A recent incident involving a Voice of America (VoA) reporter and the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) is a good reminder of how important it is for the media to monitor itself and to double-check facts.
Before relating the incident, however, a couple of caveats and disclaimers:
1. We are not commenting on the merits of the allegations from either side, simply because these are contested and we are not in a position to judge their authenticity.
2. This incident has no bearing on (at least) my position regarding the PHF or the person of PHF Secretary Asif Bajwa, currently under attack from scores of former Olympians after Pakistan's abysmal showing in the World Cup in Delhi. As far as I am concerned, Bajwa should have resigned after the World Cup debacle, probably simply on moral grounds.
Sardar Khan (left) addressing a press conference against the PHF
In any case, the whole issue began when VoA contributor Sardar Khan filed an audio report on VoA Urdu (no longer available on the website), claiming that PHF Secretary Asif Bajwa had admitted that Pakistan lost to lowly-ranked Poland in a qualifier on purpose so as to have an easier opponent in the final of the qualifier tournament in Lille, France. In the words of the English report circulated by Sardar Khan himself on April 14:
"As if Pakistan’s worst ever 12th position in the recently concluded hockey world cup in New Delhi was not enough that led the former Olympians to call for Asif Bajwa’s head, the sacked manager of Pakistan team and reigning secretary of Pakistan hockey federation (PHF) Asif Bajwa, in an exclusive interview to Voice of America (VOA) has made the shocking disclosure that Pakistan lost its league match to Poland purposely in world cup qualifying tournament (WQC) held in Lille as part of strategy to avoid hosts France in the final.
It may be remembered that PHF President Qasim Zia had sacked the team management comprising of manager Asif Bajwa and chief coach Shahid Ali Khan as well as the whole selection committee after Pakistan’s humiliating display in 2010 world cup.
When asked that how come star studded Pakistan team lost its league match to minnows like Poland on 7th, Nov 2009 in WCQ tournament in France, Bajwa made this shocking revelation that “ I don’t want to justify that defeat but I want to tell you that it was part of the strategy. Had Pakistan beaten Poland, Pakistan could face host France in the final that Pakistan wanted to avoid as in that case, France could win and would have qualified for the final rounds of the world cup”.
“It was part of our planning, we fielded our second string in the match in order to ensure that we faced Japan in the WCQ tournament final instead of France, Bajwa said”.
When asked that deliberately losing a match is not only against the spirit of fair play but it also comes under the parameters of Match fixing, Bajwa said, “ I don’t call it match fixing but a strategy and planning. We rested our key players in order to be better equipped in the final against Japan”.
When VOA pressed that even despite resting senior players Pakistan was not a team to be beaten by Poland, Bajwa replied, “ I am not justifying the defeat and I admit that Pakistan should not have lost but what I am saying is that our planning worked well and we qualified for 2010 world cup”.
It is worth pointing out that after finishing 12th in 2010 world cup, allegations were echoed by many including former Olympian and coach Shahnaz Shaikh suggesting that he smelled rat of match fixing or under performance that led to disasters humiliation. Now this bombshell from sitting PHF secretary Asif Bajwa suggests that a high level investigation should be carried out to find out the hidden reasons of debacle.
Muhammad Shafiq, one of the sacked selector in the aftermath of world cup, told VOA that it was not a team that could finish at 12th position so an inquiry be set up and responsible should be brought to book."
Now, obviously such a report is a bombshell and was immediately picked up by wire agencies and reproduced in most newspapers in Pakistan. Dawn, however, decided against running the report and, in fact, ran Bajwa's version the next day. Bajwa strenuously contested the report, claiming that his words were twisted and taken out of context:
“I never said we lost the match intentionally,” said Bajwa angrily. “I only mentioned that our loss against
may have been a blessing in disguise as it saved us from facing Poland in the final. But my words have been twisted by the VOA correspondent who has been distorting my other statements in the past as well.” France
Bajwa went on to add: “I mean just think about it. Why would someone even bring up or make an issue about a match we lost some six months ago? It was this very correspondent who had misreported that I had compared our former players to ‘old model cars’ whereas I had merely mentioned that old playing methods to today’s techniques are akin to old cars and the newer ones. But my words were twisted to make it seem like I had aimed them at our seniors whom I respect very much.”
When asked what motive did this scribe have in maligning him in the press, Bajwa said: “This scribe was not recommended for the FIH media committee and the Asian Hockey media committee in 2008 despite his wishes. Since then he has found all kinds of ways to misquote and embarrass me in the media. Of late, he has come out as an active member of the campaign launched against me by the Olympians. But he needs to realise that whatever he blames me for was not my doing. It was former PHF President Zafarullah Jamali’s doing and he did it even before I arrived on the scene.”
PHF Secretary Asif Bajwa: trading fire (Photo: Dawn / APP)
While we cannot confirm Bajwa's allegations of Sardar Khan's motives - which may in fact be defamatory as well - some other journalists seem to confirm his allegations of partiality on the part of the VoA reporter. According to one journalist covering the Olympians' front against Bajwa (as told directly to Cafe Pyala):
"I noticed that the VoA reporter Sardar Khan was doing more than just report. He was arranging venues for holding the meetings like inviting them over to the Karachi Press Club, etc. He would also sit with the former players on the stage during the rallies."
Nevertheless, Khan in a letter to Dawn, demanded a retraction of the story under threat of legal action. The resulting flap was so great that VoA heads were forced to step in. On April 23, the head of VoA's Urdu Section wrote the following letter to the PHF Secretary, which was eventually made public by the PHF:
"Dear Mr. Bajwa,
I wish to express our profound regret for airing the Sardar Khan report.
As soon as I read your objections to the report in the Pakistani media saying the reporter twisted your words, my most senior managers and I demanded the full unedited interview and compared it to the dispatch Sardar Khan submitted to us.
We concluded that Sardar Khan tampered with your comments to twist the meaning. This is completely unethical and irresponsible and in violation of VOA News' own code of conduct.
We owe you more than an apology and are taking the following steps to address any blemish Sardar Khan's report may have had on the Pakistan Hockey Federation.
1) On Tuesday, April 21^st , I informed Sardar Khan (who is not an employee of VOA, but a freelance reporter who had contributed reports to our programs) that we had lost confidence in his work and he damaged his own and VOA's credibility. We immediately severed our relationship. He is banned from submitting work to VOA News.
2) We are issuing a formal apology and retraction of the report which is being posted on our Website and will be aired on VOA's radio shows.
3) We are writing a formal letter of apology to you personally and to the
Hockey Federation. Pakistan
In meantime, please accept this email.
I completely understand your decision as Secretary-General of the
Hockey Federation, but hope our actions may restore your opinion of VOA Urdu. We value the time and access the Pakistan Hockey Federation gives reporters. Pakistan
Jennifer JaninChief, VOA Urdu Broadcasting to
Sardar Khan claims he was treated unfairly and is consulting his lawyers for further action. However, it must be said that the VoA chief's letter is pretty damning. It is not a small matter for a news organization to issue a blanket apology and no news organization likes to do that. There must have been serious problems with the way the quotes were used for VoA to issue such a mea culpa.
The lessons all media organizations and journalists must take away from this little episode are:
1. Particularly in cases of such sensitive allegations, ensure that the facts are correct.
2. While quoting other media, ensure that you have done your own check of facts - the original source could be wrong.
3. Call out journalists who may be overstepping the ethics line, even if they are colleagues, and support the weeding out of bad eggs. (Of course, back up journalists in the face of defamation and unfair pressure as well!)
4. Set in place some sort of feedback and monitoring system that ensures that journalists do not feel that no one is monitoring their "angling" of a story or their actions.
5. Do not subscribe to the notion of "by any means necessary" - using wrong tactics to go after someone who you think deserves to be gone after, is equally problematic and unethical and does journalism no service.
6. And for God's sake, know that activism is not the essential component of a reporter's job. Half the problems that arise between even well-meaning journalists and others are because of a misplaced sense of what exactly a journalist's job entails. It is not a reporter's job to be holding press conferences for or against people / organizations he is supposed to cover. Remind yourself daily of the need to at least be perceived as impartial.