Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blowing Up A Story

The Commonwealth Games (CWG) about to begin in New Delhi in the next couple of days have received plenty of bad press, and most of it quite rightly so. From scandals about massive organizational corruption to poor construction and hygiene standards, the negative media reports have really tarnished the 'Shining India' image that the Indian government was hoping to send out to the world. And as several Indian commentators and social activists have pointed out, there is something intrinsically problematic about spending 2.5 - 6.5 Billion US dollars (estimates vary) on a media spectacle in a country beset by dire poverty and a host of other basic issues. As we know all too well in Pakistan, governments obsessed about projecting positive images of the country to the global media often do it at the cost of what should be real priorities.

But not all of the scandals around the Delhi Commonwealth Games are self-inflicted.

Remember that shocking story about an Australian Channel 7 reporter smuggling explosives into the CGW athlete's village to show the laxity of security standards at the venue? It reverberated across the world, and added to the chorus of voices demanding that the Games be cancelled. Well, as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's well-respected MediaWatch programme reveals, the story was not all it was cracked up to be. (Thanks to @alexlobov for guiding me to it.)

If you watch /read no other media takedown this week, do watch this to understand how media reports can be manipulated, to devastating effect. And also to understand why the Pakistani media is not the only one sometimes guilty of gross sensationalism. Incidentally the full transcript of the segment can be found here.

Don't you just wish there was an equivalent programme on our television screens? Until that time comes, however, you'll have to do with the net. In any case, I just loved MediaWatch's tagline, which I thought could have been written for us at Cafe Pyala too: "Everyone loves it, until they're on it."

The Hypocrisy Stakes

For those of you who (rightfully) never tire of running Geo / ARY down for their positions at the head of a particularly irrational class of reactionary sensationalist media, watch out. There's a new contender in town vying for the crown. And its name is Samaa.

If that looks a bit unsettling, so is the channel now

Do you know what the top headline for the channel's news was for hours this evening - at least all the way from the 9 o' clock news until the last time I checked? Not the floods, not the latest drone attack, not the ongoing government-supreme court tussle, not the alleged terrorist plot in Europe supposedly traced to Pakistan, not the dire status of the economy, not the New York Times reports of military displeasure with the government, not the seeming ideological about-turn of the MQM and its implications for the coalition government. No, it was a story about a debate within the Sindh Assembly about alcohol.

Okay, so one can legitimately question whether the Sindh Assembly should be discussing the merits of the alcohol ban in Pakistan at this point in time when myriad far greater problems confront the country and the province. And apparently the assembly members did spend a bit of time discussing the merits of foreign versus local booze in a light-hearted manner. But the TOP story???

And what a story it was! Replete with snarky audio clips of film music about addictive "sharaab" [alcohol] and double entendre narration (example: "Iss se pehlay ke arakeen behek jaatay aur shaam dhalak jaati..." [Before the members could be led astray and the evening spilled over...]), the report steadfastly ignored the fact that the debate actually began over a parliamentarian pointing out the damage that illegal (and dangerous) moonshine often inflicts on citizens. Perfectly legitimately, the member questioned the hypocrisy of a system in which the elite can get foreign booze in restaurants, clubs and 5-star hotels and are never prosecuted for their open consumption but the poor are hauled off to jails for possession of even small amounts of liquor and suffer far more than that in terms of health. This is an extremely valid argument and goes right to the heart of the class hypocrisy that makes up the rotten state of affairs in Pakistan. And before any of you get self-righteously religious on me, keep in mind that the debate was not specifically about Muslims and that there is a sizable population of non-Muslims in Sindh as well who are affected by the same double-standards. Not that I think the state should be interfering in individual Muslims' personal choices either.

But of course Samaa and its reporter were having none of that. All they were interested in was in sensationalizing the fact that a debate about alcohol was even happening in the Sindh Assembly at all. (And, aside from the issue of the timing of it, why should it not?) And by implication, scandalizing those who were taking part as imbibers and drunkards. It was all akin to fifth-graders snickering over the mention of the word 'sex'. (I can't find the report yet on Youtube but will upload it once / if it does come online.)

To further inflame the passions of its viewers, the channel took on the phone former minister Dr Sher Afgan Niazi to express his "sorrow" over the debate and to berate it as not only "haraam" (forbidden) but "against the constitution." So, now even debating an issue of social relevance and health can be unconstitutional and un-Islamic. (Incidentally, what the hell happened to Sher Afgan? Recall that the man, before becoming General Musharraf's parliamentary spokesperson, was once considered a liberal PPP stalwart as well.)

Of course this is the same Samaa, whose anchor Meher Bokhari conducted an incendiary (and severely ill-informed) programme at the height of the Florida-based Quran-burning provocation, with nary a thought to the kind of uncontrollable passions it could give rise to. (To give you an idea of what that programme was like, it had on air, among others, whacko conspiracy theorist Shireen Mazari and the head of the Sipahe Sahaba Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi as 'expert' commentators and even broadcast pictures of some nutcase burning a Quran in New York.) Obviously the channel has decided to unceremoniously dump its much-touted erstwhile slogan decrying sensationalism ("Sansani Nahin, Siraf Khabar" [No Sensationalism, Only News]).

Now, we have always maintained that a person's lifestyle choices are their own and should not be a topic of public gossip. (Recall that we defended Bokhari and others when a right-wing website made salacious claims about their private conduct.) But I also think it is legitimate to discuss them when that person himself or herself make them an issue for others, particularly hypocritically. And it's about time that someone put an end to these kinds of blatant double standards. So, I suppose it would be perfectly reasonable to point out that Samaa TV's owner, Zafar Siddiqui, rather likes his Scotch (and this is no mere hearsay). The duplicity of a channel with a whiskey-swilling owner holding others to the fire for even discussing alcohol is just a bit too much to bear.

Samaa's owner and Mr Walker are good friends

So, how do you like them apples, Mr Siddiqui?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Curious Case of the 'Concocted' Confession

Imagine my surprise when Monday night I saw a news item on Geo which began with the anchors heaping scorn on the Indian media for following in the footsteps of the English media in trying to 'unfairly attack' Pakistani cricketers. According to Geo, Indian media had "fabricated" a new story about Pakistan cricket and was now claiming that Mohammad Amir, Pakistan's teenage fast-bowling sensation implicated in the recent spot-fixing scandal and subsequently suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) pending investigations, had accepted his involvement in the scandal and blamed former captain Salman Butt (also suspended) for leading him astray. The Geo report questioned the credibility of the "Indian media" report that Amir might, in fact, turn approver against Butt by showing footage of Amir moving around with Butt after his return to Pakistan and commented that the footage of their chumminess contradicted the claims by the Indian media.

Here's the story as it appeared in the evening's 9 o' clock news. Watch from 05:42.

So why was I surprised? Because I had read the news item the Geo report was snarkily referring to and condemning, and it was no Indian media where I had read it. In fact, it was an exclusive report on Sunday in Geo's sister Jang Group concern, The News. This is what The News' credible sports reporter Khalid Hussain had published a day earlier:

"Just a couple of days after ‘spot-fixing’ allegations were levelled at him and two other Pakistan players, a teary-eyed Mohammad Amir went to the team management and spilled the beans on Salman Butt — Pakistan’s Test captain. Sources told ‘The News’ on Saturday that the 18-year-old fast bowler told team manager Yawar Saeed and Shahid Afridi, Pakistan’s one-day captain, that he was innocent and just got involved in the scandal because of Salman Butt.

According to the sources, some of Pakistan’s senior players saw Amir meeting with Afridi. The allrounder later took the youngster to Yawar Saeed and three discussed the issue for some time at the team hotel. “Amir told the team management that he wasn’t aware of the gravity of the situation and also claimed that he just followed Butt’s instructions,” said a well-placed source.
Sources said that Amir told Afridi and Yawar that he didn’t even know Mazhar Majeed and was introduced to him by Salman Butt. “Amir told Afridi as well as the team manager that he was completely unaware of what was going on. He asked them to help him get out of the mess,” said the source."

Why on earth would Geo pretend it was an Indian media report? And why would they attack and undercut their own group's newspaper report? Was this some bizarre decision to spin a damaging report (and if so, on whose prompting)? Or did it mean that nobody at Geo bothers to read even their own group's newspapers?

The sarcastic report continued to be broadcast all evening and soon other channels - such as Express - also picked up the thread and joined in. The next morning, Geo Super in its own sports headlines too began to attack Indian media for its biases and even showed the offending report in the Times of India (TOI, incidentally, the Jang Group's partner in the floundering Amn Ki Asha project).

A screen-grab of the Times of India report

The TOI report is actually a Press Trust of India (PTI) wire agency report. And then the penny dropped for me (only partially though, as you will see later). Illiterate oafs that Geo sports editors are, I surmised, they had obviously either not read Khalid Hussain's exclusive or failed to connect the fact that the PTI report was probably simply picking up the report in The News.

But there was a problem: even though the PTI report was obviously written more than 12 hours a day after Hussain's report was published, there were some discrepancies between the two reports. For one, the PTI report never cited The News' report as its source and, in fact, claimed slightly different 'facts' regarding Amir's alleged confession. In particular, the PTI report claimed Amir had confessed to Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Ijaz Butt rather than one-day team captain Shahid Afridi and manager Yawar Saeed, as Hussain had written.

Here is the original PTI wire report with all its header info intact (which a source has kindly provided us):


Aamir's shocker: Butt lured me into spot-fixing, Saeed resigns

     Karachi, Sep 27 (PTI) Barely five days after the end of their scandal-hit tour of England, fresh turmoil today gripped the Pakistan cricket team with suspended pacer Mohammad Aamir's shocking revelation that he was lured into spot-fixing by Test skipper Salman Butt.
     On a day when team manager Yawar Saeed stepped down from his post, the Pakistan Cricket Board was left to do more firefighting in the spot-fixing scandal with the latest revelation.
     The 18-year-old left-arm pacer was suspended by the ICC for his alleged involvement in spot-fixing during the fourth Test against England at Lord's last month, along with Butt and Mohammad Asif.
     Sources in the PCB said Aamir had told chairman Ijaz Butt that he never wanted to be part of this "business" (spot fixing) but was forced into it by Butt and Asif.
     "Aamir had gone to Butt and claimed he was innocent and a victim of the "seniors power lobby" in the team," a source told PTI.
     But the PCB refuted the reports with legal adviser Tafazzul Rizvi saying that the implicated players continue to claim innocence.
     "All three boys have been saying all along that they did not do anything wrong and they stand by it. They claim innocence and complete innocence and nothing but innocence. We are holding our investigations back at the moment and we are waiting for the Scotland Yard's investigation report," he said.
     Another source revealed that Aamir, regarded as one of Pakistan cricket's most promising young talent, had told Saeed about the pressure being exerted on him by Butt.
     "Aamir's claim is that he just did what he was told to do. He is claiming innocence now and says he didn't even know Mazhar Majeed was introduced to him by Butt and Asif," the source said.
     Quite a few former Test captains, and even Pakistan's former President, Pervez Musharraf, have urged the ICC to show leniency towards Aamir, all of 18 and the quickest to take 50 wickets in Test cricket.
     But chief selector Mohsin Khan said that he didn't agree with the viewpoint that Aamir should be shown leniency because of his age.
     "I don't buy this argument because if you can do something wrong at 18, you can keep on doing it later as well. If these three players are found guilty they should be punished, including Aamir," Mohsin said.
     The chief selector insisted that no cricketer was indispensable and there should be no compromise on discipline and commitment towards your team and country.
     "Aamir must be punished if he is guilty. I just hope that that these three are eventually cleared because they have already damaged the reputation of Pakistan cricket and the country," Mohsin said. PTI CORR AH PM MRM PDS

First of all, note that the report was filed in the evening of September 27th (at 1847 hours, as evidenced from the filing time at the bottom), whereas Hussain's story was obviously written on September 26th 25th for it to be published on the morning of September 27th 26th. Mighty strange that a supposed exclusive appears on the wires more than a full day after an exclusive on the same exact subject appears in the national papers. Generally, wire agencies will not carry such a story as an exclusive if the news has already been broken earlier.

Secondly, note that whereas Khalid Hussain's piece cites specifics of Amir's confession, the PTI story does not and only cites "PCB sources", one of whom (the legal counsel) actually completely contradicts the assertions. As it is, the only possible sources of Hussain's story, as is obvious from the specifics of the report itself, could be only either Amir, Shahid Afridi or Yawar Saeed, which give it far more credibility. Our sources confirm that Hussain's source was, in fact, Afridi himself. The PTI story, on the other hand, seems to have been an unethical plagiarism of Hussain's story, further embellished and distorted to seem like an original piece of reporting.

But it gets far more interesting. Please note that the dateline on the PTI story is Karachi. That is to say, this report was not "concocted" in India, but rather written / "concocted" by PTI's correspondent in Karachi. So a Pakistani journalist actually wrote the PTI story but yet Geo attacked the Indian media for making up stories about Pakistan cricket. That's not the end of the bizarreness. According to our extremely well-informed sources, guess who moonlights as the PTI's sports correspondent in Karachi? The venerable sports reporter Waheed Khan, that's who.

 Waheed Khan on a Geo Super programme

Waheed Khan was not only Karachi sports editor Khalid Hussain's predecessor at The News but is also currently a senior staffer at Geo Super and apparently responsible for the content of Geo Super's bulletins. (Incidentally, Khan also covers sports for Reuters but the story never ran on that wire agency.) He is one of the 'big guns' of sports journalism in Pakistan and has done some stellar reporting work in the past, especially during the match-fixing saga of the 1990s. It seems, however, that this time his professional jealousy at Hussain's exclusive seems to have got the better of him. According to sources, he and Hussain are not on the best of terms either, mainly because Khan has been attempting to get a foothold again at The News as well, which would impact Hussain's position.

So, in effect, a Jang Group staffer first (surreptitiously) put out an "exclusive" that, in all probability, was simply an embellishment on another Jang Group staffer's real exclusive (even if it was not, it wasn't an exclusive by any stretch of the imagination since it had been beaten to the finish line by more than 24 hours). And when that faux exclusive was picked up in the most roundabout way by his own Jang Group organization (which obviously does not bother to read Jang Group newspapers), he helped or at least supervised its on-air demolition on Jang Group channels as an example of a fabricated story by Indian sources.

If that doesn't make your head spin, I don't know what will.

Pakistan Today, In A Couple of Days?

We're hearing that Pakistan Today - former The Nation editor Arif Nizami's long-awaited new daily with the financial backing of Pakistan's richest (legitimate) businessman Mian Mohammad Mansha, among others - is set to make an appearance in the market this Saturday.

Sounds kind of odd, given that there has been no marketing push so far to introduce the paper, but that's what we're hearing and that's all we know so far.

Watch this space for updates.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

...Condemned to Repetition

Came across this British film newsreel from early 1960 about Pakistan and specifically General Ayub Khan's plans for the country he had assumed charge of only two years earlier (through what was then propagandized as the "October Revolution", believe it or not) and thought it really was worth sharing.

Despite the almost laughable pukka orientalism of the British reporter and the PR nature of the report, it is fascinating to see images of the country from 50 years ago. But what is even more worth hearing are Ayub's words and ideas (often paraphrased by the reporter). Concern over 'corruption and a cracking economy', belief in a democracy 'suited to the local psyche', 'saving the future of the country' from those politicians who had 'let it down', 'devolving power down to the grassroots', an unwillingness to see himself as a military dictator, and support for the 'emancipation of women' as an engine for 'modernization.'

Hmmmmm. Now where might you have heard that again? In. Exactly. Those. Words.

What is that they say about those who cannot remember the past?

Part I:

Part II:

Tailpiece: The report ends with the following (probably unintentionally) prescient words: "Pakistanis know that their present revolutionary regime [sic] is the biggest gamble in their 12 years of independence. Will it pave the way to a stable and prosperous democracy? Or will it create evils as great as those it has driven out?" Keep in mind that within 10 years of this report, Pakistan was in a bloody civil war.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Breaking (Away) News

We have confirmed that Aaj TV's Executive Director News and Current Affairs, and host of his own show, Syed Talat Hussain, has put in his papers at the channel. He is set to bid goodbye to the struggling-for-ratings news channel at the end of October.

Even more interesting, however, are reports that he will be joining the even-more-struggling DawnNews which is trying its best to pull itself out of its forlorn legacy as an English-language channel. According to insider sources, staff at DawnNews have already been told to expect Hussain to take over as overall head of the newly-Urduized news channel in November.

Syed Talat Hussain: 'Aaj' here, come 'Dawn' somewhere else

Aaj TV, which had been begun by the Recorder Television Network (part of the Business Recorder Group) with quite a bit of fanfare in 2005 as primarily a business news-cum-entertainment channel along the lines of CNBC in the US, has struggled to define itself in a fast expanding and changing media market. Part of the reason for this was a belated realization that there was not much of a market for a business-focused channel in Pakistan (as CNBC Pakistan also found later) and partly it was because of the entertainment revenues-feeding-news gathering model being turned on its head in Pakistan. To their shock, most channels realized within a few years that the appetite for news and current affairs was far greater in the country than for entertainment programming.

After General Musharraf's amended media regulations in 2007, under which channels had to choose between news and entertainment, Aaj jettisoned most of its entertainment programming and focused rightly on news but could never match the resources of either Geo or (at that time) ARY. A steady trickle of trained staff to other channels did not help either, nor did the gradual wearing off of the novelty and falling viewership of its one genuine hit programme "Late Night With Begum Nawazish Ali."

Recently, it has seen its star plummet further as newer entrants such as Dunya TV and Express TV outstripped its market share for the No.2 and No.3 slots (the top slot of course going to Geo, which is far ahead of all others in terms of ratings). This despite bringing in Talat Hussain, who was, at least initially, considered a more sober and news-savvy alternative to the shriekfests on other channels. The news ratings continued to slide, despite a relaunch in 2009 as a 24-hour news channel. And the mostly mediocre-but well watched (in its 11pm time slot) "Bolta Pakistan" began to lose the plot, substituting irritating homeliness for real analysis or insight. (It didn't help that Dunya TV's jocular offering, "Hasb-e-Haal" destroyed everyone else in the 11pm slot.) The latter's Stan and Laurel Hardy duo - Mushtaq Minhas and Nusrat Javed - were in fact eventually weaned away by Dunya TV, not that many cared. That left only the "4 Man Show", considered by most as too juvenile for serious viewership, and Talat Hussain's flagship "Live With Talat"as the non-news programming highlights for Aaj.

Trying hip: Aaj TV's witty billboard ad in 2007 (Source: Karachi Metblogs)

But "Live With Talat", despite its occasional excellence (particularly its coverage of the army operation in Swat), suffered from being pit at 10pm against Geo's "Aaj Kamran Khan Kay Saath" which, for better or worse, even Geo's fiercest governmental critics watch, if only to make their blood boil. Lately, however, it seemed Hussain had also succumbed to the demands of sensationalism-as-ratings-boosters and begun to promote wild (and planted) stories as well as taking a decidedly more hawkish line.

According to Aaj TV insiders, Talat Hussain had also been engaged in a geographical power tussle at the channel. Based in Islamabad himself, he wanted to move even micro-control of the newsroom to Islamabad. This of course sat well neither with the Zuberis (owners of the channel), who are all based in Karachi, nor with the people who managed the newsroom in Karachi. To be fair to the latter, however, Hussain's model which apparently involved all input going to Islamabad and output coming from Karachi would have been pretty unworkable from a practical point of view.

In any case, Hussain's departure will probably make Aaj TV further irrelevant in the news media market, unless it is able to pull the some proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

On the other hand, DawnNews will gain at least some credibility in the short term with his coming on board and will also benefit from the viewership that he brings to whatever programme he hosts at the channel. In fact, DawnNews had also attempted to lure Hussain earlier and Dawn Group insiders say the management was quite miffed when he used their almost final negotiations then to negotiate a better package at Aaj. However, all of this bitter history seems to have been swept under the carpet because of DawnNews' own precarious situation. Dawn Group's management will be hoping that he can turn their fortunes around - his is the fifth or sixth top level editorial management change at the channel in its short history.

One issue will still linger, however, which is very similar to Hussain's problems at Aaj: will he attempt to micro-manage a newsroom based in Karachi while sitting in Islamabad? Apparently, Hussain is still reluctant to move cities and with him coming in above Director News Mubashir Zaidi (who was moved from Islamabad to Karachi for this express purpose), there is a chance for friction to develop.

 International recognition: Talat Hussain on board Gaza-bound flotilla

It also remains to be seen how Hussain, well known for having a rather large ego (he was recently dubbed 'Flotzilla' for his well publicized exploits as one of the journalists on board the Turkish flotilla to Gaza that attempted to break the illegal Israeli blockade and came under Israeli attack), fits in with the Dawn Group's more low-profile culture. Remember, this is the same journalist who once, while still heading Aaj and hosting a current affairs show, saw nothing problematic about appearing in a Head & Shoulders shampoo ad. Anyone have a Youtube link to that?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Shaam Coup

The media thunderbolt out of the blue came late in the evening even as most people were tuned in to the one-day cricket match between England and Pakistan. Mahmood Shaam, the editor of Pakistan's largest Urdu daily Jang since 1994 and associated with the Jang Group on and off for almost 45 years, had jumped ship and joined the ARY Media Group. Even more intriguingly, he had signed up to become the Chief Editor of a new Urdu newspaper, set to be launched by the ARY Group from three cities.

The banner of

Now, those who follow Pakistani media in general and Urdu publications specifically, will realize how big a coup (at least in perceptual terms) this is for ARY and how big a blow it is for the Jang Group, whose CEO Mir Shakilur Rahman (MSR) and Group Managing Director, Shahrukh Hassan, are both currently out of the country. Shaam has been in journalism for almost 50 years and is known as an author and poet and in certain circles as a progressive intellectual as well. He was considered close at one time to Pakistan Peoples Party leaders, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, and was also jailed briefly during the martial law of General Ziaul Haq and saw his own weekly Mayaar (Standard) banned for some time under martial law regulations.

Adding to the feeling of the coup is the fact that most in the Jang Group had no inkling about what was about to happen and only learnt about it once ARY began to crow about signing up Shaam, first as breaking news on its television news channel and subsequently as a detailed report during its news bulletins. ARY actually ran footage of its management bigwigs sitting with Shaam as he signed (apparently) his new employment contract and continued to run tickers of congratulatory messages from its CEO Salman Iqbal - the nephew of owner Haji Abdul Razzaq of ARY Gold fame - and other management figures to Shaam. It almost seemed as if ARY were desperate to ensure that Shaam had no second thoughts and to ward off any possibility of MSR attempting to persuade him against going through with this change of loyalties.

Pouring salt into Jang's wounds, however, ARY has also nabbed the Resident Editor of Jang Rawalpindi, Rana Tahir Mehmood, who will be the Group Editor of the about-to-be-launched newspaper. It is expected that a number of other Shaam loyalists may also depart. Keep in mind that Jang will have to contend not only with the departure of some of its biggest names, but also eventual competition from the announced newspaper. (Incidentally, the announcement also shows that ARY - currently languishing near the bottom of the media market - felt it needed a print presence to combat the Jang / Geo media juggernaut and even the daily Express / Express TV combine. Jang had earlier lost a number of its most well known columnists to Express which had thrown oodles of money to wean them away.)

Shaam: change of ships

But was Mahmood Shaam's departure as out-of-the-blue as most believe?

Those who know Shaam had been saying for a while that he seemed deeply unhappy at Jang of late. Part of the reason had been the synergy promoted by MSR between Jang and sister concerns such as The News and Geo. In the last one year, The News' exclusive investigative reports and some op-ed writers had been made an automatic staple of Jang as well and some of Geo's anchors were given their own columns in Jang. Obviously, regardless of the business and editorial sense of this sharing, it had led to Shaam losing a lot of control over his own paper. But he had also been resentful of what he often saw as an agenda-driven hard line taken by the Jang Group against the government, and imposed as a fait accompli on the staid Jang. He was also said to be not particularly happy about the suddenly increased interference from MSR in the day-to-day workings of the paper.

A final nail in the coffin may have been his quiet demotion from Group Editor (overall editor of all Jang editions) to Editor of the Karachi edition at some point over the last year, which went by almost unremarked. When this actually happened, I am not entirely sure, but the print-line that used to run his designation as 'Group Editor' was quietly reworked to name him simply as the 'Editor' (one source claims he was initially designated 'Executive Editor' after the 'demotion' as well). It should be pointed out that this may reflect simply a change of nomenclature at Jang, but certainly a change that was never explained.

But it wasn't as if Mahmood Shaam himself had been simply a passive observer in the drama unfolding around him. We have it from unimpeachable sources that as far back as 2007, he and Rana Tahir Mehmood (the resident editor of Jang 'Pindi who has now left for ARY with Shaam) had attempted to purchase controlling stakes in a floundering television channel. The then owner of the channel initially believed them to be working as front-men for MSR but alleges that investigations revealed that they were actually fronting for former Punjab chief minister and PML(Q) leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Whether the allegations of who was behind the buying attempt are true or not, keep in mind that this happened while both gentlemen were working for the Jang Group.

Insiders at the Jang Group, in fact, even though they claim they were unaware of the ARY developments before they became public, say they knew that trouble was brewing on the Shaam front, but believed he was in negotiations with Dunya TV. According to them, they were caught unawares by the ARY news simply because their focus was on Dunya. Dunya, as you may recall, is owned by Mian Aamir Mahmood, a PML(Q) politico considered close to Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.

There were other unproven rumours that swirled around Shaam, which centred on the contracts his son's media consultancy company bagged from the military, as well as some wealthy Jang op-ed writers whose columns were alleged to be ghost-written by him.

Whatever the rumours may have been, however, obviously the Jang Group did not consider them to have merit enough to have problems with Shaam. But his high profile defection, and its yet-to-come fallout, has certainly left Jang on the back foot. It will be interesting to see how MSR reacts and whether ARY can ever pose a serious challenge to the current leaders of the media market.

Watch this space for updates.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Economics of Pakistan's Electronic Media

Here at Cafe Pyala we have often debated the concept of the "electronic media bubble" and put forward our own opinion that the economics of the media boom in Pakistan over the last decade just did not seem to make sense. Wanted to share the following article with readers from the recent reincarnation of Viewpoint (the leftist magazine edited by Mazhar Ali Khan that died along with the collapse of the Soviet Union) as an e-zine. It is written by Riaz ul Hassan, a former lecturer at Government College, Lahore, who is currently studying in Sweden and plans to do a PhD, we are told, in Social Media studies.

(Graphic: Viewpoint)

I am not 100 per cent sure of the facts and figures contained here (in particular, I am not convinced about some of the assumptions of operating costs) but it certainly represents the first serious attempt to look at the economics of an industry that has largely escaped financial scrutiny. And it certainly argues its case well. I am reproducing the article here in full in the hope that some of our readers, particularly from the business end of the media, might themselves provide insight or even corrections to the financial assumptions made in the article.

Look forward to the input.

Pakistan media’s mysterious financing
By  Riaz ul Hassan
Pakistani media’s financial shortfall is compensated either by mysterious sources or the electronic-media bubble is heading for a big burst
It takes Rs. 40 million per month, for a privately-run, news channel in Pakistan. Apparently, advertising is the only source generating income for privately owned TV channels. The windfall from advertising industry, in case of top 32 channels, is at best Rs. 592 million.   At average, every channel earns Rs. 1.7 million per month from advertising.  Either the shortfall is compensated by mysterious sources or the electronic-media bubble is heading for a big burst.
In fact, Pakistan cannot be considered a sound Media market because there is not enough growth in advertising to sustain it. The ratio of advertising expenditure to GDP is about 0.19% - the total advertising expenditures in fiscal year 2008-2009 were Rs. 26.96 billion according to a Gallup survey and the total GDP was around Rs. 14,156 billion according to Economic Survey report for the same fiscal year. In the neighboring India, the same ratio for year 2008-2009 was 0.47%. 70 percent of goods and services purchasing power in Pakistan is constituted in small and medium cities which are nearly 80 percent of total television audience. The remaining 30 percent purchasing power is exerted by the 20 percent of television audience in metropolitan and big cities [1].  Last few years were quite promising and positive for the media industry especially for electronic media though annual advertisement growth is far less (8% in 2008-2009) as compared to annual growth of total media industry which is 120 percent approximately. Global economic recession and the alarming law and order situation in Pakistan have resulted in lowest increase in advertising expenditures in the last five years [2].
In the year 2008-2009, the television industry got the lion’s share of 55 percent of the total advertising expenditure, while print media followed with 26 percent. According to research organization Aurora’s (owned by DAWN media group) annual report 2009, the total media advertisement revenue was Rs. 24.63 billion. Aurora’s figures differ from Gallup’s who reports that there was only 1 percent increase in total ad-spend in 2008-2009 as compared to last year (from Rs. 24.36 to 24.63 billion). The total ad-spend increased by 31 percent in financial year 2006-2007, and 18 percent in 2007-2008. According to Aurora’s figures, print media still holds 37 percent share in total advertising budget while the TV is on top with 54 percent [3].
As mentioned in the beginning, in fiscal year 2008-2009, TV ad-spend increased by 24% to reach Rs. 14.807 billion as compared to previous FY according to Gallup survey report. Aurora did not provide any details about break up of TV ad spend in response of our request but according to another renowned firm MediaBank, TV advertising revenue remained Rs. 13.374 billion with 14% increase from last FY. Since there is not much difference between these two figures, we will graphically show break-up of TV ad-spend per channel here for Rs. 13.374 billion:
This graph reveals very important factors. 96 percent of TV ad revenue was taken by 32 channels. The remaining channels which are around 50% of total number of channels functional in Pakistan got only 4 percent. Another notable fact is that PTV Home and PTV News are owned directly by federal government and are terrestrial channels along with ATV; previously owned by government and now by a private company. Terrestrial channels claim some 16 percent of revenue. Consequently, more than 80 private channels are contesting for 88% of total TV ad-spend revenue. Moreover, satellite channels’ ad revenue increased by 23% and terrestrial channels’ decreased by 18% as compared to previous fiscal year 2007-2008. On the other hand, Gallup claims that satellite channels accounted for 74 percent from total revenue with an annual increase of 36% while terrestrial channels accounted for 26% with annual increase of only 0.1%.
All in all, total television ad-spend remained around RS. 14.807 billion in fiscal year 2008-2009 [4]. In the same fiscal year PEMRA awarded 46 new FM radio licenses, 16 TV channel licenses, 232 cable distributorships and two landing rights for TV channels [5]. Five TV channels started broadcasting that year, compared with 15 in 2007-2008 [6]. Currently, PEMRA charges around Rs. 2.5 million for issuing a TV license excluding Rs. 20,000 as initial charges [7]. Moreover, it costs 70 million to 1 billion rupees to establish one TV channel in the country as per estimates based on interviews with industry officials.
The total TV ad-spend of Rs. 14.807 bn is distributed among almost 60 private fully functional TV channels and two major state-run channels at the moment [8]. State-run PTV Home and PTV News get 8% and 4% from this total revenue respectively which leaves Rs. 13.03016 billion for 60 private TV channels. Meanwhile, 96% of the ad-spend goes to 32 major channels while the other 28 channels get only 4 percent from this pie (Rs. 592.28 million). Among these 28 channels, seven are news channels and remaining 21 are general entertainment channels.
If we assume that this amount of Rs. 592.28 million is equally divided among 28 channels then every channel will get Rs. 21,152,857 per year, hence Rs. 1,762,738 per month. Factually it is not possible by any means that one TV channel can be run with money as low as Rs. 1,762,738 per month ($20,935). There is no other legal source of income for TV channels in media market as the market does not generate any subscription revenue [9]. A senior official of Dawn TV informed Viewpoint on condition of anonymity that total monthly expenses to run a news channel are around Rs. 40 million. Another senior official from ARY network further verified these numbers and informed that its costs around Rs. 20 to 30 million per month to run an entertainment channel. Keeping in view these all facts, it is not possible for Pakistani media market to thrive for long period and we can predict that bubble will burst soon and many channels will have to shut down their services. According to the break-even point theory, any firm needs to meet its fixed costs in order to keep its operations running.  Below break-even point, a firm will need either to obtain additional financing or to liquidate some of its assets to meet its fixed costs [10]. In above mentioned case, most of media firms are not even able to meet their fixed costs and sooner or later will have to leave the market.
In order to inspect the claims made by both ARY and DAWN news officials, let us examine the only financial data available from a media house: Hum TV. Hum TV (Eye Television Network) is a semi-public corporation and according to the financial report of 2008-2009 [11] its total expenses for the fiscal year were Rs. 78,397,045 with Net Revenue of Rs. 1.117 billion approximately. Eye Television Network is one of major media corporations in country and secure almost 9% from total ad spend with its four channels. In the beginning of year 2008-2009, it owned two channels. The third channel (Style360) started operations in August 2008 while the fourth one (OYE) was launched at the end of this fiscal year. So we can safely claim that during the whole period of 2008-2009, three channels were in operation. This fact leaves us with calculations that total expenses per channel per month for Eye TV Networks are about Rs. 22 million, keeping in view the expenses mentioned above. In the meantime, remember that all four channels share higher management, technical facilities and distribution resources. These calculations substantiate the claims made by officials from DAWN and ARY TV.
Most of the Pakistani media industry is owned and controlled by private firms and individuals, so it is not possible to access any financial information on scientific grounds, but with some exceptions. Revenue sources, expenditures and financial values of these media houses are an inaccessible secret which is nothing but another ‘ugly secret’ of our society. Everyone knows something, but no one dares talk. It is evident that a few channels are being financed by mysterious sources else if any economic rule is applied, some of the channels must have been closed down by now.
1. Cyber Letter Gallup Pakistan [online]. 2009 June; Available from: URL: 
2. Gallup Pakistan's Annual Advertising Expenditure Data [online]. 2009; Available from: URL:
3. Gallup Pakistan's Annual Advertising Expenditure Data [online]. 2009; Available from: URL:
4. MediaBank. Annual Subscription based Report. 
5.  CSF Achievements. Ministry of finance Government of Pakistan [online]. Available from: URL: 
6. Annual Financial Report 2008-2009. Available from: URL:  
7. For further details: 
8. Annual Report Eye TV 2007-2008. Available from: URL: 
9. Crampton T. Salman Iqbal on ARY and TV in Pakistan [online]. 2007 Oct. 02; Available from: URL: Asia subscription TV figures higher than ROW combined . Available from: URL:
10. William JN, Haka SF, Bettner MS. Financial and managerial accounting. 13th ed. Chicago: Irwin Professional Publishing; 2001. p. 844-845
11. Annual Financial Report 2008-2009. Available from: URL:

Photo of the Day (Updated)

So the Pope is visiting the United Kingdom these days. And the visit has been mired in a lot of controversy. Firstly because one his close aides, Cardinal Walter Kasper, pulled out of the visit after remarking that the UK resembled a "third world country." The Vatican dug itself further into a hole by claiming that, rather than an example of racism, his comments were merely highlighting the UK's "multi-ethnic make-up." It claimed the remarks were meant to hold up new pluralistic British society as a role model. Yeah, right. That's what everyone means when they talk about the Third World countries, right?

Then, the Vatican also berated the "aggressive atheism" prevalent in the UK and, to much outrage, the Pope likened atheists to Nazis in his first address in Scotland... which is sort of ironic since Pope Benedict himself was once part of the Hitler Youth (though apparently through compulsion) and the Nazis thought of themselves as advocating Positive Christianity, which melded traditional Christian beliefs with anti-Semitism and ideas of racial purity.

And of course there were the usual protests from people upset about the Vatican's stance on contraception and abortion rights, its perceived laxity about child abuse scandals in the church and its condemnation of homosexuality.

Cue, our Photo of the Day. Yup, that's Sir Ian McKellan, in a pro-gay rights march against the Pope.

(Photo: @themanwhofell via Twitter)

Can I just say that's the coolest T-shirt ever?

: : : UPDATE : : :

Oops! Eagle-eyed reader Saad Ghauri has pointed out that the above photo is photoshopped. The original as on the BBC site is this one:

Drat! We all agree, however, that the photoshopped version is cooler.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fatima's Faux Up

I've resisted the urge to debunk or highlight the inanities that Fatima Bhutto has sometimes recently spouted, both in written or verbal form, for a long time. This despite the fact that since she started writing exclusively for "gora" publications (i.e. The Daily Beast, The New Statesman et al) and undertook a foreign tour to promote her book, her grasp on local reality seems to have become tenuous at best. And this I did simply because a friend laconically admonished me by saying "She's just trying to sell her book, yaar, so let her." Indeed, I contained myself even though her mantra seems to have become that any criticism of her positions or words is simply the work of bitter Pakistanis in the employ of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) out to get her, and the only people with any grasp of the reality of Pakistan are foreigners who accept what she says unquestioningly (and it's not like I'm the only one who's noticed).

Fatima Bhutto: instant expert (Photo: The Independent)

But, you know, there's a limit to how much ridiculousness I can bear. Especially when that stupidity is lapped up by even more clueless foreigners who present her various twists of facts and reality and her ignorance as some sort of gospel truth to their readers and viewers.

The reason I have been forced to break my self-imposed silence is this latest seemingly innocuous gem of an interview with her about five books she would recommend people to read. I say 'innocuous' because, for once, it doesn't involve her tweaking facts to suit her political agenda but only a bit of unbelievable ignorance. One could argue that I have chosen to focus on a really minor point in a minor interview but, for one, I believe it is emblematic of far greater issue, of people presenting themselves as experts on something they have no idea about. (Maybe that's why the site's tagline is 'Become an instant expert'.) Secondly, this minor bit of ignorance has been blown up as the defining part of the interview by the website in question. And third, I have a natural aversion to English-speaking people bullshitting about non-European languages.

Here is the bit of Ms Bhutto's imparted knowledge (presented in reference to American involvement in Pakistan) that made my head explode:

"In Urdu the word that we have for imperialism I find to be particularly telling. It’s samraj. What you have to realise is that Urdu is not a language where we have words for computer, or wifi or text messaging. It’s not a language that automatically updates itself as others do, like Arabic or French. So samraj is especially important because it literally means the raj of Uncle Sam."

Yes, believe it or not, Ms Bhutto thinks (no doubt with astute research and a wildly associative mind) that 'samraj' refers to Uncle Sam! Tell that to etymologists who trace the word to at least as far back as the ancient Hindu Sanskritic text Rig Veda (dated to between 1700BC-1100BC) when Urdu was nowhere on the horizon and which literally means "emperor." Emperors are imperial, no? (Thus 'imperialism' was easily translated as 'samraji nizam' in Urdu; incidentally 'istemaar' is also often used as a synonym though it technically refers to 'colonialism.')

But Ms Bhutto's faux etymology is not her only bit of ignorance. She decides she must explain why 'samraj' exists as a word in Urdu, mindbogglingly connecting it to the use of English language words in Urdu. First off, her basic understanding of the word's origins is wrong. Then her claims that Urdu has no words for 'computer', 'wifi' or 'text messaging' is inane. Urdu does: they are 'computer', 'wifi' and 'text' or 'sms'. They are as much a part of Urdu as 'telephone' or 'TV' or 'machine'. Incidentally does she know the Arabic word for 'radio'? It's 'radio', but with a soft 'D' since Arabic has no hard 'D'. Does she know the Persian word for 'photocopy' or 'stadium'? They are 'fotocopy' (with a soft 'T' because Persian has no hard 'T') and 'estadyaum'. Even the French purists have a hard time keeping universally used words out of the mouths of their compatriots. Oh, and the word for wi-fi in French? Wi-Fi.

"Not a language that automatically updates itself"??? You would have to be a total ignoramus about the evolution of Urdu as a lingua franca, bringing together words from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit and even English (among other languages) to make such a remarkable claim. If anything, the inclusion of these English language words, among thousands of others, is proof of the language's inherent dynamism and openness. That is how Urdu was essentially formed in the first place. And it is a far more "automatically updating" language than either Arabic or French incidentally.

But on a bigger scale, Ms Bhutto's claims about linguistics fly in the face of how all living languages enrich themselves in general. By her skewed logic, English is a poor language too since most of its words derive from Latin or old French or Gaelic and yes, even Sanskrit and Urdu. Words like 'dacoit', 'doosra', 'balti', 'jungle', 'juggernaut', 'trignometry', 'shampoo', 'bandana', 'sentry', 'pariah', 'khaki', 'bangles', 'cheetah', 'pyjama', 'bazaar', 'cheroot', 'bungalow', 'avatar', 'cummerbund', 'guru', etc. etc. etc. all derive originally from Indian languages but are considered part of proper English.

Oh, and the word 'raj'? Guess where that came from.

Moral of the story: Don't talk about things you know nothing about.

Tailpiece: Incidentally, if you have an interest in the linguistics and evolution of Urdu, you might wish to take a look at this very interesting talk by linguist Dr Tariq Rehman, given at the TEDx Conference that recently took place in Lahore:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Relax, Don't Do It?

So, um, Mosharraf Zaidi had recently written an article in Foreign Policy called "The Talibanization of America", which is certainly worth reading for his intelligent recasting of the debate over Islam and Islamophobia in the US, though I have serious issues with his implication that the only valid debate is one between religiously-inspired identities. And with an English speaking Pakistani-American schooled at the Karachi American School who is more than a little fond of heavy metal and rap, sneeringly referring to governments in Pakistan as being run by "culturally dislocated Muslims." It's the sort of essentialism Mosharraf's otherwise well argued writing can do without.

But I bring that up only as a by-the-way talking point because what I really want to share today is the 1996 video below. It is of Christine O' Donnell, a Tea Party Express candidate and right-wing activist who defeated the favoured Republican candidate today in the party's Delaware primaries. As you may recall, the Tea Party is sort of the extreme right of the Republican spectrum whose members have been in the forefront of casting Barrack Obama as a (OMG!) Muslim communist and leading the fight against the New York Muslim Cultural Centre to be known as Cordoba House. According to analysts, the win for her has put a rather large stumbling block in the GOP's (Republican Party's) hopes of winning the Senate in the November elections, since they do not believe O' Donnell has a chance of winning the face-off against her Democratic rival.

In any case, here is the video from MTV that one TV programme dug up. It's O' Donnell's campaign against, um, well, you know...

The Taliban just get a bad rap sometimes, I tell you.

PETA Has A Wild Sense of Humour

There is nothing - and I mean NOTHING - one can add to this news report from the Agence France Presse, and published in Dawn. It is the funniest thing I have read in a while! And it has made me re-evaluate my impression of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an earnest and dour organization. Thanks to @sanakazmi on Twitter for drawing attention to it. Enjoy!

Aamir, Butt and Asif: neutered fixers? (Photo: AP / Dawn)

Animal attraction for Pakistan 'no-ball' cricketers
Tuesday, 14 Sep, 2010

"KARACHI: The world’s top animal rights organisation on Tuesday offered Pakistan cricketers mired in a fixing scandal the chance to claw back public respect by starring in a cat and dog neutering advertisement.
Seeing the silver lining in Pakistan’s embarrassing spot-fixing scandal, US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urged the players to exploit their “no-balls” notoriety to promote a healthier kind of “fixing”.
The group said it had written to ask Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir to feature in a TV and print campaign showing that “no-balls” can be a lifesaver not just a crime.
“No-balls may be a bad thing in cricket, but for dogs and cats, ‘no balls’ are a lifesaver,” PETA said in a letter, a copy of which was sent to AFP.
Britain’s Scotland Yard are investigating the players over British tabloid claims that they took money from an alleged bookie Mazhar Majeed to deliberately bowl no-balls during the Lord’s Test against England last month.
But PETA saw the positive. “We hope you will take us up on this offer. It is a win-win situation,” it said.
“Because of unchecked breeding and a lack of good homes, millions of dogs and cats all over the world languish in animal shelters or are euthanised every year.
“Countless other animals, including many in Pakistan, struggle to survive on the streets — starving and being hit by vehicles and abused by cruel people.
“‘Fixing’ dogs and cats by having them spayed or neutered is the key to ending this suffering.”
The organisation said spaying one female can prevent the births of 67,000 dogs in six years and 420,000 cats in seven years.
“That adds up to millions of animals who will never be born only to suffer and have their lives cut tragically short,” said PETA.
Butt, Asif and Aamir — provisionally suspended by the International Cricket Council — have returned to Pakistan but have yet to be charged by police.
They have agreed to return to Britain as and when required.
Riaz, who made his Test debut at The Oval, is likely to appear before police on Wednesday. -AFP"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Newsweek Editor Who Never Was (Updated)

We still have not managed to get our hands on the newly launched Newsweek Pakistan, which is probably coming out with its third issue as I write this. And for some unknown reason the magazine's website continues to be nothing except an old ad. So we cannot really offer a considered evaluation of it just yet. All we do know is that the first issue's cover, titled "The World's Bravest Nation" (read Pakistan) over a black and white picture of a child affected by the recent floods, drew all sorts of praise from the usual quarters who heave a sigh of relief at anything remotely positive about Pakistan in the 'international' media these days.

Newsweek Pakistan: The debut

To be frank, however (and reiterating that I haven't yet read the story itself), didn't you find the cover a tad bit cynical? I mean, the globally circulated international parent magazine notoriously runs a story calling Pakistan "The Most Dangerous Nation in the World", and its Pakistan franchise - which would only see distribution in Pakistan - takes the opposite tone? It helps to ingratiate it to the locals, sure, but it doesn't really mean Newsweek as a whole has changed its stance, does it? Is that what is known as doing as the Romans do, in Rome?

But Newsweek Pakistan has also had a number of distractions to contend with even before it hit the market. First of all, the Washington Post Company, which owned Newsweek, decided to dump its mounting liabilities with the magazine and sold it to billionaire Sidney Harman, who made his fortune selling stereo equipment, reportedly for $1. As a consequence of this sale in August, the editor of Newsweek, Jon Meacham, decided to leave his job, as did foreign policy whiz kid / enfant terrible Fareed Zakariya Zakaria. Zakariya Zakaria, who announced he would be moving to Time magazine, it should be mentioned, was one of the people who helped secure Iqbal Z. Ahmed's A.G. Group (which owns Newsweek Pakistan) the franchise.

Fareed Zakariya Zakaria: another casualty of the Newsweek sale

The decision by Newsweek to launch a Pakistani franchise was made before the sale of Newsweek took effect, but it's not clear how the change of management and top editorial staff will affect the Pakistani edition. Although Harman has said he would like to retain "most" of Newsweek International's 325 employees, it is expected that there will be all sorts of cuts to recover the magazine's heavy liabilities. Whether these affect operations in Pakistan at all may be moot (as a franchise, it's probably paying royalty to the parent company to use its name) but Newsweek's international coverage may be affected.

As if this were not enough, Newsweek Pakistan's first issue, scheduled to hit the stands on August 30, could not make it to the market on time. Apparently, the magazine - which had been printed outside Pakistan - got stuck at customs and it took more than two days to have it cleared. It only reached the newsstands on September 1.

But all of these issues perhaps pale in comparison to the fact that the franchise lost one of its high profile editors (the Editor? we're not sure) before the first issue was even launched. As we reported in March, former Daily Times news editor and The Friday Times contributing editor Ejaz Haider had been signed on with much trumpeting by Newsweek Pakistan. So it was a bit unsettling for the journalist community to discover in August that Ejaz Haider had already left his new job.

We can now confirm the reasons that Mr Haider was asked to resign. Some of you might have come across a rather rude anonymous email letter / article that had done the rounds right after President Zardari took his infamous trip to his French chateau in the midst of the building floods crisis back home. Yes, the one titled "Fuck You, Mr President" which began thus:

"Let us start with the basics. You are an asshole. A thief. An alleged murderer. And a scoundrel. And mind-blowingly incompetent to boot. The only reason you matter is because your equally incompetent, currently delusional, then dysfunctional, mother-in-law thought that you were such a lowly piece of shit that you would never get in the way of your late wife, also delusional, whose dowry included the most popular political party in Pakistan. Why she had such elevated expectations of a two-bit thug is beyond us. But still.
After you had done your husbandly duties, the sensible thing for BB to have done would be to have had you shot. In fact, she should just had had your sperm frozen on day one and then had you tortured into the next dimension. But BB made many mistakes, marrying you being one class-fucking-A example."

Well, it seems this particular inflammatory diatribe was traced back to Mr Haider, who, according to this site (where you can read the entire text as well, we saw no point in reproducing it here), acknowledges at least being "a minor author" but "100 per cent editor" of the piece. (We cannot vouch for the credibility of these claims, but our sources have independently confirmed the reasons for Haider's departure.) Understandably, the publishers of Newsweek Pakistan, known for their closeness to the target of the piece, were not terribly thrilled. Actually, to be fair, even without the top-level linkages, any publisher wishing to preserve their journalistic credibility, would have had to take action against Mr Haider.

Ejaz Haider talking cleanly about politics on his Samaa TV programme

It does seem strange that a journalist of Mr Haider's experience and usually sober public temperament would have allowed his name to be associated with such a polarizing piece of foul-mouthed invective, no matter what the provocation. But then, who knows what forces possess people in the dark of night, which often lead to their undoing. Mr Haider is now back as a contributing editor of TFT.

: : : UPDATE : : :

Ejaz Haider Rebuts

Ejaz Haider has written to us to rebut the claims of the above post. We reproduce here his email to Cafe Pyala in full and leave the matter for readers to judge:

"Gentlemen: i write you apropos of your post…

i don't know who you are and what is your interest in putting out the such-gup contained in your piece which has been sent me by someone. i do hope this blogging helps you make some money. and if it does, do tell me how. on the other hand, if it's a luxury, i envy you for being able to afford it.
I had no idea until this stage that I was worth writing about. but strange are the ways of this changing world that even considers lady gaga an icon, so i shan't waste my time on trying to figure out your motives, good or bad. nor do they matter to me, frankly. in fact, if you did want to write about me, one of you (assuming there's more than one, and i could be wrong) could have, given your "range", contacted me directly. i resigned from newsweek pakistan for my own reasons which have nothing to do with the piece whose writing is being attributed to me, though i must say that i forwarded it to several friends after tweaking it a little. in my private, punjabi moments i even agree with some of its contents. but i like to abuse in punjabi. far more satisfying. also, if i had written it, i would have happily bylined it. if you want my take on mr zardari, you can read it here
i hope that clears up the issue. as for newsweek pakistan, i wish them well. best,
Ejaz Haider
Contributing Editor, The Friday Times"

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lunar Lunacy, Once Again

I tell you, thank God for Aisam-ul-Haq! Because even though he lost the mixed doubles finals at the US Open today, there was far more grace in his losing than in anything else that has been going on in Pakistan.

Another Eid, another moon-sighting controversy and another bunch of lunatic maulvis. I refer you to my post last year on the same issue, aptly titled "The Rot That is the Ruet." But while that particular post was about the sheer idiocy of the whole moon-sighting exercise - which continues unabated - today we have sunk to even further depths.

In case you were rightly and fortunately more engrossed in the tennis, here is the situation so far:

The Central Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon Sighting) Committee, tasked with looking for the moon in the sky throughout Pakistan, announced that the new moon had not been sighted anywhere in the country. Therefore Eid would take place day after, i.e. Saturday (incidentally, on 9/11), in Pakistan. Fair enough, though Saudi Arabia and a bunch of other countries will of course be celebrating it tomorrow (Friday) 'cause their 30 rozas are already up. This was pretty much in line with what the Met Office had already predicted, that it would be almost impossible to see the very, very faint new moon anywhere in Pakistan with the naked eye, particularly with its transient 'rising' and 'setting' times, except perhaps in the far reaches of Balochistan. But since nobody sighted it in Balochistan either, it was decided that the new moon was not visible.

Popalzai Live: eagle-eyed

Enter Masjid Qasim Khan in Peshawar and its rebel mullah Shahabuddin Popalzai. Like last year, he announces two or three hours after any scientific possibility of anyone seeing the moon, that the moon has been sighted all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and therefore Eid would take place tomorrow. Also like last year, the KP senior minister Batshit Bashir Bilour (supposedly representing the secular ANP), then jumps into the fray to give his support to Shahabuddin and to announce that the province would officially observe Eid tomorrow. He justifies this bizarre announcement, which basically once again means that KP will officially celebrate Eid a day before the rest of Pakistan, under the excuse of provincial autonomy and that the provincial government must respect its own clerics. You know the 18th Amendment has got sidetracked when you hear such logic. WTF?

Of course this is not the first time people in KP seem to be on their own timeline. For some odd reason, the moon is far more visible in KP and Peshawar than anywhere to the west or east of them. But it doesn't end here. Baba Haider Zaman, the septuagenarian head of the Sooba Hazara Tehrik, which has been demanding that the Hazara region be separated from KP and made into a separate province, then decides to add his two bits and announces that the entire Hazara region in KP will not follow the provincial announcement and observe Eid according to the Central Ruet diktat.

So you now have one date (1st Shawwal) in all of KP tomorrow except for the Hazara region, while the rest of Pakistan will be on a different date (30th Ramzan) along with the Hazara region which incidentally is still part of KP. I was getting infuriated with the sheer lunacy of all this until it struck me that, in fact, this is a brilliant, brilliant turn of events. After all if every area, nay every mosque, can decide the date for itself, the logical progression has to be that every individual can decide the date as well. I think next year I will declare Eid whenever I think I've had enough of fasters' bad manners. It's every man (and woman) for themselves and after this precedent, who can challenge me?

On a more serious note, however, doesn't this lunacy perfectly encapsulate the total breakdown of state power and governance in Pakistan? Here we ponder how the state can extract more taxes from an intransigent elite, ensure provincial harmony or clamp down on terrorists, but really, the state cannot even find a consensus on a date.

As I said, thank God for Aisam. Maybe he should just moon these mullahs.