The hypocritical media

Published: September 21, 2010
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The writer is a freelance print and broadcast journalist
george.fulton@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a freelance print and broadcast journalist [email protected]

The media, more than most professions, draws charlatans to its ranks. It has always attracted enough bad apples to make industrial quantities of cider, and perhaps no more so than its proprietors. Britain’s press barons have notoriously been a rogues gallery of scoundrels. The 1930s had the Nazi-supporting Lord Rothermere owner of the Daily Mail. The 1980s saw the swindler Robert Maxwell control the Mirror Group of newspapers.

Despite this, the worst excesses of Britain’s fourth estate have been kept in check. Partially thanks to the relative independence of media organisations such as the state-owned BBC and The Guardian, but also due to the satire boom of the 60s. It was this decade in which Private Eye, Britain’s leading satirical magazine, emerged. In the intervening years the Eye has become an important safeguard against media arrogance. It’s long running Streets of Shame column often reports the hypocrisies and downright lies of the press ahead of its rival news organisation. Private Eye went after the notoriously litigious Robert Maxwell, exposing his fraudulent business practices, long before the mainstream media dared to join the fray. After losing one libel case to Maxwell, Ian Hislop, Private Eye’s editor, famously stood by the court steps and declared: “I have just written out a very fat cheque to a very fat Czech” (Maxwell was of Czechoslovakian origin). Maxwell promptly sued Hislop again for defamation.

Satirists such as Hislop have, over the years, brought greater transparency to the British media. In turn giving licence to the mainstream press to critique rival organisations. Sadly, in Pakistan, our media proprietors still operate under an antiquated Gentleman’s agreement: we won’t criticise your group’s failings, as long as you don’t mention ours.

On more than one occasion I have experienced this pernicious censorship. When I was producing and writing the news satirical quiz show “News, Views, and Confused” Aaj TV gave me free reign to satirise the entire political establishment. However, they weren’t so keen on us mocking fellow media groups. One joke, that was censored, still rankles. A Jang journalist had given an unconditional apology to the Supreme Court after a story printed under his byline turned out to be incorrect. The joke went: ‘The English translation of ‘jang’ is war. And as the saying goes: Truth is always the first casualty of war.’ The joke was cut.

More recently I singled out in a column a particular news network (Geo News) for its sensational and dehumanising coverage of the Airblue crash. The column never ran. This self-censoring is dangerous for democracy when you consider the power of news organisations. This media group has become Pakistan’s unofficial opposition, often wielding more clout than the government of the day, with its main channel setting the news agenda. Yet, we in the mainstream media only criticise and scrutinise the political class. When it comes to shining a light on our media barons and their henchmen we are mute.

It has been left to the internet and blogosphere to fill the void. Of late, blogs such as Cafe Pyala have become essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the inner workings, foibles and the consummate superciliousness of our media class. They are bringing much needed scrutiny to an insufficiently scrutinised profession. Of course, if the media covered other media by itself, there would perhaps be no need for anonymous blogs — which are free from oversight and in many ways a poor substitute for authentic journalism.

In a country where the director of news at one of the most influential Urdu news channels (Geo), the editor of a major English newspaper (Dawn), and the spokesman for the army are all related to each other, examination of the media is absolutely vital. An essential and healthy check on unfettered power. So the next time the media collectively screams ‘What about freedom of media?’ after some government clampdown we should all raise a sceptical eyebrow at their hypocrisy. It seems the Pakistan media like a free media except when it comes to commenting on itself.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2010.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 22, 2010

Due to a proofreading oversight, an earlier version of the article had misspelt organisation. The error has been corrected.

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Reader Comments (68)

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 12:05AM

    some long overdue insight! thank you! The incestuous nature of the individuals who run media groups with the various pockets in the national elite, points to how easily they can alter the national narrative. They can pull emotional strings to elicit responses they deem worthy of their own interests. For an entity that demands complete freedom as the bastion of accountability and freedom of expression (the media) one has to question who is it accountable to? Is it the advertisers? Hardly so. Is it the cable operators? Or their viewers? They can hardly claim to be the viewers as it is their strings they are pulling. Its become increasingly predictable that when anyone raises any issue remotely critical to the media, rather than debating the issue head on, media organizations hide behind calls of their freedom of expression. However, denying individuals their rights of freedom of expression while demanding your own is highly hypocritical. Recommend

  • AA
    Sep 22, 2010 - 12:49AM

    George,

    You have hit the nail — on the nose! And, it is going to hurt. Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 1:59AM

    Couldn’t agree with you more. George you have once again come up with a brilliant piece pointing out an issue that has long been neglected (or censored as you say)..
    Its great that Express Tribune actually ran this story.Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 2:06AM

    Well Said George. Some important revealations. Recommend

  • maheen usmani
    Sep 22, 2010 - 2:14AM

    Kudos to you, George, for having the guts to say the unvarnished truth about our media. And, bravo, Express Tribune, for not censoring this article. Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 2:32AM

    Excellent critique, George. I had an opportunity to meet the CEO of Geo TV recentlywhile he was finishing his graduate degree at Harvard and questioned the self-congratulatory nature of Geo coverage. During the Lal masjid crisis Geo appointed itself as the mediator of the dispute and greatly complicated the situation. And then we have the unresolved case of Hamid Mir’s alleged phone recording? What happened to that news story? Self-censorship perhaps?Recommend

  • faraz
    Sep 22, 2010 - 5:47AM

    Their fourth brother is also in the media; he is deputy director ARY and sectory general PFUJ.Recommend

  • furqan ahmed
    Sep 22, 2010 - 8:42AM

    George,summon the courage to expose the news channels’ overwhelming bias in favor of mqm,the media ignores all the death squads,extortion slips,target killings.When a target killer of pakistani cops was caught who was a mqm member & had carried out the killings on their command,the dozen or so news channels never mentioned MQM.

    Even Dawn,supposedly the best paper only had the courage to say that a coalition partner’s target killer was caught.

    The death of any mqm member is given wall to wall & sympathetic coverage whereas the killings of all others is met with a muted response.The overwhelming news channels are based in karachi & overwhelmingly staffed with a particular ethnic group who do everything they can to slant the media coverage in favor of their favorite party.Recommend

  • faizy
    Sep 22, 2010 - 9:37AM

    despite the writers concern , I strongly belief that our media is vaulting forward in the right direction. the media itself has the unique quality to expose biases and anchor’s penchant for political parties.

    the coverage of flood victims to the exposure of the glaring and repellent appointment of adnan khwaja , media has played its all important role.

    as far as your statement regarding the intertwining relations of media ownership is concerned, it has definitely risen my eyebrows as a common reader i am not privy to such Intel.
    Recommend

  • Jamal Yousuf
    Sep 22, 2010 - 10:16AM

    George I say you are spot on. Also, media should be criticized (as is done here http://www.tbl.com.pk/clashing-views-on-media-ethics-in-pakistan/) for their failure to check private businesses; when it comes to malpractices of the private sector, most media groups turn a blind eye…..its such a shameRecommend

  • Ishaq
    Sep 22, 2010 - 10:28AM

    At least Express Tribune has given you the freedom to name out the newspapers
    and news channels. As Humans every one should be accountable to someone but
    in Pakistan if someone has become popular and powerful then they think themselves
    as the untouchables, so same is the case with media. Some media groups have
    a strong influence on judiciary because they have supported them in (so called)
    lawyers movement.
    In Short Most of the Pakistani media is going to the negative side day by day and
    one day their credibility will become same as the Pakistani Politicians.Recommend

  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Sep 22, 2010 - 10:37AM

    Well done George Fulton. You are correct right down to earth. You have not mentioned those who have given stay orders to some leading media houses who are reluctant to pay tax in billions and that also on flimsy excuses. The media houses which you mentioned in your column also have some planted persons who receive stuffed envelopes from those whose cause they are tabling for obvious reasons. Yellow journalism or gutter press must stop immediately because at present we are going through very dangerous period in the 63 years of history. We do need free press but not gutter press or those persons in the media who are only serving the interest of those who have nothing to lose It is time to be objective and not subjective. The interest of country must be their priority not the barons of the media houses.Recommend

  • Jumma Gul khan
    Sep 22, 2010 - 10:40AM

    Excellent expose!Recommend

  • Jawad Khan Niazi
    Sep 22, 2010 - 11:07AM

    Great job George, I’m happy to know that there is at least fringe group willing to expose the irresponsible behavior of Pakistani media on mainstream forums.Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Sep 22, 2010 - 11:22AM

    George
    Your popularity graph is definately on the up in Pakistani people but this may mean the end of a career in pakistani journalism, we shall remember your contribution.

    Can someone write on the role of Pakistani spooks (agencies) and media nexus, with special emphasis on how they control the narrative and direction in Urdu media.

    Thanks George, we shall miss you.Recommend

  • Zubair Hameed
    Sep 22, 2010 - 11:30AM

    Azhar Abbas (Editor Dawn news channel) Zafar Abbas, (Editor Daily Daw).Mazhar Abbas, (Editor ARY) Athar Abbas, (DG ISPR) are brothers, ;) Recommend

  • Dr. Altaf ul Hassan
    Sep 22, 2010 - 11:46AM

    George, I like your straight forward approach. Please carry on.Recommend

  • parvez
    Sep 22, 2010 - 12:38PM

    Someone has to bell the cat. A much needed hard hitting article.
    Why should the media be any different from main stream Pakistani ethos ? They are from the same gene pool. Recommend

  • Nasira Parveen
    Sep 22, 2010 - 1:05PM

    Mr Fulton! If you want to see not only “The hypocritical media” but also some “criminal media persons” then, please, visit this: http://nblo.gs/86Cwu Recommend

  • Mango Juice
    Sep 22, 2010 - 1:16PM

    Stop blaming the media for everything. They are just selling channels or paper. The crux of it all is that the common man out there is stupid enough to fall for the cheap tricks the media comes up with, just like they’re stupid enough to vote in PPP and PML or XYZ party! BLOGS and such are all AS BIASED AS MAINSTREAM MEDIA! Off course I agree that these media groups who are corrupt should be reprimanded for their unethical practices but when will our people gain the knowledge and insight to not take them seriously!?!?!?!?Recommend

  • Madeeha Ansari
    Sep 22, 2010 - 1:28PM

    It would be interesting to see how libel laws would be applied in this country.Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 1:54PM

    Its very unfortunate but its True!

    Thanks for enlightening our minds on this, George!

    I wish media realize this soon and accordingly rectify it for to gain more popularity amongst the decent audience…Recommend

  • Waqas
    Sep 22, 2010 - 2:38PM

    Good article!!

    In my view, the lack of regulation on cross-media ownership is the root of the problem in addition to seriously outdated libel/defamation laws.
    Free media is the center-piece of developed democracies the world over. However, in the pursuance of the ratings and advertising bucks, journalistic standards/morals are cast to the bin. The (lack of) journalist oversight from within their own ranks to ensure impartiality, objectivity and uncovering of the truth is always sacrificed in favor of sensationalism.
    Many people, including myself have stopped watching news channels altogether due to the above reasons. The fear is that unless it is checked (preferably by mature and professional journalists) these media freedoms will be rolled back and many people (including myself) would support it. And if it comes to pass, media will be themselves to blame.Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 2:39PM

    George, it is an excellent article. Basic common sense and logic has been applied to your writings.
    As far as we are concerned, people of Pakistan have to stop being gullible, always accepting whatever negative is written or said against political forces and government. Recommend

  • Yasir Qadeer
    Sep 22, 2010 - 2:46PM

    If the media in Pakistan is not open to criticism, I fear room for improvement decreases considerable. With self-accountability it is also necessary to get a wider opinion from all sects of life.Recommend

  • rahim
    Sep 22, 2010 - 2:54PM

    nice..especially after the last oneRecommend

  • Rizwan
    Sep 22, 2010 - 2:56PM

    Wow!!! Finally, somebody had the guts to get up and say this!!! Well done, George!Recommend

  • hmz
    Sep 22, 2010 - 3:25PM

    Not necessarily all related people agree to what is to be propagated.Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 3:50PM

    Good to read this that media, who never likes to be monitored by the government and criticizes it like anything actually censors the news against itself. Pathetic.Recommend

  • Ammar
    Sep 22, 2010 - 3:53PM

    George!

    ‘Excellent’ is the only word I can manage. Keep it coming.Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Sep 22, 2010 - 3:58PM

    Finally, some comments on the mafia journalism .. The media should start self examination and pruning its long overdue Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 4:10PM

    George You know you didn’t have to start with the British Media bit just to evade the conservative eyes.

    Anyways.. Good stuff. Today, media has major role in influencing the masses. Big examples would be Lal Masjid and war on terror ( the way opinions from one end to another end changed in this case). What media doesnt realize that its their job to provide information as it is, not to give it its own color. It is so hard to distinguish between anchors and hosts now, reporters and analyst etc. All are doing the same thing.. that is making news a soap opera. Recommend

  • Tariq Khan
    Sep 22, 2010 - 4:12PM

    Good one George! Would love to read your scrapped article on GEO’s coverage of the aircrash as well.Recommend

  • Shehrbano Taseer
    Sep 22, 2010 - 4:35PM

    It is terrible to see what our “free” media has devolved into.
    For every Geo, there exists the alternative media of Cafe Pyala. But for every Cafe Pyala, there is a Pakistan ka Khuda HafizRecommend

  • Sufi Shams
    Sep 22, 2010 - 5:03PM

    By the way, the son is getting ready as well. The son of the soldier in the famous media family is getting ready to join the ranks once he graduates with a degree in journalism. He publishes often in Daily Times. Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 5:16PM

    Great exposure job :) but i guess its a part of Pakistani journalism and media? isnt it? At times its cute to see editors of two rival newspapers and channels linked with each other……but you didnt mention about the unethical practices adopted by media……..need a regulatory authority…..but then who is going to watch the watchdog? Again a mafia of media……..Recommend

  • Majority
    Sep 22, 2010 - 5:17PM

    Geo has become fox news of Pakistan. Their viewers are similar to tea party movement, always angry with govt, and they have no real solutions themselves.Recommend

  • Talha
    Sep 22, 2010 - 5:23PM

    Its takes a third man to point out the shortcomings of a nation and George is the man.

    I commend your excellent write up.Recommend

  • Ashraf
    Sep 22, 2010 - 7:17PM

    Thanks George speaking so truthfully and unbiased commenting on all the media in UK and Pakistan.
    We need the facts and fictions separated
    There are times when Pakistani media has gone a little too far and everyone feels that there is a limit to be partialRecommend

  • Qman
    Sep 22, 2010 - 7:58PM

    Long Over due comments on medias unchecked behaviour. Still dont understand why writer didnt write the names of this ‘axis of media’ (relatives from Geo, Dawn and Abbas Athar). I hope it was censored by Express Tribune, was it?Recommend

  • Farhan
    Sep 22, 2010 - 8:28PM

    First, the article has underlined an important point to ponder on. Secondly, i think the question is important to ask the nexus of feudals, military, media and judiciary should be dicussed at length. Third, the abbas brothers in media are noted names, but it is unfair to pull their legs if their brother is the present DG ISPR. Recommend

  • Concerned Omega
    Sep 22, 2010 - 9:23PM

    The only thing that the supposedly free media can do is publicize new hatched out conspiracy theories without even digging to find the truth. Example when Pakistan’s cricket team was accused it was only after thorough investigation and confirmation but the pakistani media just aired Ijaz butts statement that its a conspiracy against pakistani players without even asking him further to weigh his evidence that is if he had any.
    Bottom line there is no free media in Pakistan, as long as fear and poverty strikes in the people of the land of pure there never will be.

    Surprisingly all elections and popularity is won by inducing fear into the common man. Fancy that
    India is going to attack, Terrorists are going to takeover, there are foreign agendas trying to disrupt the system, etc
    Question for you Who would benefit from destabilizing or destroying an already lost nation ?? Recommend

  • Sep 22, 2010 - 9:38PM

    As much as i agree with George, i would love to see if he can point the associations of its current employer (Express) to current governement as well. Similarly , someone already pointed out that nobody dares to challange any media group of of baised coverage upon MQM (why all the negatives are ignored and why the hell “bhai’s'” statement for any abc issue is published on front pages). Similarly there are many papers/channels who has associations with a particular party (like Nawa-eye-Waqt with N League).
    Every sensiable reader knows about this and he knows how to cherry pick the right news of it unless you also like the baised news/information.Recommend

  • Copper
    Sep 22, 2010 - 9:59PM

    Brave exposure!!Recommend

  • Sabita
    Sep 22, 2010 - 10:20PM

    truth is the first casualty of war…mwahahahahahahaRecommend

  • abu suleman
    Sep 22, 2010 - 11:37PM

    the reality is “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.” like wise its also true that “no media is a free media”,,,Recommend

  • abu suleman
    Sep 22, 2010 - 11:39PM

    “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values” (Marshall McLuhan,,,Canadian communications theorist Educator, Writer and Social Reformer, 1911-1980)Recommend

  • Abul Fazal Mahmud
    Sep 23, 2010 - 1:11AM

    How long shall we forced to live with this media duplicity? It is generally known why GEO and its tool mediamen are hell bent on toppling the Government at the Centre. It is not that they are crusadinbg against an errant or oppressive regime. The present one is as good or as bad as any in the past and there is no even maginally better alternative visible. GEO owes an astronomical sum of money to the exchequer and is trying to shake them off by smear campaigns. It had a quarrel with the Nawaz Sharif government on identical grounds and eventually NAWAZ SHARIF HAD TO TURN TAIL because the media and so-called intellectuals ganged up against him although that government’s ineptness too had something to do with its debacle. But for how long will this gang of anchors be able to keep up this blackmail business? Is there nothing that can be done?Recommend

  • Jawad Rana
    Sep 23, 2010 - 1:28AM

    Spot on! Media in Pakistan (especially the TV/Satellite ilk) are the major culprits responsible for the sad state of affairs where we have become a nation of conspiracy theorists. The father of all conspiracy theorists who is now the President of ARY, wrote an article in Jang a day after the Lal Masjid operation, in which he spoke of the young fairies that he saw in his dream from Jannat, who were formerly inside the Lal Masjid. He used to talk to them on the phoen and who perished – with no mention of the extremism they were surrounded with, the violent means adopted by their mentors, and the sacrifice of the brave commandos. You could clearly see that where their sympathies are. And then there are Amir Liaquats, Hamid Mirs, and Zaid Hamids of the world who get not only free airtime to preach their hate agendas, they have developed cult followings by spinning conspiracies, hate speach, bigotry, and outright narrow-mindedness. Recommend

  • Sep 23, 2010 - 9:50AM

    Do you know who is the “Editor” of daily Dawn? Recommend

  • Sadia Hussain
    Sep 23, 2010 - 1:11PM

    The practice of self-censorship needs to end as the media groups must get out of the comfort zones and have the guts to speak out the truth. This self-regulation compromises over the principles of free speech.Recommend

  • Danish
    Sep 23, 2010 - 1:24PM

    Another recent example of manipulation by the media was the telethon by the Pervez Musharraf Foundation on Dunya TV. Just because it was done by a competitor TV channel, other channels / newspapers either completely ignored it or gave incomplete coverage. (Just because Geo was running a fund raiser with Imran Khan and MKRF) They just reported a single incident where a caller used inappropriate, rude language for Gen. Musharraf and did not mention the positive aspect of the amount of donation collected in just 3 hours! This negative coverage was given front page coverage on both newspapers owned by the Jang group. Recommend

  • alee kapri
    Sep 23, 2010 - 1:59PM

    thank God there are the people like you who at least are acrobate and thinking on this face of media aswell. sialkot barbarian incident is also an example that how media is getting selfish and hypocrate. thank you for daring.Recommend

  • Tyrone Tellis
    Sep 23, 2010 - 5:21PM

    Well written by one who has worked at Geo and Aaj for quite a few years!

    Sadly the main gripe we have with the media is that they don’t cover our views enough, you made no mention of self-censorship when it comes to attacks on minorities etc or irresponsible reporting and general lack of human values across the board when disaster strikes!

    Our average media is a mix between Fox and Star Plus a marriage rather!

    By the way sometimes I feel we underestimate the threshold of the average Pakistani for what we more ‘cultured, sensitive’ minds abhor!

    Tyrone Recommend

  • Disappointed soul
    Sep 23, 2010 - 5:28PM

    Even this newspaper is hesitant to publish truth… what a pity. I wonder how George managed to publish this stuff…Recommend

  • Sep 23, 2010 - 10:30PM

    george:

    It seems the Pakistan media like a free media except when it comes to commenting on itself.

    that is part of what ails the media…there is a lot more to it though

    the media treads lightly on those whom they fear, on those whom they favour and on those whom they befriend

    digression: show me critical pieces on their sponsors ( take your pick of the network or paper)Recommend

  • Shobby
    Sep 23, 2010 - 11:00PM

    i think its pathetic of Express tribune to publish such a column, targeting its arch-rivals. you dont need to stoop to such level by publishing articles which criticize other channels and newspapers.Recommend

  • Shoaib Mir
    Sep 23, 2010 - 11:04PM

    Very insightful analysis.
    However, in “Britain’s press barons have notoriously been a rouges gallery of scoundrels, ” it should be rogues’ gallery.Recommend

  • Salman
    Sep 24, 2010 - 9:18AM

    One word says it all “Awesome”Recommend

  • SA
    Sep 24, 2010 - 9:33AM

    I admire your outspokenness! Recommend

  • Mansoor Khalid
    Sep 24, 2010 - 11:26AM

    Just like democracy, Pakistani media has made progress in leaps and bounds. As we move toward a more democratic culture, it is important to focus on how we can make media serve the needs of a larger community. This can be only achieved if we work on a media that is firm, independent but more responsible.Recommend

  • ADE
    Sep 24, 2010 - 12:15PM

    Wow! Thanks George for this superb piece! Next time could you please elaborate piece critical of British media? Especially how they defamed the cricket team…Recommend

  • Farukh Sarwar
    Sep 24, 2010 - 1:48PM

    This article is pretty informative; however, media has remained a vital force of change in our setting, but of course mistakes are committed by everyone. Self censorship is dangerous for democracy, it’s very true.Recommend

  • Muhammad Pervez
    Sep 24, 2010 - 6:11PM

    Abbas Brothers was good and useful information. However, assuming any nexus purely due to kinship for any one specific agenda is not justified. George and others adding to it have done well as significant contribution of media. It is also a role of responsible media to not support jumping to conclusions.Recommend

  • Qaumkibeti
    Sep 24, 2010 - 9:42PM

    George you may be right about the insensitive cold-blooded nature of most of our news channels. In my opinion, it is still amateur to cope up with handling with the news swindle, nevertheless based upon facts. It could be better if on occasions instead of asking the relatives of the dead ones as to how they feel over the grieving stances, our channels focus upon the actual news and not on the pompous exposure. Recommend

  • Fareed
    Sep 25, 2010 - 12:23AM

    Excellent George,there are only a handfull of Pakistanis who underscore the fact that our media is fully controlled by the Army but you have become.Great.Hats off.Recommend

  • Rizwan
    Sep 25, 2010 - 12:58AM

    I am disappointed by your reference to the Abbas brothers. Mazhar, Azhar and Zaffar were well established in the field of media before Maj Gen Azhar was appointed as DG ispr. This reference has led to misleading comments that even include “media is controlled by the army”.

    Your reference to these brothers carries personal undertones.

    In an otherwise excellent article, this aspect is disappointing to say the least!

    @ Fareed, reconsider please!Recommend

  • Fatima
    Sep 29, 2010 - 9:54AM

    It is sad that no one reports the good side of Pakistan. Reporters dive into sensationalism and black propaganda to make a quick buck. There should be responsibility and balance.Recommend

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