First things first. If ever there had been any doubt about the cretinism of President Asif Ali Zardari's legal and political advisers, surely such doubts must have been laid to rest with what happened yesterday. I mean, you would think that if you knew the military, the judiciary, the opposition and an influential part of public opinion hated your guts, and the Americans were distracted enough by their upcoming surge in Afghanistan not to care too much about covering your ass, you would be a bit more circumspect in your actions, wouldn't you? No such luck with geniuses of the likes of Farooq Naek, Latif Khosa and Babar Awan.
Triumvirate of Legal and Political Genius: (clockwise from top left) Naek, Khosa, Awan
But I guess, advisers can only reflect the level of competence of the person selecting them.
The tangential repercussion of this fiasco on the media has been that two media houses have had wildly different feelings about it. The Jang Group, which had been trying its darnedest to instigate some sort of crisis involving Zardari for quite some time now - and one had only to have followed Geo anchors such as Kamran Khan, Dr S&M and The News' Group Editor Shaheen Sehbai to understand their desperation - must be licking its lips. Only the day before, the Jang Group had filed a suit in the Sindh High Court claiming that the government was trying to victimize it for exposing the president's alleged corruption by cutting off its government advertisements and pressurizing National Bank to call in an allegedly rescheduled loan. Geo had once again begun to run Mr Jeem's whine (last seen during Musharraf's "emergency") about struggling to survive (this despite the fact that Geo continues to be far at the top of all news channel ratings and revenue streams). Zardari and his bunch of geniuses could not have handed the Jang Group a better opportunity to go after him, an opportunity that has obviously been grabbed by both hands.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Daily Times, which after the departure of its founding editor Najam Sethi, has resembled nothing much more than the in-house newsletter of the house of Salman Taseer, the publisher (and of course, the governor of Punjab). Today's paper could have hardly done better to indicate its owner's mood, with a banner heading that said it all. Even the paper's weekend glossy, Sunday, seemed to indicate a sort of depression. It had only 6 pages of photographs dedicated to the wedding of Taseer's son. Compare that to the 11 pages the week before, and the 8 pages the week before that. (But there's still the valima pics to look forward to!)
But in the middle of all this ecstasy and misery, what I really wanted to touch upon was the Filmfare Awards-worthy performance of Jang Group's mediocrity-in-residence (gosh, there are a number of them vying for that title aren't there?) Saleh Zaafir. A reporter never ever accused of being terribly reliable (though he has been accused of being many other things), Mr Zaafir outdid all others by breaking news on Geo that a state of emergency ala November 3, 2007 was about to be declared in the country. He actually began it all by this bit of breathless ranting (he comes in around 12:50 in the first clip and continues up until 00:55 in the second):
Never ones to shy away from milking any sensation to its limits, Geo then proceeded to run "Breaking News" flashes across its screens for the next 30-45 minutes (the news flashes can be seen beginning around 09:30 in the second clip), announcing that "information indicated a state of emergency was about to be declared." No other channel had this information, obviously, because they don't employ Mr Zaafir. But even Information Minister Qamaruzzaman Kaira's rubbishing of the flash (which Samaa TV carried) was not deemed worthy of running on Geo. Geo kept insisting that the presidency was "refusing to confirm or deny" the story, which of course is journalistic shorthand for claiming 'we're actually right and they're hiding something.' It was only when Zardari's spokesman Farhatullah Babar came out to specifically deny the claims, that Geo stopped flashing its 'exclusive' breaking news.
Of course, Mr Zaafir has never taken being proved wrong lying down and he wasn't going to this time either. He then proceeded to write a price on the front page of Jang today, trying to explain how he was not really flying kites. An excerpt from his piece:
"Aiwan-e-sadr ki jaanib se saabiq sadr Pervez Musharraf ki 3 November, 2007 ki tarha emergency nafiz karnay ka faisla kiya ja chuka tha lekin awaam aur media ki jaanib se aanay walay rad-e-amal ne ussay chaunka diya aur woh musheeraan jo idaaron se takraanay ka mashwara de rahe thhe aur un ke senior jo khatray ka sabab ban saktay thhe woh apnay "aqalmandana mashwaron" se peechhay hat-tay gaye...Zaraaye ka kehna thha ke awaami rad-e-amal ke sabab mulk aik aur 3 November se bach gaya."
('The decision to impose emergency on the lines of former president Pervez Musharraf's
November 3, 2007actions had already been taken in the presidency. But the reaction of the people and the media [emphasis added] to it stunned the presidency, and those advisers who had been advocating a collision with institutions, and their seniors who could have become a source of danger, began to backtrack from their "sagacious advice."... Sources say that the popular reaction [emphasis added] saved the country from another 3 November.')
Keep in mind that nobody else carried the story and aside from causing a lot of confusion and panic, nobody actually reacted to it in any public way. But then, nobody has ever accused Mr Saleh Zaafir of any sort of humility either.