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.


Anonymous said...

Geo's sad attempt to reddem itself after Amir Liaqat and Hamid Mir have proven exactly what their "editorial line" is - is futile.
The channel's management has apparently realized that they have been "found out" - that their double agent role no longer works. They can't continue to tell the eager public that they are the harbingers of democracy while taking Voice of america kick backs from the "enemy".

Like every media group in this country -the only thing they stand for is avarice.

Magnum said...

"there may be a silver lining in all this"

Indeed. If Sethi is really joining Geo, then certainly this is the most wise decision Geo has made.

Things are changing, and it seems the hate-mongers days are now counted. (?)

The quicker our TV channels can rid themselves of hate spilling twits like Ansar Abbasi, Shahid Masood, Kashif Abassi, Amir liaqat, Shaheen Sabahi, Dr. Danish, the better.

And also, will someone PLEASE get rid of that bimbo, Mehr Bohari and that bozo M Peerzada??

temporal said...

the bottom line for any conglomerate is money

is this fine tuning or course correction necessitated by ulterior motives?

Anonymous said...

I also like Sethi's talk show mince his chotta (Munib Farooq) who often trivialise Sethi's strong arguements ... anyway I would like CPM to throw light on their remarks "whatever other reservations one may have about him or his past". Don't you think CPM sometimes you sound a conspiracy theorist as well by using words like 'mysterious' etc. The sense I got from your piece is as Sethi is a CIA agent ... I may be wrong

Anonymous said...

I think sethi should stay at Dunya TV. I hate that Jang mafia.

Anonymous said...

I think sethi should stay at Dunya TV. I hate that Jang mafia.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this post sounds like a conspiracy theory itself. And the author also notes that its a good thing that Lodhi is joining, its a good thing Abbas is writing openly against the establishment and its a good thing that Sehti is joining GEO...but wait...its all party of a conspiracy? why can't we leave good as is? before only the bad was explained by conspiracies...?

Anonymous said...

If you have been watching VOA on GEO, it actually has changed its time slot recently from 730 pm to 630pm (or 6pm?). So much for conspiracy of VOA or US govt dictating to GEO that they can't even have their show remain on prime time?
I think Sana Bucha show is on there instead- which is a drastic improvement Lakin not sure if her show will be as good as her campaign : )
Dont understand why VoA is aired in the first place as it does nothing to promote much of the USA policy. I never understood why PTV, Express and Aaj also aired it. I know Express still airs it on both its English+ Urdu channel, does anyone know if Aaj or PTV still do?

know it all said...

@ Anon above -- I didn't get the sense that a conspiracy theory is being promoted here. I think what CPM meant by "whatever other reservations one may have about him or his past" is that Sethi has been notoriously supportive of Mush and against the lawyers' movement and fairly non-objective on that until very recently. Having said that, I do agree with the fact that his show is now one of the most sensible and watchable. But somehow I still have trouble believing he is joining geo. I guess anything is possible but I have trouble seeing that...

Anonymous said...

I guess most of you on this forums are LIBERALS aka Roshan Khayals?

AI said...

thankfully we will now see and read less and less of that Ansar Abbasi and his hizb ut tahreer friends.

Anonymous said...

liberals are wussy wankers. we be libertines!

Ullta Seedha said...

Bikul anon @1.11. Aap bhi apni dimagh ki bati jala dein. This mental loadshedding is not very nice.

Ulta Seedha said...

Sorry, above post was for Anon @11:07. See, what mental load shedding does! :P

Anonymous said...

@ Know it all - opposing or being skeptic of the so-called lawyers movement doesn't make one's past objectionable. People can have difference of opinion and the situation emerged since CJ's restoration gives credence to the skeptics of lawyers' movement. Anyway I don't want to divert the debate here to lawyers movement or to their "chief saab". Not only Sethi many of the country's known liberals and pro-democracy campaigners including columnist Ayaz Amir had supported Musharraf initially labelling him as Mustafa Kamal Pasha aka Ataturk. Sethi is among those journalists who have been incarcerated by different regimes for their outspokenness on issues on which our military establishment is very sensitive in the name of "national interest". The only thing objectionable in Sethi's past in my view is his joining caretaker cabinet under the then president Leghari.

anon 10.24

Dr M. Khalid said...

I live in DC and can reliably explain why Najam Sethi and Mir Ibrahim were there around the same time. Sethi had a lecture at the Pentagon and Ibrahim was renegotiating Geo's contract with VOA. Sethi came to DC after lecturing at Brown University in Rhode Island and attending a NATO conference in Canada. Ibrahim has downgraded the VOA program on GEO. My understanding is that these two gents have been in negotiations for some time regarding Sethi's move from Dunya to GEO but neither was aware of the presence of the other until they met coincidentally at a small dinner before going to Ashley Bommer's place. I met and chatted with both of them separately at the Bommer dinner where Hussain Haqqani was also present. I hope that Sethi will bring his political neutrality to GEO and enrich the channel. If he doesn't, his credibility will fall. I am sure he knows this. As for GEO, it has by far the biggest footprint in Pakistan and it has not achieved this status by being anybody's puppet or deciding everything on the basis of monetary considerations. But I don't know anything about Athar Abbas and why he wrote that article. All I can say is that it made a lot of sense.

rishigajria said...

Since so many of your posts concern the media, why not add a byline to your Blog. Such as 'Cafe Pyala's Media Talk'. There used to be a weekly column here (US) in the alternative press newspaper called the Shepherd Express with that name written by a professor of journalism.

know it all said...

@ Anon 10.24--Sethi was not merely skeptical of the lawyers' movement but actively denigrating it every chance he got in both his shows and his editorials for DT then. As a result, many liberal democratic commentators did lose respect for him and several even commented on it. I remember even reading a review in Newsline on his son, Ali Sethi's novel, mention it among many other pieces. Nor do I agree with you that the situation since the CJ has given credence to the skeptics---it has done quite the opposite. The lawyers' movement led to the restoration of democracy and Mush's removal. It has also done much to strengthen the institution of the judiciary. There is still of course a lot that remains to be done and Asma's victory in that sense is another fantastic landmark because she is someone who both supported the movement and later critiqued the judiciary as not above criticism. Just because NS was persecuted by NS (ha---just realised they have the same initials) does not mean that he needs to lose objectivity and become so partisan as a journalist as he was in the case of the lawyers' movement. Supporting Mush initially and supporting him in 2007 are two very different things btw---I don't hold supporting Mush earlier against Ayaz Amir but I did find his support of the Taliban until just about the Swat operation (when he suddenly turned) rather disturbing.

@ Dr. M. Khalid--thx for that insight. However, I don't think Najam is politically neutral---nevertheless, I think it would be good for GEO even if he could bring his political leanings to GEO---it would certainly balance out the day in day out tirade against the government that GEO has become.

Anonymous said...

@ know it all - what has come out of the lawyers' movement? Iftikhar Chaudhry who is afraid of secularism, Khawaja Sharif who was more interested in appeasing house of sharifs than dispensing justice, Ramday who secured position as adhoc judge despite the fact that the same set of judges were opposed to such appointments and last but not the least Hamid Khan whose chamber is sort of a launching pad for career in higher judiciary. And don't forget the "post-revolution" unruly lawyers bridage. Ihtizaz and munir malik are inactive ... Kurd is saying "Vo intizaar thaa jis-kaa, ye vo sahar to nahiiN" so please don't make lawyers' movement a yardstick of democracy and liberalism. And we all know Asma's views about "post-revolution" judiciary.

And please don't discount Benazir Bhutto's role in pushing Musharraf out of power with her international wheeling dealing and then her assassination sealed Musharraf's fate.

Sorry but likes of Ansar Abbasi could be happy with emergence of a right-wing judiciary out of 'kalakot revolution' ... for me it's not that dawn

anon 10.24

know it all said...

@ Anon 10.24---are you seriously telling me that we would have been better off had the lawyers' movement not taken place? Are you saying that Iftikhar Chaudhry should have gone home when Mush and the other army high ups asked him to? Like that would really have brought Benazir or Nawaz or any inkling of democracy back to Pakistan. The fact that there are a number of right-wing judges in the judiciary is not the result of the lawyers' movement but a reflection of society at large--or at least a reflection of middle class urban society. Khwaja Sharif is no longer there. A good mechanism for the appointment of judges has been agreed upon going forward. To take the judiciary away from its right-wing leanings will be a slow process. Asma's victory over the Hamid Khan clan's shenanigans cannot be overlooked. Kurd may have made emotional statements but I doubt he regrets the movement. I doubt Asma or Aitzaz or Munir Malik do too. Sure, Benazir played a role in kicking Mush out---I don't want to deny that---I also respect her for her courage in holding public rallies after the attempt on her life. But her role only kicked in after the lawyers' movement created an environment whereby Mush was becoming increasingly intolerable domestically and hence forcing his int'l partners to look for alternatives. I think your knee-jerk reaction in rejecting anything that Ansar Abassi may support is not a yardstick I use in analysing the affairs of my country. I don't agree with Ansar Abassi often but I won't rubbish something that so many Pakistanis of all persuasions supported just because Ansar Abassi too may have supported it.

Anonymous said...

I luv the hypocrisy of these so called liberals, they are all for democracy and freedom of experssion/speech and but want to shut and throw out anyone with whom they don't agree
why all the bashing directed at hamid mir, ansar abbasi or aamir liaqat ?
you bigoted people think of yourself as liberals and educated moderates but are so full of hate that even a 'jahil' madrassa student is better than you

I wonder that with what face you ask tv channels to follow the left wing path or the right wing? shouldn't you be asking for honest and just reporting and analysis based on the facts available rather than asking them to shove the liberalism agenda in everything?

Mirza said...

Cafe Pyala -- now I can also conform -- you r the most disgusting chameleons in in the blogosphere of Pakistan.

Tilsim said...

Hmm, did anyone pick up what NS was saying at the end of this videoclip? He was saying that a friendly foreign government proposed and an MOU in cabinet was discussed that their Wahabi religious curriculum should become the compulsory curriculum of Pakistan! The ministry that would implement this proposal would be the ministry of religious affairs. It was crucial that the Taliban/friendly foreign govt supported JUI would have this post. Ever wondered why JUI with a tiny number of seats in parliament has such a huge influence on Pakistan's religious transformation? The power of Saudi on Pakistan, through the army and now through the erstwhile alliance of convenience of it's hand maiden JUI with the PPP is clear. I wonder how NS is going to sit in GEO and really is GEO tranforming? I find something is missing from this that will in due course become apparent as most things do.