Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Alternative Tour of the 6th Karachi International Book Fair

The 6th Karachi International Book Fair was held in Karachi this week. More than 300 publishers/ booksellers, more than a quarter million visitors over five days. You might have read about the importance of such events, you might have heard about the achievements of the fair and you might have been told about the diversity on offer. But since more than 70 percent of the stalls were trying to make money by making the readers better Muslims, we concentrated on the free goodies on offer.

6th Karachi International Book Fair (Photo: Suhail Yusuf / Dawn.com)

Things We Got For Free

A DVD of the first-ever documentary about Maulana Maududi’s life, produced by Al Khidmat, Jamaat Islami’s charity wing.

A CD of the Jamaat’s current ameer Maulana Munawar Hassan’s speeches. We accepted it under extreme duress.

Four pamphlets:

1. Sins of the Tongue (the Urdu version is called Zaban ka Gunah)
Not what you think. It’s all about Islamic punishments for gossiping and backbiting.

2. Music: Quran aur Sunnat Mein [Music According to the Quran and Sunnat]
More haraam than you ever thought. It leads to road accidents and zina.

3. Quaid-e-Azam Speaks
… And it seems he couldn’t utter a sentence without quoting from the Quran or invoking Islam.

4. How Good is Your Child’s School?
They perform Shakespeare’s plays? They celebrate Halloween? They have sleepovers at their friends’ house? You need to find a more Islamic school.

We were also given a newsletter by the Pakistan Librarians’ Association. Their favourite word seems to be ‘decline.’

One Thing We Thought Was For Free But Wasn’t

A DVD on goras converting to Islam.

We assumed it was for free because we were promised that everything on this particular stall was for free. But then we were told that this DVD was an exception. 80 rupees.

Things We Admired But Found To Be Way Out Of Our Budget

Kaaba Fun Game
Masjid Fun Game
Salat Fun Game

Things We Could Have Got For Free But Didn’t

Complete Quran audio download to our mobile phone. Takes only five minutes to download, we were assured.

Books We Wanted To Buy But Then Looked At The Last Chapter

Two new biographies of Mohammad Bin Qasim, both with happy endings. Dude marries Raja Dahar’s daughter and lives happily ever after. And we thought he was called back, tortured and executed by being sewn alive into a hide and drowned by the then khalifa.

Books We Didn’t Even Know Existed

Collected works of Dale Carnegie (of How to Make Friends and Influence People fame) in Urdu. This was definitely the heftiest volume we have ever seen in the Urdu language.

A new translation of The Brothers Karamazov by a gentleman called Shahid Siddiqi.

One Thing We Did Buy

A funky looking mug which reads ‘Smile, it’s Sunnah.’

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Changing Course?

I had been contemplating writing an update on Geo for over a week but the latest news has forced my hand. According to our very credible informer @Mehmal, former Daily Times editor Najam Sethi has resigned from Dunya TV and signed up with Geo, though the official announcement has yet to be made. According to our various sources, his last show with Dunya will be on January 6 and he will be hosting a show three times a week on Geo thereafter.

Najam Sethi: moving from Dunya to Geo

Now this news is rather big news, not only in and of itself - after all, Sethi is a big hitter for Dunya to lose and Geo to nab - but also because of what it indicates about the direction of Geo. You may recall our post in November about Geo CEO Mir Ibrahim Rahman's (MIR's) mysterious trip to the US, wherein we had expressed our assessment that you may soon see a decidedly less antagonistic-to-the-Americans line from the Jang Group (read the earlier post to understand why). In that post we had also pointed out that, intriguingly, MIR had arrived at an American reception in Washington D.C. along with Sethi, who had also been in the US for some separate work but who himself has been wooing the Americans to support a more liberal media. It seems our observations were more prescient than even we realized and our predictions about the Jang Group are being proved true.

Even before the latest signing, news filtering in from within the Jang Group indicated that head honcho Mir Shakilur Rahman had begun to exert more control over the editorial content of Jang and The News. Apparently of particular concern for him were the over-the-top anti-Western diatribes of some of his correspondents such as Ansar Abbasi and all such potentially 'controversial' news pieces are regularly first vetted by him.

Add to that the appointment (announced December 16) of former The News editor and Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, as the Jang Group's 'Special Adviser International Affairs.' According to the official announcement, she will "lead efforts to establish new platforms for global discourse and enhance the Group's global engagement and international profile." Basically, what that means is that she will lead the public relations effort for the Jang Group, especially with the US.

But what I had really wanted to comment on was this unprecedented front-page write-up on December 17 in The News and Jang (unfortunately a poor translation) by Geo News Managing Director Azhar Abbas. Abbas has never written for the Jang Group publications since he first began heading Geo and also has probably not written anything since he left his reporting days behind at least a decade ago. But what makes the piece even more intriguing is its between-the-lines condemnation of the machinations of elements within the military intelligence services which, according to the piece, are back to their old tricks of attempting to manipulate public opinion in favour of hawkish positions through the media, as well as its plea for providing space to liberal voices.

For the Managing Director of the largest television news channel to make these accusations and plea publicly is surely worth noting. It also is worth remembering that Abbas' elder brother, Athar Abbas, is a serving major general in the army and head of the military's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which surely shows the sensitivity that Geo's Abbas was willing to breach with his piece. Our information indicates, however, that the piece was directly instigated and approved by the top echelons of the Jang Group (could Lodhi's joining have something to do with it?), which should also give people an idea of how the group is attempting to make a break with its ambivalent past.

Just to provide an idea of the line Azhar Abbas took in his piece, here is a selection of some of its main points:

"Political and security observers believe a concerted effort is once again being made to encourage and promote a typical extremist mindset. Some analysts-cum-anchors have re-emerged from quasi-oblivion. Many journalists and analysts are briefed and encouraged to take an aggressively anti-West, especially anti-US, stance. Experts, who ‘preach’ extremism in disguise, are encouraged to participate in talk shows.

"Many analysts point to the shortsighted policies of our successive governments, especially true for our military rulers, who have led us to the disastrous situation of today. Unfortunately, even after suffering so much, especially in the last few years, there is still no realisation that using people in the name of religion will backfire once again. “It is not a water tap or an electric switch that you can turn on and off whenever you want. Once put in motion, it acquires its own momentum and is very difficult to control,” a former security official said.

"It is no secret that there were those in the media and clergy who openly opposed the Army’s campaign against the militants in Swat and tried their best to put the armed forces’ objectives and intention in doubt. Cajoling the same elements from the right, for short-term tactical objective against our eastern neighbour or to ward off a mounting US pressure to act decisively against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the country’s western backyard is certainly fraught with dangers.

"We should be clear that giving space to elements sympathetic to militants would squeeze space for those who genuinely support efforts to eliminate the extremist forces in the country. If pro-Taliban elements are to be pampered and used as a tool to influence the United States to come to term with Pakistan’s legitimate interest in post-US Afghanistan, it may have a reverse effect. Apparently, not realising this, a misplaced nationalistic and patriotic theme is being propagated. It may be an easy sell in the short term, but the impact at the strategic level will be disastrous."

Does the reintroduction of nutjobs like Zaid Hamid as political commentators on mainstream channels such as ARY make more sense now? Does the re-emergence of Jamaat-ud-Dawa nee Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed at the forefront of the right-wing protests against any amendments to the anti-blasphemy laws make better sense? Abbas also had this dire warning as the conclusion of his piece:

"Many observers believe that in the days to come, one should again expect a rise in the extremist mindset. This will not just be restricted to the print media or TV screens, but will be visible on the streets of Pakistan as well. It may be a welcome sign for those who wanted it as a tactical move. But the coming months and years will tell us how flawed a move it is."

Certainly, this does not whet the appetite about the coming days but there may be a silver lining in all this if Geo and its parent Jang Group actually change course. Who better to reel back the madness than the group which has played a large part in promoting it?

As for Sethi, whose show had only recently moved into the 8pm prime time slot on Dunya, I have to admit that whatever other reservations one may have about him or his past, his show on Dunya is among the most watchable and sensible on Pakistani media at the moment. It may lack the fireworks and  hysteria of his competitors, but that is a VERY GOOD thing in my book. It is generally well-researched, questions accepted political 'truisms' in an often gentle but logical manner and more often than not provides insight into what a certain part of the establishment is thinking (and by that I mean the non-Zaid Hamid lunacy loving establishment). It seems other viewers too had begun to appreciate having a non-screeching, non-hysterical, non-agenda-blinkered option and his show's ratings had been consistently going up. Dunya TV will indeed be sorry to see the back of him.

Here's a clip of one of Sethi's recent shows that illustrates why I think he is worth watching (clip courtesy Tahyr):

Watch this space for further developments.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Loco in Motion, Again?

So, Dr S&M sent us an email this morning asking us to place his statement on our website. At first we weren't quite sure whether it was the real McCoy or someone just putting us on though it did sound like him. But since the same statement is also to be found on his own official website (as well as featured on the pkpolitics website and on the presspakistan email group), and since there has been no denial all day from him or from ARY, we assume that it is. Most of you have probably read the statement by now but in case you haven't, and to honour his request, we are reproducing it here, typos, banalities and all. It's a bit long-winded and self-promoting but hey, that's Dr S&M for you, what do you expect?

Dr S&M in his latest avatar

We do have a couple or four observations about it, but will come to them after the statement itself:

"December 24, 2010

A Decade of Distinction

Dear fellows, colleagues, well-wishers,

This year is important to me as a personal milestone- a turning point in both my career, my life as well as the fact that I shall also be commemorating a decade of my association with television broadcast this coming 9/11.

I must admit how it has been a tedious but a momentous journey- testing, trying and rewarding as I learned the ropes and gained rich and eventful experience of more than 13000 hours of being in front of the camera, controversies and commotion. Needless to say, this is my distinction over a decade of self-discovery in my quest for seeking the truth.

My story began on a day that shook the world. September 11, 2000. The airplanes that crashed in to the Trade Towers had set about to redefine the world's geopolitical and socio-religious texture and in so many ways, perhaps the true beginning of private News television industry in Pakistan as I started my show on then ARY - Pakistan’s first private TV channel.

The repercussions for the world, the consequences of that eventful day aside, I was also overwhelmed by the experience, the fact that I was to go on-air and comment, present facts that are unbiased and based of factual but fast changing reality. I still get goose bumps when I remember those long hours and a young beginning wrapped with all the excitement and the freedom with responsibility that came with it. It was a moment of actualization for me, giving me the much needed confidence to reach out to all of you through my shows.

Jets flew off docked aircraft carriers, bombs formed the clouds of death, chaos and decent set the order of despair, hope it seemed had admitted defeat. It was all happening so fast that often I was not talking but speaking to you- I found myself connecting on a human level, an unmistakable feeling of empathy and helplessness, fears of future that formed the dark clouds hovering over our part of the world. I was engaged much passionately, as a cause, a belief with my friends, adversaries, critics and importantly my viewers who allowed me to touch upon these subjects.

The journey to a never-ending future awaited my presence.

I began to bring to you news reports from war fronts and forums alike. I travelled to where the news took me, no matter at what odds. I retraced the footsteps of the human story, misgivings, injustice and oppression. From the war in Afghanistan to the Civil war in Lebanon, from the infamous Referendum to Elections of 2002 and the tragic unfolding in the aftermath of the 2002 Earthquake in Pakistan.

I must admit how Views on News was more than a show for me. It was a personification of my conviction, that it was time that Pakistan's media liberated the ‘information-control’ and the ‘mind-control’ of ignorance. Time, I felt, had come when the viewers became in control of what they wanted to see and hear.
As I look back gently now, I can not thank ARY Television Network enough for all the opportunities and trust they had put in my abilities; or the lack of it- but there encouragement had certainly propelled, Dr. Shahid Masood in the making. I was being observed. I was being noticed. I was being watched. Heard. In between criticized too. But unlike many who would seem to fume at a single mention of them in the negative, I maintain that Criticism is very important to me as I feel that it is always true for anything that attempts to redefines the norms and cause a stir in status quo of perceptions.
I may have not realized what I was to champion in times to come back then, but it sure was a slow but definite sinking reality that my viewers had come to expect me to redefine the reality for them, I was to shake the myths and mysteries that had so conveniently enshrouded our past and our present.

All hindrances, set backs and shocks aside, I was resolved in wake of challenges despite the fatigue and exhaustion in my Pursuit to seek knowledge for myself first and then for my viewers. It is nothing less than a sacred trust. Something that I have cherished to this day and shall always, for times to come.

With an urge to experience a new idea, a new setting and to allow more people come in the industry, rather than to have blocked them from a opportunity by being at ARY, I parted ways amicably with my media alma mater, my first home to find myself at Pakistan's number 1 network, 'Geo'.

Change is never easy, change is both a challenge and a chance. I took both in the same stride as I embraced my leap of faith and as many of you would recall, I was to be on-air with a more 'opinionated' Dr. Shahid Masood. It was the world according to me, called, ‘Meray Mutabiq’, I can safely say that it was my catharsis televised- It was a true depiction of the world around us as people, as a country. I took great pains just as much as the management did as well in leaving no stone unturned to make it a huge success.

But success in fluidity can cause commotion. Meray Mutabiq was to soon set history in another dimension. Closed done by a ban for three long months, the show was unceremoniously pulled off-air! But I have no regrets, because I know that when one forebears the standard, the march is always uphill.

I had witnessed also the closure of Geo, the lawyers movement, the days of batons and long march all embroiled with political temperatures had consumed me to be involved to a level of dedication to the cause. The barricades mimicking sign board saying ‘Constitution Avenue’. Time is a great historian, and I shall let it record history, but for now, it brings me to put on record that I am thankful to Geo Television Network to have had stood beside my program in recognition of my contribution as a anchor. Thank you Geo for your trust, it has and will always mean a lot to me.

I remember reading some where, that 'life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans'. My life too, was to experience a great honor in this prolific media industry- when for the first time in the history of State run, Pakistan Television, I was to be given the responsibility and charge to galvanize the organization’s spirit as both its M.D and Chairman.

On one hand, the accolade of holding the dual titles at PTV along with doing a TV show as well, were a humbling experience, since I were to be the first since 1960’s, and yet on the other hand were my audience, my viewers who were choking my inbox with their emails. They were resentful of this move. They wanted Dr. Shahid Masood to let go of the honor, the ‘firsts’ that he was making. They wanted him to be on the other side of the media divide. This experience made me let go of all the titles, honors and state recognition. And I do not regret any of it, as I was to choose to stand side by side with my real strength, my audience.

It is in this state of mind that I to be mindful of people's expectation poising a question in my mind. Truth beckons courage, and hence, in the end, I find no reason is stronger than belief- unless belief itself is the reason.

Soon after relinquishing my responsibilities from PTV, I was to serve as the adviser to the Prime Minister. Something that I thought I will not be good at, and my doubts proved just about right. Pakistan’s flag full-mast on my car was a great honor and yet, the voices of people called me back, to be ad mist them. In hope, in faith and in belief that there shall be a better tomorrow.

I stepped out of that car, and drove down the streets of Islamabad in a car not much different to yours.

The car I drove that day, got parked again at the Geo News Studios.

‘Meray Mutabiq’ was to begin again. Much to my delight, I was again amongst family. But times had not changed. If at all, it went more hostile towards our newly earned freedom of speech- or the expectation of 180 million people seeking both, the truth and the answers.

My show was to be shut on instructions of the powers to be.

Meray Mutabiq, its team and I, we were to experience the next 12 weeks like wandering gypsies. A show here, another there, motivated but tired. Courageous but in face of great opposition, threats looming large... friendly advises perverting the will... nevertheless the show continued for weeks like this.

With all resources marginalized, stepped up pressures and antics, never was there a moment of lull, despair or destitute. Each program seemed like a edifice of resolve.

Each episode a reason to believe- to be, to do more and not look back.

Your emails, your messages, your texts allowed me to brave the consequences against all odds. I may have made many adversaries, I admit. But in this profession, the choices one makes are founded on principles and not rumor mills. I have shied from public statements, I have by nature, withstood the propaganda, the laments and at a odd few times slurs hurled at me by my opponents.

Allow me to say, 'opponents in perception', as unfortunately, those who have, have done so without meeting me or knowing me. But, I smile at each of their assumptions, and feel there is never a need for a rebuttal! I find it not consummate to my vision or stature. I am sure, you'd all agree that restraint is the strength of a humble man.

In between these times, I felt obligated on a personal level and voluntarily opt out of Geo again in my sincere attempt to allow them the space to continue their broadcast without let or hinder.

Soon enough, I was the President of ARY Television Network and back on the screen with the new version of Views on News. I am certain, some of you have been privy to, or receiving a lot of emails and needless speculations, ranging from controversies on hiring, firings and resignations all the way to some using their time and energy to discuss me.

I am pleased to announce that I will be a colleague and a co-worker with some of you very soon in my capacity of 'CEO and President' for an upcoming Media Group.

This Group, is a Media House that will bring out quality TV channels, Dailies and Periodicals besides establishing of Media University of international standard. But honestly none of this would really have been possible, if there was not a Group behind my dream.

In the forefront of this initiative is the man leading this Global consortium, whom I must thank for his having agreed to venture in this media enterprise. Mr. Sadruddin Hashwani a name you are all familiar with. Someone we have all come to respect as a man whose patriotism makes us proud, whose resolve makes us believe more in our own selves. A role model to have risen above the rest as a self made man who now wishes to set a precedence in media, reinventing, reinvigorating and reviving our industry bogged down by lethargy.

Mr. Hashwani leads this consortium of giants from the Middle East and Europe. A unique and impressive list of notable personalities and business conglomerates who have both put their resources and trust behind Mr. Hashwani and of course through him- in me, and through me- in and on all the working media professionals of Pakistan.

I must admit that this introduction to Mr. Hashwani or the international consortium is no justice. And I fail in introducing them to the hilt that they deserve an introduction, but I do intend on introducing them in more details that I shall share with all of you soon.

It is history in the making, it is a hard task. And I know. But let me admit, let me confess....here perhaps, I am in need for your support and well-wishes, more than any other event in my 10 years of being associated with the media industry.

I am embarking upon a journey to redefine Media History in Pakistan as we know it. Never before, had a working professional in Media could dream of being a stake holder in equity in a big Media Group before, I am to set the precedence.

This precedence is not to boast the achievement, but share that dreams can be dreamt and turned true. This is not my achievement, but a victory to all of you, my fellow colleagues, anchors, that intent and perseverance against animosity can find its own ways to collective benefit of the media industry.

I thank you once again, for all your support, your prayers and well wishes. I know I could not have been able to do any of this without the blessings of Allah, and all the people who have helped me in my eventful journey including Mir Shakilur Rahman, Mir Ibrahim Rahman and Salman Iqbal.

I look forward to your continued feedback and suggestions.


Dr. Shahid Masood
President & CEO
Pearl Communications (PVT) Ltd
Shalimar 5 Agha Khan Road Islamabad

Now, if genuine, this letter / statement raises some rather interesting questions:

1. During that entire episode with ARY only a couple of days ago, when DrS&M was denying rumours he had been sacked and even that he had resigned, and reposing his trust in ARY CEO and MD Salman Iqbal, obviously the good doc had already been in negotiations with Sadruddin Hashwani for this new media venture. And wasn't he made President of ARY only a few months ago? What does that say about him and his professional integrity?

2. In fact, one of the commenters on the PressPk email list had hinted that the chaos at ARY had something to do with TWO new media ventures about to be launched in Pakistan and the recruitment drive being carried out by these ventures. Since we had no information to confirm the veracity of this, we had decided to not include this in our earlier post. The two powerful and monied men mentioned as behind these upcoming ventures were cited as Sadruddin Hashwani and Mian Mohammad Mansha. If this letter is genuine, at least one of those hints has turned out to be true. We wait with bated breath for the second to come true.

3. It seems not a little bit odd to us that this new venture should be announced in this way. Shouldn't it actually have been Mr Hashwani to announce his venture?

4. Finally, we have to say that money obviously does not buy anyone any sense. If Mr Hashwani is actually venturing into the media in a big way, surely picking up an opinionated blowhard with so much baggage as the face of it can't be a good omen. I mean, really, what exactly are Dr S&M's qualifications or achievements? That he put out loco shows that fewer and fewer people watched as time went on, because there's just so much lunacy people can take (the last few episodes of his Views on News programme featured that master-wanker Zaid Hamid again!)? That he failed miserably at PTV and managed to turn everyone against him? That he can hold forth about End of Days? But it someone wants to crash and burn with their money, hey, who are we to stop them.

We do have one final question for Dr S&M himself though: What is going on with your hair, dude? Are we to take it that you are going the route of the Sharifs? And if so, is this presaging a mid-life crisis?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where Sensitivity Is Needed and Where It Isn't

The gang-rape case in Karachi's upmarket Defence area - where two women were driven off the road by men in another car and one of them was abducted and then raped - has already received plenty of media and blog attention, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.

In particular, some parts of the media and the Sindh government adviser Sharmila Farooqui have been quite rightly castigated by many for their criminally cavalier attitude in commenting on the serious crime. It seems there is still a long way to go for some to understand that nothing, and we mean nothing, justifies rape: not the 'character' of a woman, not the clothes she wears, not her past, not her 'activities', not anything she says or does, not anything. A lit bit of sensitivity to the trauma of a rape survivor may be too much to ask from some people but what is shocking is that parts of the media - which had voluntarily stopped naming victims many years ago in a positive move - seem to have unlearnt years of gender sensitization and reverted to their callous previous ways.

The best commentary on the whole issue so far has been provided by Pakistan Media Watch. I would urge you all to read it. There is nothing more that I wish to add.

. . .

In other news, I wanted to share the following recent story from Australia, which reader Umar Anjum shared with us. It raises some rather interesting questions about multiculturalism to say the least, but also about the knee-jerk way religion (or rather, a warped concept of religion) and cultural sensitivity have come to be used to justify the worst excesses.

I am thankful to @MyPplWannaJump for finding me an embeddable video. It is not of the highest quality however. If you wish to see a better quality version of the same clip, you can go here.

Regardless of the undoubted Islamophobic bigotry that sometimes accompanies the paranoia about the veil in the 'West', one must acknowledge the serious issues of security and recognizability that it gives rise to. In fact, this issue of the niqab (note, not the burqa) is hardly an issue limited only to the 'West.' This is increasingly an issue in Pakistan that impinges on security as well, let alone what it indicates about social dynamics over the last 30-odd years. I also know of a very well-respected university professor in Karachi who refuses to teach students wearing a face veil in his class. His contention is that he can neither tell, through visual clues, if the students are understanding what he is saying, nor can he be sure that the veiled students are in fact his students at all. I have to say, I completely sympathize with him.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Storm in ARY's Teacup (Updated)

The journo bulletin boards are abuzz about confusing goings-on within ARY.

According to the reports (among them, this one from JournalismPakistan), the ARY's longtime Lahore Bureau Chief Nasrullah Malik has either resigned or been sacked, along with at least four other staffers. An email letter circulated among staff by CEO ARY Network Salman Iqbal warns them about Mr Malik calling up staffers in other bureaus to urge them to resign in his support and says Mr Malik's claims that he had resigned over delays in salary payments and other work-related issues are not true. The letter calls upon the staff to pay no heed to the attempts to tarnish ARY's reputation. There are unconfirmed reports also of ARY's Director News Mohsin Raza having also submitted his resignation. Earlier rumours of Dr S&M having similarly turned in his papers seem to have been, unfortunately, untrue.

According to unverified sources, Mr Malik was either forced to resign or sacked for allegedly misappropriating funds meant for the needy, particularly the flood-affected, under the umbrella of the ARY-set up Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz Trust. Mr. Malik apparently denies the (whispered) allegations and has threatened to take ARY management to court. There are also rumours of other staff demanding their pending dues to be cleared immediately and that the current problems are associated with certain recently announced administrative appointments. Whatever the truth of the matter, there seems to be plenty of storm raging in the ARY teacup at the moment.

Anyone know what's really going on?


It seems we got some of our information - culled from the bulletin boards - incorrect. Salman Iqbal did, in fact, accuse Nasrullah Malik in writing of embezzlement. We now have access to the actual letters written to and fro, which we are reproducing below without any editing whatsoever. Readers may judge their worth themselves.

From ARY Network CEO and MD Salman Iqbal:

From: Salman Iqbal
Date: Sun, 19 Dec 2010 17:45:40 +0000
Subject: Nasrullah

Dear All
With a very heavy heart I am writting this email to all of you. I would have never writted this email, and this issue would have gone to the grave with me. But after what all has happened I have no choice but to write this email to all off you.

As you all know that nasrullah malik has resigned, and with him he made 4 other reporters resign. Not only that but he has been calling all the reporters in all the bureaus to resign to show his strength, not only that but he has also made phone calls to Dr shahid and many others saying that I salman Iqbal has fired Dr shahid. Let me reiterate with the strongest heart that this is not true. I have neither fired dr shahid not intend to, and nor have I made any list to fire any other reporter or people on the desk. These are all rumors spread by one person to make our organization week.

I am really proud of the boys who did not listen to nasrullah and worked with all there spirit and good heartdness as always.I thank them once again The actual fact why nasrullah resigned is because he was asked to do so. Nasrullah has worked for over 8 years in our organization and was an integral part of it. Nasrullah was actually a face of ARY news in punjab. Half of the province actually thought he was the owner or a shareholder of ary. You all would thinking why was he asked to resign. I with a very heavy heart now have to disclose the truth.

He was asked to resign cause he had stolen money in the name of charity of KhwAja ghareeb nawaz trust. He was confronted by me personally on the phone and he accepted it. Thru ammad I had asked him to come to karachi last to last friday when I was there. And he said he would come. When I spoke to him on the phone he accepted his crime and promised it will never happen again. To which I didn\'t agree. I told him to quietly resign and leave and nothing will happen to him nor will this ever come out.

Resign he did, which I accepted with a big heart. This story would have never come , but what he did after his resignation is not accpetable and neither is professional. He is telling everybody that he resigned due to non payment of salaries and other issues. Which is not true. He was aksed to leave cause even previously I use to get many calls from people that he use to take bribes for his work. Although his brother was convicted for a murder in punjab I tried my level best to get him released from jail, and we got successful in doing that. When I use to hear such things I never believed it and always use to write it off. But when I actually got proof os him stealing money in the name of charity and using it for his personal gain, that was it.

The sad part here is that I had forgiven him for his sins, but he instead of departing quietly started creating panic in our organization, in every level possible. From top level status of dr shahid, to even sweepers in ARY lahore. Which was very heart breaking and that\'s why I had no option but to tell the whole organization of his sins.

I really sorry that I had to disclose the truth to all of you, cause I had no other option. Today is a sad day at ARY, and it is very sad for me in 3 counts. One I had to let go of my very close person nasrullah, and the second cause he stole from us and third he tried to break us in two.

I am grateful that I have a strong team that\'s why nasrullah failed to break us in to 2. People who have left under nasrullah\'s influence are week and dependent on him, and they have no standing of there own. And they were scared that without nasrullah there weakness would have been seen by everyone. I love my team and I know all of you are loyal people. And all of you tried really hard to get nasrullah back into ARY. You all should now know that\'s the reason why nasrullah shut his phone for 5 days and even though being in dxb did not have the courage to meet me or even call me when a lot of his colleagues asked him too. You all must have gotten your answer, cause he had confronted to me for his theft, and he had no words to talk to me.

Let\'s put our head down, and work really hard to bring this organization back to no 1. Let\'s stand together and fight these rumors off. And I am really grate to dr shahid for his strength that he has shown in this whole turmoil, by standing besides me and helping me thru all this.

Thank you all

Salman iqbal
CEO and managing director.
ARY Network.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

 Reply from Nasrullah Malik, former Lahore Bureau Chief ARY News:

From: Nasrullah Malik
Date: Mon 20 Dec 2010

Mr. Salman Iqbal
Keeping in view our long relation and personal association I wanted to quit my job in a dignified manner so I resigned on December 14, 2010. You Know it well how you and your cronies beg me to withdrew my resign and return to my job. Everyone Knows inside and outside ARY the way my team and I served the organization even with our blood wherever required. Being owner of a channel network it is your prerogative to hire and fire people. But in the same way it is a right of an employee to decide if he wants to continue or quit his Job. Obviously you can not own people. It is always mutual trust that works both ways. With salaries delayed and working environment deteriorating it was impossible for an honest journalist to continue job in such a channel.

However, it was beyond my imagination that you could slip down so much to come up with such a pack of lies against me. Unfortunately my approach about you was wrong because the family in which I groomed I am taught to trust friends and reciprocally individual like you having love for money alone and no regards for any moral value or manners have shown your true face.

By the grace of Allah Almighty, I am confident that people who know both of us having courage to give honest opinion will stand by my side on all your false accusations against me. I challenge you and anybody else who is of your opinion to prove even the smallest of false charge you leveled against me in my whole professional career. Further, I am ready to declare all my assets at any forum and I challenge you to come forward and do the same.

After reading those lines you wrote about me, I have doubts about your mental health. For instance, you blamed me of embezzling money from Kh. Ghareeb Nawaz Trust which is solely owned and operated by your family. Those who know your family can be witness to what I have said. I suppose after earth quake of 2005 and recent flood it is high time that you and your family made accountable to give the details of single penny that was donated by people from allover the world.

As for as the matter of my taking bribe or favors is concerned, it is not in my blood. Further, I belong to that group of thought who earn and take to their homes all what is Halal. I do not come from your family and I do not have NAB References against me. I have not committed any fraud with individuals, banks and companies in UAE. It is not my nature to stab friends in the back the way you did. People know that I am in Lahore where I have been living for over two decades but your family has absconded from Dubai after embezzling money and dishonoring of cheques. Allah knows well who is honest and who cheated even his family.

Those four journalists you try to label as vermin, actually served ARY over the years with their utmost dedication and best of abilities. Most experienced and reputed among them is Mr. Suhail Shahryar son of a noble family. In his over twenty years of journalistic experience before joining ARY he also served as Bureau Chief of Online Int. News Network in Lahore for seven years.

Similarly, Mian Mohammad Aslam is also a seasoned journalist known for his accurate and exclusive reporting among the journalist community in Lahore. He served in three major national dailies before joining ARY. He has remained a major contributor of exclusive stories to the channel. Two young stars of journalist community in Lahore are Asad Sohaib and Zulqarnain Sheikh whom you blamed for being parasites.

I am really ashamed that you wrote that you supported me in false murder case against my brothers. The fact is that you haven’t done any thing for me in that case and the government of that time witnessed me fighting it all alone without any favor from any body. I believe on merit and it was my conviction that Allah helps those who are on the right path. People know how you are trying to settle your nab and fraud cases with the help of media and official support.

I will now show your true face to whole of Pakistan, especially people in the media. On the false allegations you leveled against me Allah will make you answerable. At the same time I am approaching independent judiciary in the country to make you accountable for baseless charges against me and I am going to file a liable suit against you in the court.

Nasrullah Malik
20th of December 2010

As a superfluous aside, please note the following two missives from Dr S&M sent immediately after Salman Iqbal's letter to the staff:

First email from Dr S&M, President ARY Network:

From: Dr Shahid Masood
Date: Sun, 19 Dec 2010 16:42:28 +0000
Subject: My status/position

Dear All,
We in organisation are all aware of a situation which emerged after some of our colleagues resigned from lahore. It was followed by another unpleasant incident in islamabad office.

During last one hour I received calls from media industry including one very important one (about which I informed salman sb immediately). I was involving my own status. Although salman sb categorically denied and we both are on same page in all decisions taken during last few days/months. Even then I" offer" my resignation if it can be helpful in resolving the issues.

I request all the team members to avoid creating/listening to rumours.

Best wishes.

Dr Shahid Masood

Empower your Business with BlackBerry® and Mobile Solutions from Etisalat

Second email from Dr S&M, President ARY Network:
From: Dr Shahid Masood
Date: Sun, 19 Dec 2010 17:16:59 +0000
Subject: Re: My status/position

Dear All,
Just to clarify the resignation word in my previous email. Its just an"offer",as I haven\'t resigned. The purpose was to convey a message that no one is above the organisation,including myself. As Winston Churchill said"let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning".

Dr Shahid Masood.

Empower your Business with BlackBerry® and Mobile Solutions from Etisalat

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What's Billions of Dollars Between Friends?

Kudos to Pakistan Today for increasing the potential GDP of Pakistan by US$10 Billion. Alternatively, shame on the Express Media Group for causing a loss to the national exchequer of over US$10 Billion.

Seriously, though, if you look at the differing valuations of the accords signed during the visit to Islamabad of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in the various papers, you are likely to be scratching your head.

Chinese PM Jiabao with PM Gilani at Pak-China Business Summit (Photo: AFP / Dawn)

Here is the differing monetary worth of the Pakistan-China accords as papers across Pakistan quoted them:

Express Tribune: Up to US$30bn
Express: Up to US$30bn
Jang: US$30bn
The News: US$30bn
Daily Times: US$35bn
Nawai Waqt: US$35bn
The Nation: US$35bn
Dawn: US$36bn
Pakistan Today: US$40bn

I guess when you're playing around with tens of billions of dollars, what's ten here or there. But consider for a moment what even one billion dollars means for Pakistan at this stage. I mean, is it really so insignificant an amount that different valuations can be off by that much? Can someone please explain to me these discrepancies?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So You Want To Be A Pakistani Talk Show Host?

So, taking the cue from that previous video I posted and the pointing out by a reader that, in fact, one could make one's own videos on that site, here is my tentative first offering... Basically just fooling around and testing the software, so to speak. It took me a grand total of less than an hour to get this out. Next time, will work more on the script.

So You Want To Be A Journalist?

This is obviously rather American-centric but I think journos everywhere can relate. If only I could animate or even re-edit this, I'd do a Pakistan version. I have a script in mind. Your ideas are also more than welcome.

Original here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Matrix?

Remember, it's a whole system!

Road to protective custody? (Photo: Adnan Ahmad)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Open Letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan

Dear Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry,

I am writing this open letter to you because the righting of wrongs is avowedly a part of your movement for judicial reform, and the matter in question must be particularly close to your heart, being as it is close to your first and last names too.

I read in the news today that a doctor in Hyderabad was arrested, and a case registered against him under the Blasphemy Act, when he threw the business card of a medical representative with the first name of Muhammad into the dustbin. Now I know that some people are thinking well that’s one small step back for all Pakistani Muslims, and one giant leap forward for all Pakistani Medical Representatives, but I for one wept with joy at the news.

You see, your exalted lordship, if indeed this report is true, I see in this ingenious application of a tragically misunderstood law…the Blasphemy Act is meant to protect the Quran and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) from ridicule, not expose them to it, I don’t know why some buffoons just don’t seem to get that… I see in this ingenious application of a tragically misunderstood law the seeds of the Great Pakistani Muslim Revival. Now that a precedent has been set, some of the biggest thorns in the nation’s side can be effectively removed, and some of its most cacophonous trumpets silenced.

I have listed below some of the cases that merit your most immediate, most esteemed, attention. I am sure, once the enthusiasm my idea will inevitably kindle in you has been communicated to all the appendages of the state, the judiciary and the general population, others will come forth with more scenarios too. Then, we can begin to cleanse the face of this nation, follow it up with some aggressive exfoliation, and enjoy the beatific effect of the spiritually moisturized smile we subsequently share with the world.

1) Any cricket player, official, reporter, commentator, spectator, umpire, random passer by who has ever expressed reservations about Muhammad Yousuf, Muhammad Amir or Muhammad Asif’s character in writing should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act. That will really clean up the game.

2) Any school/college/kindegarden/madrassah teacher, principal, administrator or instructor who writes a negative comment in the report card of any student with the name of Muhammad should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act. There should be a particularly harsh sentence for the sentence 'Muhammad is a bright child but is easily distracted and lacks the ability to concentrate on his work.'

3) Any college, school or kindergarten student who mistreats pages containing the name and verses of Allama Muhammad Iqbal (mistreatment including but not limited to burning, tearing, ripping, doodling in the margins or making planes out of or – in the case of the kindergarten kinder, eating) should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act. Since the burden of proof of innocence is on the accused, the learned judge in charge of cases featuring minors must be hardened against tears, tantrums and wanton cries of ‘dudu biskit! dudu biskit!’

4) Any tandoorwala, paanwala, umroodwala, bhuttawala, chanawala, assortedwala who wraps his offerings in paper that contains the name Muhammad should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act.

5) Any traffic policeman, immigration official or station house officer of any thana attempting to write a challan or file an FIR against any person with the name Muhammad on his driver’s license, passport or NIC should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act.

6) Anyone coming into contact with books, pamphlets, promotional literature that contain the name Muhammad, or cards advertising services of aalims offering cures for love, impotence, curses, memory loss or age that happen to be named Muhammad, without showing said books, pamphlets, promotional literature or cards adequate respect (for the purposes of this argument let that be holding them below navel level or tossing them carelessly on to a seat or – in the case of the cards – out of the window) should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act.

7) Any woman who has received a passionate letter from an admirer named Muhammad and, wanting to conceal it from the prying eyes of her younger siblings and/or parents, wadded it up into a ball and thrown it into a dustbin should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act. (This, your lordship, I consider a particularly important lesson as it will teach our women to be wary of a significant percentage of the male population, urge them to toss their lovers but keep their letters, and hence do that little extra bit we need to safeguard their morals).

8) Any columnist, critic, reporter, journalist or opinion maker who questions your judgment in opening these floodgates should be arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

You Can Plug A Leak, But Can You Plug A Plant? (Updated)

Thanks to Nadeem Farooq Paracha's blog in Dawn, we have the first acknowledgement from a Pakistani news organization about our role in exposing the fake Wikileaks (FakiLeaks?) story carried by many publications in the country.

As of this writing, The News and the Express Tribune have both published retractions, though the far more widely circulated Jang and the Majeed Nizami mouthpieces, The Nation and Nawai Waqt have not (The Nation even went ahead and wrote an editorial basing itself on the Fakileaks, which has now been altered by apparently Indian hackers.) I am not sure if the Urdu daily Express and the Business Recorder, which also published the stories, have published retractions.

 A screen grab of the apparently hacked The Nation editorial

Of the television channels, I am also not sure if Dunya TV, which carried news reports based on the same planted stories, issued an apology. But even more dismally, long after the alleged cables were exposed as fake, Absar Alam on his evening programme on Aaj TV on Thursday, based his entire programme on the fake cables. Among the participants of his programme: General (retd) Hamid Gul, who insisted that Indian generals were indeed of the same character that the (fake) cables described them as, and Geo anchor Hamid Mir, who commented on how the Kashmir-related portions of that story indicated Kashmir would "inshallah" be one day free. At one point, Absar Alam even thanked God that the American diplomats had not used the same kind of language for Pakistani generals. Sigh. Only goes to show you how much research goes into these 'talk shows.'

But coming back to the retractions and apologies, the most hilarious part of the entire episode is the 'defence' issued by Online wire agency, which The News the Jang Group has blamed for the entire episode. We reproduce here the full 'clarification' sent to news organizations by Online:

"Editors/News editors


On Dec 9th 2010 a news item attributed to our organization was published in some English Newspapers and Urdu Papers with regards to WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Indian Interference in Balochistan and Waziristan, Indian army and Israel. We had lifted this news by searching various search engines as part of regular scanning  process for finding news about WikiLeaks disclosures, which has become a hot topic of every newspaper.

On Dec 10 some of English and Urdu newspapers had criticized us of the report not being accurate and some of them even went to the extent of accusing us of wrong use of WikiLeaks documents for propaganda purposesand we had released a planted news item. While the truth is just the opposite if anyone goes on Goggle and writes: Wikileaks Leak About India, Israel And Afghanistan one would be able to get the same news we got. We are also attaching the news which we downloaded from the Internet so that the matter is clarified. One more thing we like to mention is that we had not received any notice or written compliant from WikiLeaks spokesman.

The only mistake on our part was that we had not mentioned the link or source of the news for which we apologies. I hope you would publish our point of view as well in your esteemed newspapers.


Siddique Sajid

Online Int'l News Network"

This 'clarification' does clarify many things about Online. The first and foremost conclusion that news organizations should draw from it is to run as far away from this wire agency as they can. This is how they gather their news??? By "lifting" (their words) stuff from Google???

The defence that "if anyone goes on Goggle [sic] and writes: Wikileaks Leaks About India, Israel and Afghanisan" one would be able to get the same news we got" would be uproariously funny were it not simultaneously so appalling. That's your defence Online??? So tomorrow, if you go on the net and search for "Conspiracy Theories About Moon Landing Being Fake", you would pass that along to news organizations as valid news? Second point: why exactly then do news organizations need you? I mean all they need to do to get their 'news' is Google (or Goggle, if that's your thing), right?

Of course none of this takes away from the news organizations' own responsibilities to verify stories they take on. Are we to gather from this that the news sense of the staff at these papers and channels has deteriorated to such an extent that NONE of them saw anything remotely strange about the story?

The News has announced that it will not pay Online its subscription for the month as punishment for making it into a laughing stock. Whoop de whoop. The 'clarification' of Online, one would have thought, should have been reason enough to immediately terminate any relationship.


Jang did in fact run a retraction at the same time as The News, and also ran a follow-up about its notice to Online today. The retraction was on the front page and the follow-up on the back page, nowhere as prominent as the original stories, but still. Our apologies to Jang for missing the items and misstating its position.

Also, Omar R. Qureshi in his blog in Express Tribune on December 9 did in fact mention Cafe Pyala as having commented on the story, though he did not exactly acknowledge the fact that we were the first within Pakistan and abroad to actually raise the issue of  the fake cables.

According to this blog, the editor of Online, Siddique Sajid (who wrote the above letter to news organizations), has resigned over the affair. We do not have independent confirmation of this.

: : : 2ND UPDATE : : :

The following is the text of the notice published by Online about the sacking of its editor:

Online Editor Sacked
Decision made after Editor found solely responsible for making a fabricated story.
December 11, 2010 Islamabad
"The enquiry was ordered and led by Mohsin J Baig, the Editor-in-Chief of Online, soon upon his return from Turkey, where he had accompanied Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani during his official visit there.
The decision to sack Mr. Siddique Sajid was made after it was established in the enquiry that he had ‘solely misused’ his editorial authority in the absence of the news agency’s Editor-in-Chief by ‘fabricating a false story’ on a highly sensitive subject such as the WikiLeaks’ disclosure.
The Online Management regrets the release of the said story by Online, its subsequent publication by media, and the consequent erosion of their public credibility. It assures the subscribers and readers of the news service that stringent measures are being adopted to prevent vested interests from planting such fabricated stories.
The Online International News Network is Pakistan’s largest news agency, with well over a decade long track-record of fair and balanced reporting, both news and photos, from Pakistan, the region and across the world.
‘We shall continue to perform this useful role in a responsible way as we have always done,’ said Mohsin J Baig, the Editor-in-Chief.
’I know the difficulty of reporting in a place laced with vested interests operating clandestinely, but reporting on currently the most volatile subject in global media and, that also, without corroborating the story’s contents with factual documents is unacceptable,’ Mr. Baig added, while justifying the sacking of the Editor Online."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Leaking Away (Updated)

Reading through the top story in today's The News and Jang, my eyes grew progressively wider and wider. Not so much from the latest Wikileaks revelations about India as from sheer incredulity.

 The News Karachi's front page today

Titled "Enough evidence of Indian involvement in Waziristan, Balochistan" (aside: how much is 'enough'?) in The News, the main story deals with a slew of information allegedly from US diplomatic cables sent from Delhi as well as other missions around the world about India. They confirm everything Pakistanis (or at least certain types of Pakistanis) always said about India: it's direct involvement of India in the anti-state activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan, the weakness of the Indian dossier on Ajmal Kassab, the manipulated nature of Indian evidence about the ISI's involvement in the Mumbai attacks, the sissyness of India's generals who do things out of personal ego and petulance rather than well-thought-out strategy, the internal rifts in the Indian army, the similarity of the situation in Kashmir with that in Bosnia in the 1990s, the involvement of Indian intelligence in promoting Hindu extremists to conduct false flag attacks against India itself to implicate the ISI and Indian Muslims etc etc etc.

 Jang's front page today

But I think where my incredulity reached a tipping point was when the cables claimed well regarded Indian policeman Hemant Karkare - who had been following leads about the involvement of Indian right-wing Hindutva organizations in the Samjhota Express bombing and about whose death there has already been plenty of controversy within India - was "eliminated in a pre-planned ambush during the Mumbai attacks", the implication being 'by the covert operatives of the Indian army.' According to the report in The News:

"The cable suggested that Hemant Karkare held a secret meeting with a senior US diplomat in New Delhi during the national day reception of a friendly country and briefed him about the gravity and the growing depth of the nexus between top Indian Army leadership and the militant Hindu fanatic groups. Karkare sought security for him and his family from the said American diplomat as he feared that the army and establishment would eliminate him as he intended to move further to expose the network. He had further briefed the said US diplomat that a former commander-in-chief of the Central Command of the Indian army, Lt Gen PN Hoon, was heading the militancy wing of the Hindu extremists and was getting full tactical, logistic and financial support from senior army officers. The day, Karkare was eliminated in a pre-planned ambush during the Mumbai attacks, a cable sent to the US read “we have lost an important link and a vital evidence”."

This was HUGE. This was BEYOND huge! Surely the world would be going mad with this new revelation!

Imagine my bewilderment then, when I turned to other papers and discovered that there seemed to be no mention of this story anywhere in any other Pakistani paper... not Dawn, not Express Tribune, not the Daily Times et al (Okay, so The Nation and Nawai Waqt did have it, but who believes anything they run?). Did the Jang Group and Majid Nizami's vanity projects just scoop everyone else? So I went online to check the Indian papers. No mention. Cowards. But what was really strange was that I couldn't seem to find these incredibly incriminating cables anywhere on the Guardian Wikileaks website or even mentioned anywhere in a Google News search.

In fact, the only other place which seemed to have the story were those redoubts of journalistic integrity, Rupee News and the Daily Mail Post type sites. Ah. And this absurd plant is your top story, Jang Group? Really?

Small wonder The News and Jang give the source of the report as "Agencies."

Question: How stupid do the "Agencies" really think Pakistanis are?

: : : UPDATE : : : 

So, the Express Tribune did in fact run a similar story. On page 8. Datelined Washington and sourced from the wire agency Online. I had mistakenly thought they had had better sense but it seems they didn't have much faith in the revelations to put them on the front page or somewhere else more prominent. Which of course begs the question, then why run them at all?

Incidentally, here is a link to the cheerleader Ahmed Quraishi's page, making the most of his imagination. And here is the Daily Mail Post basking in his reflected glory. Thanks to @Rezhasan and Shahid Saeed for the links.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Faux Pas of the Year

How NOT to introduce the British Culture Secretary... even if he is a Tory...

A Challenge To Tut-Tut

So here's the deal Syed Tut-Tut Hussain. I might have simply ignored your live interview on CityFM 89 tonight (which I happened to catch completely coincidentally) with its mealy-mouthed self promotional bits ('I could never have been in the armed forces because I hate hierarchy and checkposts...but I am the only civilian to have flown in an F-16'). I might even have let go without a comment the fact that the interviewer, Wasim (or whatever his name really is) Wes Malik, actually referred to you as "the great Talat Hussain." After all, can't really hold it against a radio presenter and a FM channel for trying to do a promo for an employee of the parent company (Dawn Media Group). Yes, I might have disregarded it all, had you displayed even a wee bit of contrition or even embarrassment when a questioner asked you about that Jolie article.


But see, when you blithely claimed that the entire controversy was caused "by the [incorrect] translation" of your article by people "unaware of the nuances of Urdu" ["Jin ko Urdu zabaan ke asloob se nashanasayi hai"], you really got my goat. Now Wes Malik may have found that line completely incomprehensible (he went "What???") but some of us do know a little bit of Urdu and the flowery language Urdu columnists sometimes employ. And in particular, what galled me (incidentally, saying something "gets my gall", as you said about checkposts, is incorrect usage of the term) was that I had gone out of my way to stay true to your meaning and awkward style. I could have cherry picked the quotes but decided to be fair and translate the entire piece and it took me a bloody long time. Neki kar, dariya mein daal.

So I'd like to throw you a challenge. Point out, or get anyone to point out, where in my English translation I deviated from the original sense and style of your Urdu piece and I will willingly tender you an apology.

You also went on to say in your radio interview that 1) you could never think of dissing Angelina Jolie and that you actually quite like her as an actress (Mr and Mrs Smith being your idea of 'good acting') and 2) that you were in fact praising her for being brave enough to tell off the Pakistan government for its obsession with protocol etc during the humanitarian disaster of the floods.

Since Wes either had no clue or was too polite to say anything about those two statements, let me remind you with respect to 1) what you actually wrote about what you thought of her acting:

"This 36-year-old woman has suffered all those misfortunes about which her fans (I am not one of them) are all praise [sic]… Because her looks were average, she couldn’t make much of a mark in acting."

With respect to 2), it boggles the mind that you continue to spread this canard when the UN itself has subsequently denied anything of the sort - as originally only reported by The Khaleej Times - ever happened. Here's Newsweek Pakistan from its November 1 issue:

"Claims that Jolie, who came to Pakistan in September on a two-day tour of flood-hit areas as UNHCR's goodwill ambassador, had complained to the U.N. agency about Gilani are "baseless and inaccurate," UNHCR spokesperson Arianne Rummery told Newsweek Pakistan. Jolie has not filed any report on Pakistan yet, she added."

For those who think - as some did last time - this has anything to do with 'defending' Jolie, it doesn't. I'm just sick and tired of people (particularly journos) twisting facts to bolster their ideological arguments. And I'm especially irritated by Janus-faced hypocrites, you know, the sort that Tut-Tut decries on his programmes and in his writings all the time.

Oh, and Talat, that on-air rant about the "dark side of the blogosphere", where people come at "conservative journalists" like you like "snipers", and the need to "control and moderate... some of the stuff being written about our anchors" (" I won't say censorship but...")... Pure genius.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Video of the Day

Sometimes we like to share things that are actually brilliant...

From the BBC's documentary series "The Joy of Stats", featuring Professor Hans Rosling, described as a "superstar boffin" whose "eye-opening, mind-expanding and funny online lectures have made him an international internet legend." This is what the description of this particular clip says:

"Hans Rosling's famous lectures combine enormous quantities of public data with a sport's commentator's style to reveal the story of the world's past, present and future development. Now he explores stats in a way he has never done before - using augmented reality animation. In this spectacular section of 'The Joy of Stats' he tells the story of the world in 200 countries over 200 years using 120,000 numbers - in just four minutes. Plotting life expectancy against income for every country since 1810, Hans shows how the world we live in is radically different from the world most of us imagine."


Friday, December 3, 2010

Have Cake, Will Eat Too

Much can be said - and is being said - about the latest Wikileaks saga. Around the world, the two biggest issues being grappled with are the future of diplomacy - would interlocutors be open and frank with each other if they fear that what they say in private is going to find its way to the web - and the repercussions on sensitive regions such as the Middle East of some of the explosive confirmations of what people sort of suspected anyway about their leaders and American designs on the world.

Unfortunately, most of what is being said in Pakistan is terribly uninformed, and swings from one extreme of 'it's all a big CIA conspiracy to undermine the Muslim world' on the one hand to 'how can you argue with this gospel truth?' on the the other. The former position does not understand the phenomenon of Wikileaks in the first place and conveniently ignores the fact that, so far, only some 500 of the more than 250,000 confidential cables have been released in the media. The second also conveniently ignores the valid questions regarding Wikileaks' allegedly super-secret structure, how Wikileaks receives information in the first place and the potential for it to be 'played.'

With respect to the first position, the proponents of the "It's all a conspiracy" theory, fed on the idea of homogeneity in the West, are unwilling to believe that there can be ideologically motivated and principled anarchists within the Western world seeking to undermine what they see as repressive state control of information, and simply do not understand how new technological tools can be used to circumvent control. If you are interested, you can read Wikileaks' front-man Julian Assange's treatise on "destroying the invisible government" from 2006, long before Wikileaks became a household word. The conspiracy-minded also ignore the substantive point that none of the principals writing the cables or quoted in them have denied the content of the cables so far (except for Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who admitted meeting US Ambassador Anne Patterson and hosting a dinner for her but denied asking the US to support him for a prime ministerial slot as she claimed in the cable). And, as I pointed out earlier, the bulk of the cables are still yet to come. The decision to stagger the release of the information this time - unlike in July when the 92,000 plus Afghan War Logs were released in one go - is a decision taken by the mainstream media as well, such as the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais. 'Cablegate' will go on for months and will feature far more than the Muslim world.

With respect to the second position, I will refer you to my post in July about the last Wikileaks information dump and my ambivalence about it. Here is what I wrote at that time about Wikileaks itself:

"The second thing that makes me uneasy is WikiLeaks itself. I know this will probably sound terribly conspiratorial, but I cannot say with 100 percent surety that it is not all part of some grand psy-ops strategy: you know, build up an institution with calculated cred boosters (e.g. the leaked Iraq helicopter footage) and then use it to release info you want to release. It's not like it has never been done before, although of course never on a global level. Okay, I know I'm probably sounding like a nutter now but bear with me. Yes, I've read the wonderful profile of maverick Julian Assange (the driving force behind WikiLeaks) in The New Yorker, but I never quite understood the over-dramatized cloak and dagger stuff. Are we really being asked to believe that a man as publicly recognizable as Assange, who jets from continent to continent, can escape being tracked by international security agencies? Or that WikiLeaks, which claims to run entirely on donations (including credit card donations), does not have a single bank account or money transfer that is trace-able? Really?
Ok, forget my questions about WikiLeaks. Is it really beyond the realm of possibility for WikiLeaks and Assange, no matter how pure of heart they are, to be used by psy-op warriors wanting to put certain things out in the public realm? Are we really being asked to believe that 92,000 plus secret documents can be easily smuggled out of the Pentagon (on a Lady GaGa CD, no less, if some reports are to be believed) without anyone having any inkling? Anything is possible I guess but the probability on the other hand is a different matter.
Forgive me for being a doubting Thomas and slightly cynical. But these are the reasons I would not take the leaks at face value even as I accept the mining of the data for useful information. I hope my doubts about WikiLeaks are misplaced though."

Basically, my point is that either completely dismissing the contents of the leaked information as fake or having blind trust that nobody is feeding them to Wikileaks for their own purposes are both logically untenable positions.

But then we have Mr Kamran Khan on his Geo programme, Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Saath, deciding to embrace both positions. His programme tonight (December 2) was a marvel of double-speak and chutzpah. But before I come to tonight's programme, let me also run you through the recent history of this programme since the current Wikileaks saga broke, which I have been following and been amazed by every day.

Monday, November 29: On the day when 'Cablegate' was the top story in the entire world, the first cables having been released late the night before (according to Pakistan Time), guess how much coverage was given to them in Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Saath. None. Zero. Zilch. Cipher. Instead, Kamran Khan devoted the entire programme to an extended promotional interview of Malik Riaz, the controversial billionaire owner of Bahria Town construction, said also to have recently invested heavily in ARY. The only explanation I could come up with for this remarkable detour was that either Khan now had a home in Bahria Town or that Riaz has now invested in Geo as well.

Tuesday, November 30: Kamran Khan grudgingly does a segment on the Wikileaks expose, mainly focusing on those related to Saudi King Abdullah's perceptions of President Asif Zardari but seems still to be unsure about the news-worthiness of the story. Seems inclined to believe it's not really credible information until Professor Hasan Abbas from Washington tells him nobody's really questioning the authenticity of the cables. Manages to use the New York Times misquote about Abdullah calling Zardari "an obstacle to Pakistan's progress" and adding in "because he is not sincere to the country" of his own accord.

Wednesday, December 1: Finally realizing that 'Cablegate' is worth more than just a segment, leads his programme with the statement that the cables have caused a storm ("bhonchal") in the politics of the country. Continues to use the misquoted story and focuses almost entirely on cables related to Zardari. No mention of cables implicating General Kayani in domestic politics or ISI chief General Pasha in talks with Israel or of the alleged involvement of Arab countries in Pakistan's affairs or their instigations to the US to attack Iran, which would obviously have serious implications for Pakistan. No mention also of cables giving the lie to Nawaz Sharif's claims about his interactions with the Saudis.

Which brings us to Thursday, December 2: In an amazing display of whatever you want to call it, the first part of Kamran Khan's show was devoted to decrying the manipulation behind the leaked cables and casting doubt on their credibility. Why? Well, because they had 'tried to besmirch the good name and reputation of the Pakistan army and its well-respected leader General Kayani.' Incidentally, according to Kamran Khan, the army is "a totally uncontroversial institution." He concluded that there is a sinister game afoot to undermine Pakistan's interests through the 'selective' release of these cables. He then proceeded to 'contextualize' General Kayani's positions through "new information received", that shows how "brave" and upright the general is, which incidentally is the same 'information' presented by Syed Talat Hussain in Dawn today. (Hmmm, I wonder where both could possibly have received the information from...)

The second part of the show, on the other hand, was devoted to praising the credibility of and insight given by the leaked cables which have "documented everything" and "not one single word of which has been denied by anyone or cast into doubt." Why? Well, because they showed what a scumbag and how beholden to US interests President Zardari was. "What are the poor, powerless 170 million people of this nation to do?" cries Kamran Khan.

If that's not called having your cake and eating it too, I don't know what is.

You can watch the relevant portions of the programme below:

Having His Cake:

And Eating It:

What are the poor, powerless 170 million people of this nation to do, indeed.