sensitive period when campaigning on the behalf of anyone is prohibited, no campaigner is allowed to make public appearances or pronouncements and was obviously calculated to rig public opinion. Whether PEMRA takes note of the obvious bias in the programme or not, surely the attempt to rig an election calls for the Election Commission and, dare one say, the Supreme Court, to take notice.
Whether Hamid Mir did this programme because Sheikh Rashid's victory would put a stumbling block in Geo's attempts to oust Zardari or whether he actually indulged in financially corrupt media practices, I cannot say. However, I think there is a strong case for Hamid Mir and his programme to be taken off air for a while as punishment and for Geo to be fined and prosecuted.