Who will hold Pakistani mainstream media accountable

Mainstream media (MSM), in any country, plays a pivotal role in not only educating the public with facts and in-depth stories, but also in forming a national narrative. Every country, whether the US, Russia or India, has its own national narrative which is based on its own realities. As is the case with people, the reality of one state may vastly differ from the reality of another state. A country’s media represents the interests of the state as well as the public opinion.

In US, the MSM is basically the establishment’s media. Outlets like the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc. are known for propagating the US establishment’s point of view. It would be fair to say that the MSM has played a major role in forming the public opinion and pushing US interests, whether you agree with their narrative and interests or not. With the emergence of President Donald Trump, who has a reputation for being anti-establishment, previously little known outlets like Breitbart and Daily Caller became the voice of the Trump White House. This partially happened because the grip of US establishment on US MSM is still quite strong.

Now enter Pakistan. Another country where the MSM is pushing the interests of an establishment.

But the question is, which establishment?

Pakistan’s establishment or a foreign establishment?

Unlike the MSM in US, the Pakistani establishment doesn’t spend a lot of money on MSM for narrative building, which is mostly due to lack of resources. Being one of the least funded militaries in the region, the Pakistani military is often subtly portrayed as the all-powerful villain in Pakistani MSM, a view adopted from foreign MSM.

But if Pakistani military was so powerful, wouldn’t it at least be able to guarantee positive coverage in the MSM?

While Pakistani establishment suffers from lack of resources, foreign establishments swoop in throwing large sums of money and lucrative packages at the Pakistani MSM. I have a famous saying, “if you won’t do it, the enemy will.” I have found this to be true so far.

Let’s take DawnLeaks, a story that attacked and maligned the Pakistani establishment, but was buried by the same Pakistani establishment for reasons. What reasons, one may ask?

For starters, the establishment knew where Panama Papers case was headed.

When Rana Sanullah recently said the JIT report was compiled in four years, and not six months, he actually had a vague point.

Do we really think Pakistani Intelligence Community (IC) didn’t know about anything before JIT started their own investigation? Of course not.

It is the job of the IC to know what the leaders are cooking in the PM house, or GHQ for that matter.

Do we really believe that ISI and MI don’t ‘keep track’ of their own chiefs? Because that’s standard procedure. Hence, it would be ignorant to think that Pakistani establishment didn’t know that Sharif had screwed up in the Panama Papers case and had no real evidence to get himself out of it.

And assuming that they did know this during the time of DawnLeaks case, it makes sense that they thought it would be wise to bury DawnLeaks because Sharif is going down and out in the Panama Papers case anyway. Had the establishment pursued DawnLeaks any further, it would have brought down the government since elements within the PM House were involved.

That is also what the Sharif family wanted.

Sharifs’ never expected to be buried under Panama Papers case.

Analyzing the DawnLeaks case today while going through the coverage of Pakistani MSM on Panama Papers-JIT report, things may start making more sense to an average Pakistani. As I have written before, DawnLeaks was a classic influence operation initiated with the help of elements within Pakistani government, which sought to establish the narrative of Indian + US establishments. For the establishment, demolishing the Nawaz government over DawnLeaks was appealing but not wise; it would have created an unnecessary political martyr who was already stuck in the Panama Papers case.

But just because the military decided to bury it and Maj. General Asif Ghafoor amusingly told us it is in “national interests”, does this mean everyone has forgotten it too? No, we haven’t. And we won’t.

DawnLeaks was not the only story of its kind. It was the most explosive and most harmful to Pakistan’s national interests, but there have been several other similar but less impactful stories and articles in Pakistani MSM that were meant to propagate the viewpoint of foreign establishments and harm Pakistan’s interests.

For instance, take this article in Express Tribune by Feisal Naqvi. The headline is “Kabhi Apni Shakal Dekhi Hai”, meaning “have you ever seen your face?”. The article discusses violence in Kashmir and peddles Indian narrative that points towards Pakistan’s flaws in retaliation against Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir.

This also happens to be the popular narrative among Pakistan’s liberals. And this is exactly how disinformation, influence operations and raw propaganda works. Enemy propaganda can never work without existing narratives and half-truths.

Why I say enemy propaganda?

Because this article has been doing the rounds in Indian Army.

Coming back to DawnLeaks, while the author of the Dawn story and the owners of Dawn media group claim to be anti-establishment liberals, one may ask are they just against Pakistani establishment or all establishments everywhere? Because it increasingly looks like they are *only* against Pakistani establishment, which should raise some eyebrows.

Here is Dawn CEO Hameed Haroon hanging out in India:

Will Indians welcome Mr. Haroon this way if, let’s say, he was anti-Indian establishment? I don’t think so.

Here is Mr. Haroon hanging out with US ambassador to Pakistan David Hale:

This meeting was held when Dawn Media Group was under pressure from Pakistani public over DawnLeaks. So, the CEO of Dawn, who portrays himself as a principled anti-establishment liberal, runs like a puppy dog to the Americans at the first sign of trouble with Pakistani public? What does that tell us?

Take this story by Dawn on Pakistan’s defence budget. The headline reads:

Seeking help from the American ambassador while publishing headlines like the one above. Are the readers thinking what I am thinking?

To be fair, Dawn and Express Tribune are not in this alone, which is why this article carries the term ‘mainstream media’. There’s a long list of TV channels, anchors and journalists who form their coverage and narrative as per the wishes of the highest bidder. Don’t forget the same MSM takes $50 billion annually from USG.

Here is almost-US President Hillary Clinton talking about USA’s information war:

Here is Pakistan correspondent of Reuters using Quora, a Q/A website, as a source:

Here are the lists of MSM outlets consisting of figures in Rupees on who made how much from federal advertisements:

While federal advertisements are a major source of profit for MSM and it comes handy when the government is in trouble, it is not the only means of profit for the MSM. In fact, it’s just a fraction of it.

Another example of MSM’s corruption is the latest The Friday Times editorial by one Najam Sethi, who accuses Pakistani “deep state” of plotting against Nawaz government. Yes, this is the same Najam Sethi who was given the top post at Pakistan Cricket Board by Nawaz government despite his complete lack of experience in the cricket field. Believe it or not, a job like that at PCB comes with more “lucrative packages” than a job at a MSM outlet like Geo News, which is why when the choice had to be made Mr. Sethi opted to stick with PCB instead of Geo even though his relationship with Geo/Jang group is still the same. All this obviously doesn’t account for his wife Jugnu Mohsin’s close relation with the Nawaz government but hopefully some ‘real’ journalist will do a story on that soon.

Another example of MSM’s utter moral bankruptcy and corruption bordering on treason is the case of Jang group journalist Ahmad Noorani and his recent #fakenews story to malign the ISI and provide cover for PM Nawaz and the government.

And no, apologizing doesn’t cut it. You’re a journalist, not a kindergarten kid who just smelled his finger after inserting it into his anus. Also, the story itself has still not been taken down. All this is not only in gross violation of Supreme Court of Pakistan and the right of free speech the MSM is afforded by the state (which, frankly, helps all of us) but also a direct attack on the public of Pakistan since it is the public that is the primary target and victim of these influence operations.

Pakistani MSM is corrupted, rogue and must be held accountable. It is time to bring MSM to the book. And only Supreme Court of Pakistan can do it. All eyes on the independent courts now.

Socialize:

Faran Jeffery

Faran Jeffery is a Pakistani researcher, analyst and expert on radicalization who comments on all-things security, terrorism & geopolitics, especially in South Asia region. Faran Jeffery holds M.A. in Military History from Norwich University, M.A. in International Relations from Karachi University and Bachelors in Israel Studies from American University.
Socialize:

Related Analysis