It's getting so that even reporting on people changing jobs in the media has become risky business. As in, risky for one's credibility. Even though we do rely on very good sources before putting the information out here.
The latest U-turn (and believe us, it is a U-turn) is morning show star Dr Shahista Wahidi's announcement today on ARY that the news of her departure from the channel is simply rumour and not based on fact. Yes, Dr Wahidi, tell that to Geo which had bade Nadia Khan farewell and was having your new show's set designed. Obviously, this can only mean that ARY has upped the ante even further than the 22 lakhs a month Geo had offered Wahidi to lure her. Some people have all the luck, particularly at channels where many complain of not being paid their far more meagre salaries on time.
It was precisely because of this pendulum style of job negotiations that we had held off on reporting about The News senior investigative journalist Rauf Klasra's potential move from the Jang Group to the Express Media Group, which he himself had threatened many times earlier and which we had actually known about for some time. But now that the daily Express itself has confirmed it, we can add to it the reasons for it beyond the lure of a better pay packet.
The rivalry between the three truly came out into the open last year when the website pkpolitics.com ran a story about Klasra's alleged corruption in receiving favours from the government in the allocation of plots and government housing for his (government employee) wife and relatives, claims Klasra strenuously denied. Klasra believed the story was instigated by the Nawaz Sharif camp to discredit him in retaliation for stories he had done about the Sharifs' alleged corruption and maladministration and claimed in a Jang column in September 2009 to have served a legal notice for 100 million pounds on the website (we have no idea what became of it). But more than that he also saw the direct connivance of Abbasi and Noorani in what he termed a 'smear campaign' against him. (Noorani, who most believe says things and writes stories at Abbasi's behest, even weighed in publicly against Klasra.) Things became so bitter at the Islamabad bureau that Mir Shakilur Rahman did one of his trademark organizational fudges to calm things down: he removed Klasra from under Abbasi and gave him a made-up title of Editor Reporting, reporting directly to the Editor. (Incidentally, the current Editor of The News Rawalpindi, Mohammad Mallick, supported Klasra in his fight against pkpolitics, which makes eminent sense since pkpolitics had also run a story earlier about Mallick's alleged corruption.)
But things continued to simmer and came to a head last month when Klasra ran two stories on September 28 and September 30. The first of these claimed that "backdoor channels played a key role" in defusing a crisis between the government and the judiciary. Bizarrely, the newspaper carried another story side-by-side with this, from "our correspondent" (code for Abbasi / Noorani) quoting Supreme Court sources debunking Klasra's story. (The Jang Group must have the only newspapers in the world that carry two diametrically opposite 'investigative' stories on the same day.) In fact, the Supreme Court exerted so much pressure for a retraction that The News published an "unconditional and sincere apology" on September 30. However, since Klasra was adamant about his story (insider sources say he told management he was willing to go to jail for it if need be) the apology was published from the editor, printer and publisher. No journalist appreciates a management that refuses to stand by its reporter and apparently Klasra was incensed that the apology was published despite his standing by his story. In fact, he blamed Abbasi for goading the management into publishing the apology and even hit out publicly at Abbasi on a Dunya TV programme later.
The second story Klasra published on September 30, claimed that President Zardari had admitted in an internal Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) meeting that he had been "misled" into not defending in court the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by some unnamed "players of the game." Klasra further cited "one insider source" to claim that Zardari may have been referring to a well-respected but unnamed former judge from Karachi. Once again, two days later Ahmad Noorani published a story claiming that Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim denied the "president's defamatory allegations" and mocking Klasra for defaming him. This was another bizarre rebuttal since Klasra had never actually named anyone in his story. It is also obvious from the story that Ebrahim had been goaded into offering a rebuttal, as if he was the only respected retired judge in Karachi.
These two instances of direct undermining by colleagues were apparently the straw that broke the camel's back, leading Klasra to finally say enough is enough. For whatever it's worth, Klasra has often broken some interesting stories at The News / Jang and his departure will certainly leave the Jang Group poorer in the investigative department. The Jang Group will also miss his contacts within the government since Abbasi and Noorani have already been accused by the PPP of running one-sided stories. Klasra, whose recently published book Ek Siyaasat, Kayee Kahaniyaan [One Politics, Many Stories] has already become a best-seller, may be on a high at the moment, but it remains to be seen how well he adjusts to a new organizational culture at the Express Media Group.
Meanwhile, Aaj TV continues its blood-letting of staff after the departure of Syed Talat Hussain for Dawn and DawnNews. More staff have been fired from the Islamabad bureau, leading others to wonder just exactly what Aaj's management has in mind for the channel.