Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We Share More With Italy Than Bad Driving

Came across this opinion piece about Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's control over the Italian media on George Soros-funded Open Society Institute blog and thought it was worth sharing for a couple of reasons.

Berlusconi: inspiration for MSR?

For one, it is an eye-opener about how similar Italian politics is to that of a far more maligned country such as Pakistan. Secondly, it provides ample food for thought about the role of the media in society, a topic that we on this blog have been consistently obsessed with. When we speak about a "free and unfettered" media, how do we reconcile that with the sometimes unchecked power that accrues to the media and, indeed, the people behind it and who own it who have their own political and financial agendas. And finally, rather than reading it as a (usual story of a) politician / leader trying to control the media - how we normally view these things in Pakistan - let's try and read it as many Pakistani politicians have privately and publicly proclaimed they see things: as the media trying to control politics. Imagine for a moment, media tycoon Mir Shakilur Rehman in Berlusconi's place... is the PPP on to something there when its leaders claim Geo wants to be the kingmaker?

In any case, without further ado, here is the blog entry:

Berlusconi’s Chilling Effect on Italian Media
March 30, 2010 | by Darian Pavli
Democracy is about more than casting ballots. When Italians went to the polls this week, what information and ideas shaped their votes?
For the past thirty years, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s family has controlled Italy’s top three national TV channels, known as the Mediaset empire. As head of government, Berlusconi has also maintained a tight grip on the “public service” national broadcaster, Radiotelevisione Italiana (Rai). Together, Mediaset and Rai control roughly 90 percent of national audience and advertising revenue shares.
To get a rough idea of the decline since Berlusconi entered politics in the early 1990s, imagine the media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation already owns one of the UK’s top networks, Sky Television, also buying controlling shares in ITN and Channel 4, finding a way to become Britain’s Prime Minister, and then systematically dismantling the independence of the BBC. That’s basically what has happened in Italy.
This has made broadcast media coverage increasingly partisan. Berlusconi and his government have repeatedly attempted to muzzle critical Italian media and avoid scrutiny. Now, the only significant criticism of the government comes from a handful of print outlets and a few isolated voices within Rai.
Let’s just look at this past year:
In June 2009, Berlusconi called publicly on businesses not to advertise in newspapers critical of his handling of the economy, singling out his old nemesis, the left-leaning La Repubblica. In the meantime, his government channeled roughly 90 percent of its own annual advertising to the Mediaset networks.
In August 2009, he sued La Repubblica for libel over its publication of ten questions to Berlusconi about his allegedly improper relationship with a minor; he also threatened to sue French and Spanish media over similar stories.
The government proposed and pushed through the lower house a bill that would criminalize publishing transcripts of wiretapped conversations leaked by law enforcement agencies. Italian journalists criticized the government’s proposal as overbroad and self-interested, and the proposal was sidelined temporarily. However, it was reactivated in the upper house earlier this month, when allegations emerged that prosecutors had stumbled upon conversations between Berlusconi, a member of the broadcast regulator overseeing Rai (Agcom), and a top Rai director. Berlusconi allegedly complained about critical voices within Rai and put pressure on the directors to silence dissent. Past disclosures leaked to the media have implicated Berlusconi and his allies in various corruption affairs.
In late 2009, the government introduced another bill that would require all websites carrying any video content, such as YouTube or any typical news site, to be licensed by the government and treated as regular broadcasters. No other Western democracy has attempted to regulate websites in this way. The proposal was only dropped after a barrage of international and domestic criticism.
In July 2009, the Italian Parliament approved a government proposal to re-introduce the criminal offense of insulting public officials, which had been repealed in 1999 after years of deliberation.
Another initiative is promoting a constitutional amendment that would prohibit, in drastic terms, “printed publications, shows and other displays … that violate human dignity or the right to privacy.” The intent seems to be to provide a constitutional basis for prior restraint of media stories.
In a recent submission to the European Court of Human Rights, the Open Society Justice Initiative argued that consolidated ownership and control of broadcasting in Italy violates the right to pluralistic information guaranteed to all Italians by the continent’s bill of rights.
To top it off, ahead of this week’s municipal elections, a parliamentary committee controlled by the government majority imposed content restrictions that made it impossible for Rai’s political talk shows and investigative programs to maintain their regular formats during the campaign. This was followed by a decision of the Rai board that outright suspended an array of talk shows, including those most critical of the government.
The blatant and unprecedented conflict of interest between Berlusconi’s media holdings and his government position has remained unresolved since the early 1990s. Italy’s highest tribunal, the Constitutional Court, has ruled multiple times that such media concentration is illegal. Yet its decisions have not been enforced. For example, a decree from an earlier Berlusconi cabinet allowed Mediaset to hold on to all three of its channels, for nearly a decade, in open defiance of a Constitutional Court order.
At the continental level, the European Court of Justice has found Italy in violation of EU broadcast competition laws. This year, the Council of Europe requested, for the second time since 2004, an expert opinion on Italy’s compliance with European media freedom and pluralism principles. In January, the European Parliament came just three votes short of passing a measure criticizing the consolidated control of Italian media.
It is time for the democratic world to denounce the limitations on media freedom in Italy even more forcefully. This situation is a serious embarrassment to the idea of democratic pluralism, and a terrible model for emerging democracies around the globe.

Would love to hear some considered feedback on this.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hamidsummer Night's Mir

Lifetime achievement awards are usually meant to acknowledge a lifetime of achievements. It usually means either the achievements are coming to an end or the person being honoured is about to kick the bucket. Sometimes it can be a not so subtle hint that says, here, take your award and die.

The good people of SAARC who last week gave Hamid Mir a lifetime achievement award probably didn't mean any of the above. In fact nobody knows what the hell they meant. Ms Ajit Kaur who announced the award on behalf of the delightfully titled Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSAWL) said:

“Mir...spoke against the genocide of Bangladeshis by the Pakistan Army in 1971. She said only two people were happy with the creation of Bangladesh - General JS Arora in India and Hamid Mir in Pakistan.”

The Daily Times’ Iftikhar Gillani, who reported the story, goes on to point out:

“Kaur failed to realise that Mir was only a six-year-old when East Pakistan separated, so how could a minor boy be happy over his country’s disintegration.”

Well Mr. Gillani obviously doesn't know Hamid Mir well. I am sure even at the age of six he could have declared the creation of Bangladesh a vindication of the Two Nation Theory and yet another humiliation for the Hindu army.

A more likely explanation, however, is that Ms. Kaur probably mistook him for his dad, the late Waris Mir, who we hear was a decent journalist in the '70s (though he spent most of his life as a Jamaati before becoming a ‘progressive’).

The citation also goes on to say that Hamid Mir is the only journalist who has covered wars in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Bosnia and Chechnya. It doesn't mention Hamid Mir's role as a one-man peacekeeping force in Lal Masjid and later in Swat. And of course we don't expect FOSAWL to know what Mr Mir was doing in Jamia Naeemia only a few days ago.

But the even more curious thing is that in his column in today's Jang (must confess, it's our Monday morning fix), Hamid Mir mentions his trip to India for the FOSAWL event (the column basically says India sucks more than Pakistan sucks) but there is no mention of the award or any attempt to clarify the contents of the citation. Geo has also reported the story but obviously it hasn't brought up the angle that Hamid Mir as a six-year-old was Pakistan's answer to India’s General Arora.

Here's a part of Mr Mir's speech:

Either it's Amn Ki Asha gone senile or perhaps the US$5000 cheque that Mir received with his award has turned him into a softie.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Inside Media Fix

For those of you having withdrawal symptoms because there has not been much to report on from inside the media houses the last few days, apologies, but that's how the news cycle goes. Despite what Geo would have you believe, breaking news does not happen every hour.

For those who can't wake up without their daily fix of news about Sultan Lakhani's Express Tribune: this is what I'm hearing from within. The paper is getting ready to launch early next month, either on April 7 (a Wednesday) or April 11 (a Sunday). Generally, new papers choose a weekday to launch but there is of course no hard and fast rule. Some people are still of the opinion that everything is not in place internally for a launch this soon but apparently the imported Polish designer has done a kick-ass job with the layout, which everyone seems to be very happy with.

Of the elements still lacking, Express Tribune has found attracting quality reporters a tad difficult and, as mentioned by some people in different comments, there is still some tension between some of the senior editorial staff who do not see eye to eye on administrative matters. The entire senior editorial staff was recently spotted at dinner at a Chinese restaurant this past week along with Bilal Lakhani (Sultan's son who has hands-on control of the paper) in what was apparently a team-building exercise. There is little doubt that the paper will launch with a bang. The only question is can the Lakhani's pull off and sustain a paper that gives the more established ones a run for their money?

In other news, sources claim that Jang Group's Mir Shakilur Rehman visited Raiwind for a tete a tete with Mian Nawaz Spanner-in-the-Works two days before the latter dropped his bombshell on the 18th Amendment. Why this meeting took place and what transpired during it, is up for speculation.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Don't Peg Me

Only a Sardarji could have come up with this one.

This is an actual whiskey being marketed in the UK. The name is apparently based on a rather (inside) desi joke about what to do when you ask someone what drink they would like and they respond "Kuchh Nai" (Punjabi inflected 'Kuchh Nahin' meaning 'Nothing')... So, of course, out would come this bottle...

You can read more about this enterprising Scotch with a desi name here.

Tweet of the Day

...Comes to us from Jemima Khan on March 24th...

" Imran to my father, May 1995. "May I have your daughter's hand?" My father's reply- "Why? Has she been shoplifting?" "

The father and daughter certainly have / had a better sense of humour than the ex.

: : : UPDATE : : :

Thanks to Rafay Alam, who first pointed this out, and Ali K. for digging it up, we discover that Jemima may have been playing a bit loose with history. This is the cover of Private Eye, the celebrated British humour magazine, dated 19 May 1995:

I guess the question that arises is, did Private Eye simply record and replay Sir James Goldsmith's witticism or was Jemima using the Private Eye joke to make daddy look more witty?

Two Twits Down, One To Go

This has really been a good week in some respects.

First there was news about wankmeister Zaid Zaman Hamid's long overdue comeuppance, initially at the hands of students in Peshawar and finally with a cartoonish flop show on 23rd March in Lahore. This is how Nadeem Farooq Paracha blogged about it on Dawn's website:

"For months the Zaid Hamid brigade had been congesting cyber space and the two TV channels that the haughty ideological quack is a regular fixture on, with promises of holding a ‘massive gathering of youth’ at the Minar-e-Pakistan on this year’s Pakistan Day (23rd March).
However, the no-show by Zaid and his fans at the Minar-e-Pakistan suggests the long honeymoon Mr. Hamid had been enjoying may be as good as over.
He simply failed to reach the Minar-e-Pakistan, not because he had a massive body of passionate young men with him chanting for his caliphate, but mainly due to him chickening out in the face of an announcement made by a radical Islamist group that recently named him in a police FIR for murder.
Perturbed  the articulate (but not very accurate) TV ideologue decided to hold his ‘historic’ rally at Lahore’s spacious Alhamra amphitheatre.
A man who likes posing in (passé) revolutionary attire and who it seems is always ready to pick up a Stinger missile and boldly cross into India and take-over Delhi, decided to quietly escape being at a venue where presence of a fringe group was expected.
So, the following message was fired by the man on the 23rd March: “Alhamdulillah, for tactical reasons, the venue for Takmeel e Pakistan has now been shifted to Alhamra Open Air Theatre adjacent to Gaddafi Stadium. Insha’Allah it is going to be an emotionally charged ideological, historical, earth-shaking event. Spread the message to your friends. Each one of you please do bring along a sabz hilali parcham. Be there by 3:30 p.m. Insha’Allah. PAKISTAN ZINDABAD! ONWARDS TO TAKMEEL E PAKISTAN! See you there Insha’Allah!”
Now that we know what the ‘tactical reason’ was for the sudden change of venue, what happened next was even more ‘earth shaking.’ No-one turned up.
Reports coming in from those who did decide to go, suggest that there were hardly a hundred Hamid fans present there. Funnier still was the fact that the Alhamra Hall was booked on urgent basis (by Hamid and co.) not as a venue for a rally, but for an ‘urgent marriage ceremony’!
So what happened? A figurative divorce of sorts."

You can see for yourself the "earth-shaking" event at the Alhamra:

And then today we've had news that the incompetent and afflicted-with-verbal-diarrhoea Mr Jamshed Dasti (of the Muzaffargarh PPP and chairman of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Sports) has been forced to resign from the National Assembly after his Master's degree in Islamiat was adjudged to be fake by the Supreme Court.

The details of Mr Dasti's humiliation are rather tantalizing. Asked a series of questions by the Supreme Court hearing the challenge to his credentials, Mr Dasti managed to make even the justices cringe. Asked what were the subjects he studied for his degree and which year his degree was awarded, Mr. Dasti expressed complete ignorance. He was then asked to name the first 15 chapters of the Quran - he could not. Asked to name the first 5, he again could not. Finally asked to name at least the first and second, he replied that they were "Alhamd Sharif" (it's actually called "Sura-e-Fateha") and "Sura-e-Aal-e-Imran" (it's actually Sura-e-Baqrah, Aal-e-Imran is the third). Now, I doubt most people could name the first 15 chapters in exact order but keep in mind that the man supposedly had an MA in Islamiat. He was also asked how much 4 times 2 is, which he also apparently got wrong. After the Chief Justice told him to rethink his defence, he asked for time and ran away from the court only to have his lawyer come back and tell the court that he had submitted his resignation from the parliament.

Dasti lords his incompetence over others (Source: APP)

But dheet that he is, he still had the temerity to appear on Geo News to sheepishly say that he accepted the court's verdict and that he put his faith in God. I think his actual words were "Allah khair karay ga" (God will make everything all right). Do recall that this is the man who used to breathe fire and brimstone from the pulpit of the Sports Committee and fling around allegations like nobody's business. So not only is he a fraudster and incredibly stupid, he is also unrepentantly macho. The combination boggles the mind.

But he is not the only one who has been caught out faking his credentials. At least 3 other parliamentarians from the Punjab have resigned in the face of similar humiliation. Personally, I see no reason why this should be the end of the matter. Firstly, what about the two years' worth of salaries, allowances and perks they have managed to wangle from the people of Pakistan? The least that should be done is for these amounts to be recovered from them. But equally importantly, why should resignation from parliament be the end-all for them? They have knowingly defrauded the state of Pakistan, subverted the electoral will of the people and denied the legitimate candidates who stood against them. Even if this does not fall within the ambit of high treason, a stint of jail time is the least they should now enjoy.

You know what would make it a perfect week? If someone took a shoe to another fake fraudster, Mr Hardilazeez Twit himself.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Titter of the Day

Had I not gulped down the sip of my morning tea a split second earlier, I would have almost surely splattered it all over the breakfast table. As it is, the guffaw that bubbled up ferociously from within me almost choked me. And it all had to do with laying eyes on The News' op-ed page today and noticing the headline on columnist Anjum Niaz's piece.

The headline read:

"A titter a day"

My first reaction was that this was some unintended typo, with Ms. Niaz actually writing about that infernally ubiquitous Twitter phenomenon. But no, I soon realized she was in fact holding forth on all things giggly. She even, believe it or not, uses the phrase "teehee and titters." (Does anyone really go "teehee" any more?!)

Now, I'm no juvenile and I know that "titter" is a proper word in the English language, but surely there must be some rule in some style book that tells editors never to use it in a headline. I mean, how can you NOT think of something like this?

"America's Merriest Magazine"

And let's not even get into the phrase "a titter ran through the crowd"...

But this set me off thinking about all those legitimate words or phrases that have accrued slightly more, shall we say, salacious meanings or the edge of double entendre, and can no longer be used in their original meaning in an article or normal conversation without inviting a smirk, a snide comment or an outright belly laugh.

Here are some of the ones that I thought of immediately:

gay: adj. happy
e.g.: Kookooburra sits on an old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he, laugh kookooburra laugh, kookooburra gay your life must be...

chick: n. baby hen or duckling
e.g.: There were so many cute chicks up for sale at the market...

cock: n. rooster
e.g.: We took our cock out of the henhouse...

pussy: n. cat
e.g.: I think my pussy is hungry...

beaver: n. an amphibious rodent
e.g.: Did you see that beautiful-looking beaver?

ass: n. a donkey
e.g.: He is so cruel, he keeps whipping that ass...

seamen: pl. n. sailors
e.g.: The submarine was full of young seamen...

tart: n. pastry
e.g.: The tarts at Cafe Flo are really excellent...

dike / dyke: n. an embankment of earth or rock to prevent floods
e.g.: We saw lots of dikes in Holland...

finger: (slang) v. to inform on, point out for arrest
e.g.: The would-be bomber fingered his accomplices...

madam: n. a courteous form of address for a lady
e.g.: She was quite the madam of her household...

Please feel free to add your own. But do ensure they are valid words to begin with...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blooper Wars - Updated

Remember this?

Well, we've apparently got our own back at them now. According to Dawn today:

"An advertisement released by Punjab police seeking people’s cooperation in combating terrorism carried the insignia of Indian Punjab police to the embarrassment of many. The advertisement which appeared in several national dailies showed three lions standing back to back on top of the small insignia, clearly indicating its Indian origin. The base of the insignias of police in Pakistan and Indian Punjab is the same. The difference is that the top of the Indian Punjab police insignia has three lions while that of the Pakistani Punjab police features a star. The Indian insignia is an adaptation of the Ashoka’s emblem while the Pakistani insignia reflects the national flag."

Here's an image of the front page of The Nation from yesterday with the Punjab Police ad at the bottom right.

Here's is the logo of the Punjab Police of Pakistan...

And here's the logo of the Punjab Police of India...

Given the reputation enjoyed by the Pakistani Punjab police, especially in light of the chhitrol incidents and the violent escapades of the last few days in Bara Kahu and Faizabad, I would say it should actually be the Indian Punjab police that feels embarrassed. Oh well, let's just call it even stevens and move on.

: : : Update : : :

...No such luck. The Indian government has hit back today with an Indian Railways ad that puts Railways minister Mamta Bannerjee's hometown Kolkata in the middle of the Bay of Bengal and the capital Delhi in... Pakistan. Oooh, now that's getting provocative, no matter what Zaid Hamid thinks. Here is how CNN-IBN reported it. Can't wait for the Pakistani response to this one. (Thanks to WHS who pointed it out).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day comes from PMLN MNA from Chakwal and columnist Ayaz Amir in the op-ed pages of The News:

"Punjab is the strategic depth of bigotry and extremism masquerading in the colours of Islam."

Actually, you should probably read the whole piece. Much of it re-encapsulates well-tread ground about the origins of our extremism problem. But the following concluding bit should also perhaps be translated and read out to his party members and leaders who probably find reading anything a bit bothersome (the clarifications in [square brackets] are of course my additions)...

"All the extremist outfits with whose names we are now familiar emerged at that time [under Zia whose protege Amir's leader Nawaz Sharif was]: the jaish this and that, the lashkar so and so. Most of them were Punjab-based and members from all these organisations acquired battle experience in Afghanistan. My friend Colonel Imam of Afghan 'jihad' fame -- and who, like most good people, is from Chakwal -- takes enormous pride in saying that the most fearless fighters of all were from Punjab. And he should know for he was in the thick of it.
When with the departure of the Soviet army and the victory of the Saudi and Charlie Wilson-funded 'mujahideen', the Afghan war wound down, the fighters who had gained battle experience in Afghanistan were shifted to an entirely different front: Kashmir, where in a protracted struggle they managed to tie down half a million Indian troops.
Their godfathers in the security establishment felt elated. Forgetting the role of hard-drinking Charlie Wilson and the Saudis, they wrote a self-glorifying narrative in which it was claimed that not only had the power of faith defeated the Soviets. It had also hastened the end and break-up of the Soviet empire. If a superpower could be thus defeated, zeal and the spirit of 'jihad' could work similar miracles in Kashmir.
This was the mood then pervading the top ranks of the army and the intelligence agencies. So it is scarcely to be wondered at that when after the fall of Kabul to the 'mujahideen', a Pakistani delegation was on its way to the Afghan capital, no sooner had the aircraft carrying it entered Afghan airspace when those on board, including some Americans, were startled by a loud cry: "Allah-o-Akbar". This from the then ISI chief [and a close confidante of then PM Nawaz Sharif who appointed him], the heavily-bearded Lt-Gen Javed Nasir.
Our rendezvous with our present extremist-flowing troubles did not come about from out of the blue. We had ploughed the land and watered it for a long time.
When the Americans attacked Afghanistan post-Sept 11, the theatre of 'jihad' shifted again: back to Afghanistan. The Bush administration of course screwed things up for itself by going on to attack Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan, a piece of folly sure to haunt the US for a long time to come. But Afghanistan was bad enough by itself. It reignited the fires of holy war and, given the iron dictates of geography, it was inevitable that Pakistan sooner or later would have its hands burned by another conflict raging in Afghanistan.
Once a change of course in our strategic course was forced upon us by the US -- Musharraf succumbing to American pressure without extracting the kind of bargain that would have better served Pakistan's interests -- logic and necessity demanded a clean break with the playing-with-fire policies of the past. In other words, a clean and definitive break with Zia-minded 'jihad'. But Musharraf played a double game. Even while dancing wildly to America's tune he was never serious, or he lacked the will and capacity, to seriously rethink the past.
But now that under a new sun and a new sky we are finally embarked upon a new course -- which marks a true break with the past -- we have to realise the extent and magnitude of the problem. The terrorism we are now fighting is not a provincial subject. It is not confined to any one province. It is a composite whole, organically tied together, growing not from any isolated virus but from a sickness of the mind and soul which had the whole of Pakistan, or at least its strategic quartermasters, in its grip.

If Pakistan is to become something, realising its dreams and potential, if it has to enter the real world and leave the world of dreams and fantasies behind, then there is no course open to it except to tackle this sickness, no matter what it takes and what sacrifices it entails, without ifs and buts, and without any misconceived appeals to the Taliban."

Amir's reference to General Musharraf reminded me of the time in the year 2000, when soon after taking power and vowing to restore Jinnah's vision, he had been asked a pointed question by a young journalist about the threat of Talibanization of Pakistan at a public gathering. If I recall correctly (I was witness to it), the question had raised the issue of blowback, long before it became fashionable to talk in such terms. I still recall the general's response: he claimed that people often tended to forget that the Taliban were evolving too and cited as an example the fact that when they met for dinner with Pakistani army delegations they would now use (or at least have on the table/ dastarkhwan) cutlery and crockery... whereas earlier they would simply eat with their hands out of a single thaal (dish). I'm not making this up. A few months later, the cutlery and crockery were publicly forgotten.

As for Ayaz Amir, if ever there was a misfit in a political party...

The Big News and Nothing But

Ok. So here I was, minding my own business late at night and looking at various news channels to figure out what the violent Karachi-like protests in Islamabad were all about (since Geo never bothered to explain anything even at the top of the hour for three hours other than that protestors were going on the rampage in Aabpara), when the following headline on Geo regarding the MQM's Foundation Day celebrations (if you can call listening obediently to a phone speaker in 42 degree heat, 'celebrations') made me sit up and take notice:

'MQM leader Altaf Hussain said in his speech that Shahbaz Sharif has told suicide bombers not to attack the Punjab.'

Er..that's it. But wow! What a piece of headline news! Surely it means something! I had hardly digested this groundbreaking report when Geo started flashing a news alert on its crawler that went something like this:

'PIA captain on Islamabad to Karachi flight began humming over PA system because of hunger - He sang 'Aa bhi jao sanam, tumko meri qasam' after which air hostess ran to the cockpit with food - After passengers' protests, the captain apologized, first in English, then in Urdu.'

Who says the media doesn't pick up on the BIG stories of the day?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Funnyman Blues

You know how you feel guilty for sometimes finding humour in something deeply noble (or serious or tragic)? That's how I felt upon reading this:

"President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday became the first president to donate all his body organs after signing a bill to enact a law to regulate transplant of human organs in the country.The president made the announcement of donating his whole body after he inked the document at a ceremony held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr, also attended among others by federal ministers and health experts. President Zardari said he took the decision in light of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s philosophy of living for others."

I'm not even going to go into what crossed my mind. It's a long-needed, noble thing, dammit, and I should be ashamed of myself!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shahbaz Sharif's Big BooBoo and His Agent Provocateur

In the understandable outrage over Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif's reported remarks day before apparently imploring the Taliban not to attack his province (because, hey, 'the PMLN is as against foreign dictation as you guys'), there was one element that escaped most people's attention. And that was the role of MrImpartialJournalistHimself Hamid Mir. Yup, with talk of appeasement of the Taliban doing the rounds, how could he not be somewhere close at hand, we should have known.

Ironically, this has come to light on Mir's own programme, Capital Talk, when PMLN's Ishaq Dar brought up what Hamid Mir had said in his speech just before Sharif's. The following is a transcription of the interaction between Dar and Mir about the issue...

Dar: Basically yeh jo aap ki taqreer thi, aap ki apni taqreer thi jis mein aap...
Mir: Haan, main bhi tha wahaan par, main ne..
Dar: Let's link now to that.. your viewers must know. [Mir laughs] Aap ne kaha, 'Main ne aik saal pehlay Sharif..' Main ne uss ke woh liye hain, woh pieces mangwaye hain, keh aap ne kya farmaya wahaan.Aap ne kaha ke 'Main ne aik saal pehlay Sharif biradraan ko yeh kaha tha ke aap ne Musharraf ko nikala hai, jo ke Amreeka ka chaela tha, aap ki policiyan uss ke khilaaf hain, aap dictation bhi nahin le rahe, androoni aur bayrooni quwwatein aap ke khilaaf mutaharik ho chuki hain, aap aur aap ki party aghiaar ke muqaablay mein deewar ban chukay hain...' Yeh aap ko quote kiya hai jo wahaan maujood thhe..'Lahore khoon mein naha jaaye ga.' Now, is hawalay se Mian Shahbaz Sharif yeh keh rahe hain, agar uss ko hum bhool jaayein tau totally woh... shukar hai unhon ne, main ne abhi ghaur kiya, 'agar' ka lafz unhon ne use kiya, kiya unhon ne..
Mir: 'Agar'
Dar: Agar! Tau matlab yeh hai, ke yeh saari cheez jo hai, iss ko agar accept kar liya jaaye, jo theory aap ne wahaan pesh ki...

English Translation of the interaction quoted above:

Dar: Basically, your speech, your own speech which you made there...
Mir: Yes, I was there too, I...
Dar: Let's link now to that, your viewers must know. [Mir laughs] You said, 'One year ago I said to Sharif...' I have got them, I got the pieces [of your speech], what you said there. You said that 'One year ago I told the Sharif brothers that you have ousted Musharraf who was America's puppet, your policies are against his, you are not taking dictation either, internal and external powers have become active against you, you and your party have become a wall against the foreigners' [designs]...' This is what you have been quoted as saying by those who were present there...'Lahore will be bathed in blood.' Now, with reference to this, Mian Shahbaz Sharif is saying..if we forget [what you said in your speech] it would sound totally... Thankfully he said 'if', I just noticed, he used the word 'if'...
Mir: 'If'...
Dar: If! Meaning that this whole thing, if we accept the theory that you presented there...

You can watch this bit of the programme in the clip below. Ishaq Dar's portion begins around 5:22 and continues for a couple of minutes.

Now, I'm not going to go into the merits of what Shahbaz Sharif actually said or didn't say - and Dawn, among many others have taken him to task for it - though for the record I agree with those who believe the Sharifs do have a soft corner for religious extremists or that they at least bend over backwards not to alienate what they believe is part of a solid vote bank for them. What interests me right now is MrImpartialJournalistHimself.

After watching / reading the portion quoted above, do we, the viewers, have a right to ask the following questions?

1. Was Hamid Mir being an impartial and analytical journalist with respect to the PMLN?
2. Is it his position as a journalist that allows him to provide security advice to the Sharifs and be on the roster of speakers at a madrassah at least two years in a row?
3. With respect to the security advice Mir admits himself to have tendered the previous year to the Sharifs and the (later assassinated) head of the Jamia Naeemia, does Mir know something he is not telling his viewers or the government, and if so, how?
4. Was it fair of the media to attack what Shahbaz Sharif said without providing the full context of what he was responding to, particularly when it involved one of its own?

Stuff to think about.

A Bit of His Own Medicine for the 'Doc'

Came across this bitterbitterbitter attack on Youtube on Dunya TV's popular programme Hasb-e-Haal, which incidentally is the No. 1 ranked programme in terms of viewer ratings for its time slot. The ire of the poster has been kindled by the Hasb-e-Haal team making fun of Geo TV's Dr S&M a.k.a. 'Blowhard of the Decade.'

Thought I'd share the video with you. I don't know about anyone else but if Asif Zardari was actually responsible for Aftab Iqbal and Sohail Ahmed taking the mickey out of Dr S&M (for which there is absolutely no proof of course), my respect for him has really rebounded.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dawn Group Shuffles

So we hear that Arifa Noor, the current editor of the Herald will be taking over as the Resident Editor of Dawn in Islamabad once Zaffar Abbas moves to Karachi to take over as the Editor of Dawn. Current Dawn Editor Abbas Nasir is likely to relinquish charge by July.

No news yet on who Arifa Noor's replacement will be.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


According to Instep Today, an exhibition at The Second Floor (T2F) that opened on March 8 to raise funds for the rebuilding of Boulton Market has been co-organized by a body named... D.U.C.K!

"D.U.C.K! (Designers United for a Cause Karachi!) and Rebuild-Rebound, both founded by Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture have come together to "create awareness and raise funds for humanitarian causes". The first venture in this vein is a series of events called To Karachi With Love, the first of which was a fashion auction, and the second opened at the Faraar art space at T2f on March 8."

Talk about a close call! Thank God it wasn't Fashionistas United for a Cause Karachi...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Newsweek Sets Up Local Shop

Newsweek, the American publication that labeled Pakistan "the most dangerous nation in the world", is about to set up shop in the same dangerous place.

A nice way to corner the market?

According to Islamabad-based Farhan Bokhari's piece on March 4 in the Financial Times of London, the local franchise / edition will be launched with 30,000 copies (four times the current circulation of 7,500 according to Newsweek itself) in September under a license agreement with a "local media company," called AG Publications. According to Adil Najam of the All Things Pakistan blog who carried a report on this precise topic first, the editor of the local edition will be Fasih Ahmed, former City Editor of the Daily Times, Newsweek correspondent as well as former Daniel Pearl Fellow and cited in Bokhari's piece as the Managing Director of AG Publications.

 Iqbal Z. Ahmed: LPG King

Now most people have probably never heard of AG Publications - perhaps because they don't actually publish anything of note yet and don't even have a web presence - but they may know the AG Group, of which it is a venture. The AG Group, of course, is owned by the well-known / notorious (take your pick) businessman / philanthropist Mr. Iqbal Z. Ahmed, who has been in the news a lot the last few years for having a near monopoly on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Pakistan, his push for the controversial rental power projects (RPPs), his ties with American businessmen entering Pakistan's energy sector, his largesse towards generals, politicians and bureacrats, and his closeness to both General Musharraf and Asif Zardari.

It should then not surprise you too much to learn that Fasih Ahmed is the able son of Mr. Iqbal Z. Ahmed and is himself a director of the Jamshoro LPG manufacturing plant. Here he defends daddy's companies against allegations of price-gouging and corrupt practices on Aaj TV's Bolta Pakistan (worth watching).

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Now, I don't wish to offer an opinion at this time on the merits of the allegations against Iqbal Z. Ahmed's business practices - for all I know, Fasih Ahmed's defence may be perfectly reasonable. But my question relates to what Daroon e Khana had been speculating yesterday about why we never see negative stories in the media about certain big businesses. I am not so naive as to think that all big media is not owned by big corporate houses with multiple business interests (although I do think this is where a lot of the problems of the media lie). But wouldn't having an editor who is also a director in one of the largest energy sector companies in Pakistan be some sort of clash of interests? Unless of course Newsweek intends only to do PR-type stuff from Pakistan and not really cover anything politically edgy.

There is also speculation about why exactly Newsweek is entering the Pakistani market, hardly a great market for English-language media. Despite the high-sounding rhetoric from Newsweek publishers about the "very vibrant media" in this country and a "strategy to broaden out into different markets", some have speculated that this is part of the new push by the American government to "engage" the opinion-forming media in Pakistan by doing what comes naturally to it, i.e. throw money at it. (On a side-note, let it be placed on record that according to my sources, among others, former Daily Times editor Najam Sethi has submitted a proposal to the Americans to fund a new channel, headed by him, which would help present the "liberal", "anti-Taliban" viewpoint to the Pakistani public.)

But of course this may be unfair to the strategists of Newsweek, who may have nothing to do with the plans of the US government. On the other hand, Adil Najam has speculated slightly differently about why the weekly would chose to enter a market where English language TV channels have converted to Urdu and where the circulation of the English press is, to put it mildly, pathetic:

"[I]t seems that Pakistan edition will be in English and aims, eventually, for a South Asian market, with both international and local content. Given that Indian laws regarding foreign publications are more stringent, it is speculated that although Newsweek is setting up shop in Pakistan, the real market it is eying is the much bigger Indian market."

Hmmmm. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might have said in Pakistanland.

: : : UPDATE : : :

Adil Najam may have got some of his details wrong it seems. As Nadir Hassan and Umair J have pointed out in the comments, Ejaz Haider, formerly of Daily Times, and currently with The Friday Times and Samaa TV, was announced publicly (on a Facebook page!) as having signed on with Newsweek Pakistan in mid-January.Other sources indicate that his last day at Samaa will be March 21. 

Nadir as well as other sources have indicated that Najam Sethi will also be part of the new editorial team. If indeed these reports are correct, he will almost surely be the editor and Fasih Ahmed (who worked under him at DT) may in fact NOT be the editor but simply the publisher of Newsweek Pakistan. That would take care of the clash of editorial interests I had expressed concern about and put the management's clash of interests at par with the rest of the media in Pakistan (and elsewhere).

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Only News Not Fit To Print

If the protesting workers at a posh hotel occupy part of the establishment, you would think that this is a good enough City Pages news story. Or that for TV news bulletins, it’ll make a nice little piece towards the end of the bulletin - just before they have the mandatory news of the weird about skating squirrels or dancing pandas. So how come we haven’t heard anything, anything about the continuing protest by the Pearl Continental (PC) Karachi workers - some 150-odd - who have occupied the hotel basements in protest against summary dismissals?

The 'underground' workers' protest at the PC
(Photos: International Socialists Pakistan)

The protest has been going on for almost two weeks now. Express News reporters turned up and did a story but it was never aired. Similarly, a Geo reporter interviewed some of the protestors, but we never saw the story. DawnNews people also turned up, did some interviews and then probably couldn’t decide whether they should run it in their Urdu or English stream. No story. None of the Karachi newspapers with the exception of Urdu Daily Ummat has covered it.

As Teeth Maestro points out here, the owner of the PC chain, Sadruddin Hashwani is a "Brahmin", i.e very well connected (more details about the protest can be found on Teeth Maestro's blog as well as this one). Also Hashwani provides steady advertising revenue and all the media houses get sweet corporate deals to use the hotel facilities.

Even a sit-in outside failed to move the media

But my feeling is that Hashwani or any of his lackeys hasn’t even called anyone to get the story killed. Our media tycoons and their editors (or news directors as they are called in TV channels) seem to have an unwritten code that says that you shall not run a negative story about anyone who advertises. Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a negative story about Atlas Honda, Dalda, Zong, Standard Chartered, or even Shaan Masala?

Are we to assume that there has never been anything worth reporting from the world of big business except PR type stuff like product launches and sales conferences? I don’t really follow the business press but if any of you guys have seen anything like this please do share with us.

And if, as working journalists, we are not allowed to cover objectively any business that advertises with us, then surely all the lively, kick-ass stories we see on our media are because of the fact that someone forgot to pay our seth.

Aafia Afye Afoe Afum Again...

Aah, more on the Jamaat's and Aamir Liaquat Hussain's "qaum ki beti" (daughter of the nation). The News today carries a report culled from the New York Times of March 5 - why it took a whole two days for the The News' US correspondent to simply copy it, I have no idea. In any case, there are a couple of very interesting statements in it.

The first interesting tidbit, rightly picked up by The News as worthy of the front-page, is that Aafia Siddiqui's uncle has given a sworn affidavit that his niece visited him in January 2008, asking for help to reach the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now, this has been reported earlier in the media. However, a signed affidavit carries a little bit more legal weight than media reports. And of course it puts into complete doubt Aafia's family's contention that she had been kidnapped in 2003.

In  fact, the NYT piece also points out:

"Ms. Siddiqui’s first husband, Dr. Khan, who was questioned by Pakistani and F.B.I. officials and released, said that during Ms. Siddiqui’s disappearance, she was hiding in Pakistan. He says he saw her on two occasions."

The second bit of interesting information relates to children of Aafia Siddiqui, about whom there has been intense speculation. The NYT writes:

"[Aafia] was arrested in July 2008 in Ghazni, Afghanistan, with her eldest child, Ahmed, then 12, who told Afghan investigators they had arrived by road from Quetta, in southwestern Pakistan, two days before. … Ahmed was later sent to be with his aunt, Dr. Siddiqui. The other two children, Sulejman, 7, and Maryam, 12, remain missing, but their father says they have been seen at their aunt’s house."

If true, this would explain why Aafia's sister Fowzia Siddiqui has steadfastly refused to allow anyone to meet Ahmed or why the family does not seem to be terribly upset about the allegedly missing younger two children. Of course, the actual facts regarding the children remain to be proved.

The third interesting factoid is about Aafia's connections with Al Qaeda, which all of her supporters and family have done their best to gloss over. Aside from Aafia Siddiqui's and her family's repeatedly documented sympathies for the Taliban and the accusation that she helped open a post box in 2002 for an alleged Al Qaeda member, there is a bit of a more personal connection. From the NYT again:

"Divorced from her first husband, Dr. Muhammad Amjad Khan, the father of her three children, she married Ammar al-Baluchi, the nephew of the professed orchestrator of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in early 2003, according to court documents filed in the United States. When the F.B.I. issued a global alert for her and her first husband in March 2003, she disappeared from her family home in Karachi, Pakistan. Her second husband, Mr. Baluchi, was arrested and is jailed at Guantánamo. Accused of a role in financing the Sept. 11 plot, he is among five detainees scheduled to be tried in the United States in the coming months in the attacks."

Wouldn't you say being related to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed through a marriage of choice - where exactly would a nice "qaum ki beti" have met someone like Ali Aziz Abdul Ali a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi one could be forgiven for asking Jamaat chief Munawwar Hassan - is more than a little suspicious? You want to know more about her current husband, who it turns out is also a cousin of Ramzi Yousef, the original World Trade Centre bomber? Here's some info on him.

As we said before, there is far more to this story than meets the eye. And it's about time our politicians and media charlatans stopped throwing dust in it.

Gone With the Wind?

On the occasion of international women's day, thought I'd share with all of you some vintage Western (I believe they are all American) ads I came across. You know, just to remind ourselves where the current non-dialectical lecturers on women's rights are coming from.

And these are a few more current ads:

Hmmmm. Perhaps things have not changed all that much there either.

Bake Up Pakistan

When I heard this news today, I can tell you, it warmed my heart.

Wanker-in-chief Zaid Hamid's arrival on March 6 (Saturday) at the Islamia College University in Peshawar for a Wake Up Pakistan pep rally (i.e. his usual pompous drivel) was met not only by strong vocal protests from a range of student groups (including the Peoples Students' Federation, the Pakhtun Students' Federation and even the Jamiat) but his car was also apparently stoned and some students even attempted to beat him up. Some reports also claimed a bout of aerial firing. Here is a clip of what happened inside the woefully named Takbeer Hall (posted obviously by an acolyte wanker):

One of the student protestors, Idrees Kamal, had this to say to Dawn in the protestors' defence:

“We have already suffered a lot due to the suicide bombers and militants and do not want those promoting the extremists.”

I'm not usually someone who condones such tactics against people whose opinion one disagrees with. But in this case, it's fair enough as far I'm concerned. Since chauvinists like Zaid Hamid talk only in terms of violence and genocide, keep proclaiming their fondness for militaristic solutions and attempt to shout down all voices opposing them or sneakily denigrate them as unpatriotic, about time that they get a taste of their own medicine.

One must also keep in mind the circumstances of this pep rally. According to all local sources, Zaid Hamid was invited by the university's chancellor, the NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, and was provided VIP security protocol by plainclothes law enforcement and intelligence personnel. (Oh yeah, it's so much easier to 'Wake Up Pakistan' with the intelligence agencies at your back, isn't it Zaid, Maria and Ali?) What exactly is Mr Ghani up to? Why is a madman receiving such official patronage? Haven't we seen enough of the consequences of backing such unhinged demagogues? It is to the credit of the student bodies that they resisted this obviously establishmentarain attempt to build up this charlatan.

Here is Dawn's report and here is The News' report on the fracas. And here is a slightly more detailed local report from KhyberWatch.

My only disappointments about the whole episode were as follows:

1. That Zaid Hamid did NOT get beaten up
2. That he DID manage to deliver his drivel nonetheless
3. That, according to The News' report, some of the protestors called him a "controversial scholar."

If he's a "scholar", my pet snail is one too. And both leave equal amounts of slime in their wake.

Friday, March 5, 2010

On Vigilante 'Justice'

The media catchphrase of the last couple of days: "Chhitrol" (flogging). This, of course, after rather explicit footage first emerged from Chiniot, of policemen stripping arrested men and giving them some heavy duty spanking in full public view. After this footage was broadcast on almost all television channels (Express I think had it almost a day before others), more footage of similar such incidents was sent in by various people from all over Punjab. Geo took the lead in running as many as it could find, most of them sent in by viewers who probably recorded it on their cell phones. I counted at least five new bits of footage tonight.

Of course, the footage was accompanied by some requisite hue and cry over the blatant abuse of human rights (it is!) and the process of law due to the accused, a number of policemen were suspended, some fiery vows were made to prosecute the errant policemen under the anti-terrorism act, and even one PMLN MPA was implicated in allegedly condoning the barbaric acts. But perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole scenario was a news report carried by Aaj TV, in which average people asked about the issue in one town Jalalpur Bhattian unanimously defended the policemen as having done the right thing. The people interviewed claimed that the men flogged in public view were apprehended red-handed by local residents while committing a dacoity and deserved everything they got and that they, the members of the public, had, in fact, demanded it of the police. It would do well to remember that in many of the footages shown, there are crowds of people observing the floggings.

This, to me, is the crux of the issue. Remember at least two instances in Karachi in the recent past where robbers caught by local residents were beaten and set alight before the police could even arrive? Remember the support in the North-West and FATA regions for the Taliban brand of brutal and quick "justice"? I am not in the least trying to justify what is ultimately barbarism but there is a pattern here.

What motivates normal, law-abiding citizens to take the law in their own hands, or approve of authority meting out on-the-spot punishments, without trial or opportunity of defence to the accused? Is it a lack of awareness of the benefits for everyone of due process? Is it some inculcated respect for fascism? Is it fear that if such pressure is not exerted by the public, crooked policemen will collude with criminals? Or is it resignation that the corruption and bureaucracy of the legal system will see real culprits go scot free?

It could, in fact, be a combination, of all these things. But whatever it is, this is what needs really to be addressed. When the average citizen sees nothing wrong in vigilante "justice", no amount of fiery rhetoric and punishment of policemen is going to solve the problem.

On a slightly different tangent but taking the chhitrol footage as a peg, Mubasher Lucman - usually a blowhard host I am not very fond of - conducted an excellent and probably the most restrained programme tonight about extra-judicial killings, with some really shocking and damning footage. The last time I saw such clear documentation of blatant extra-judicial murders was in the 1990s when the Herald and Newsline investigated the same issue in Karachi (except, of course, Lucman had actual before-the-act video footage and photographs which are far more damning). Curiously, instances of summarily knocking off alleged criminals in faked "police encounters" seem to pick up in the Punjab every time populist Shahbaz Sharif is in power, which may reinforce what I was speculating about earlier.

In any case, here are clips from Point Blank hosted by Mubasher Lucman on Express TV: