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Media’s share in Pakistan’s up for grab power-matrix

Nothing jilts the Pakistani media houses more than the free-flying rocket known as social media. Just imagine the frustration of Pakistan's leading newspapers and news channels! Social media has robbed them of their monopoly on scandal, sleaze, and sizzling news.

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Pakistan has been set on fire by audio-visual leaks of sorts. While the politicians and the civil-military bureaucracy are at each other’s throats, there is a dark horse in this scramble for power which, as they say in the cricket terminology, is playing on both sides of the wicket. This often underestimated player in the game of thrones is none other than Pakistan’s print and electronic media. There is a third contender though – the so-called social media that is challenging the dominance of the traditional media conglomerates that have played the role of power manipulators since 1947.

Nothing jilts the Pakistani media houses more than the free-flying rocket known as social media. Just imagine the frustration of Pakistan’s leading newspapers and news channels! Social media has robbed them of their monopoly on scandal, sleaze, and sizzling news. A leading English-language newspaper, headquartered in Karachi, now publishes only 1500 copies from its Islamabad office.

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Understanding the matter better

The ranking of established TV news channels is going down because people like me can watch the speeches of the banned politicians on their androids. Besides political speeches, they can also watch, on YouTube, popular TV dramas, food recipes, Kay Parker’s “Taboo”, and excerpts from “The Perfumed Garden”. These masterpieces, to the utter frustration of the media sharks, cannot be shown on their TV channels or printed in their newspapers. So much for the very welcome advent of social media.

The first failed coup d’état in Pakistan was masterminded by the so-called Pakistan Times Gang. It included Faiz Ahmed Faiz, editor-in-chief of the Pakistan Times, and Sajjad Zaheer, another journalist who was on the editorial board of the Pakistan Times. Faiz and Zaheer were both avowed communists. Ostensibly, the Rawalpindi Conspiracy, as it was known, later on, was led by Major-General Akbar Khan, supported by a cabal of 15 disgruntled army officers. However, we know that Akbar Khan was used as a   cover by the Soviet-sponsored Communist Party of Pakistan – Faiz and Zaheer were the actual brains behind the conspiracy.

According to writer Hasan Zaheer, there were three main causes of the Rawalpindi conspiracy: 1) General discontent of Pakistani army officers with the performance of PM Liaquat Ali Khan’s government 2) The continuing presence of British officers in the Pakistan army, and 3) Discontent with the government’s handling of the first Kashmir war with. However, the reasons cited by Hasan Zaheer are also a cover, for the consumption of General Tariq and his army associates. The real purpose was to pave the way for the emergence of a pro-Soviet government in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Times Gang, though exposed in the wake of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, continued to play a dominant role throughout Ayub, Yahya, and Zulfiqar Bhutto’s rule. It played the shots under the umbrella of Ayub’s infamous National Press Trust which was retained by the Yahya and Bhutto governments till laid to rest somewhere in the early 1990s.

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Presently, Pakistan’s print and electronic media are held hostage to the whims and business interests of three leading media houses. Two of these media houses are owned by the Seth families who have their fingers in different industries and trade concerns also. The Haroons, owning the Dawn group, trace back their ancestry to the time when Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman was on the payroll of Haroon’s insurance company. The Lakhani, owning the Express Newsgroup, also run many commercial enterprises. The Jang-Geo group is a power broker in its own right. It runs its dedicated intelligence unit. Then there is a new entrant-the Sama news network, owned by the famous wheeler and dealer Aleem Khan.

How do we describe the role of all these media houses and their respective media persons in the power play? A search carried out by me revealed that most of the leading journalists and TV anchors on the payroll of different media houses do not possess adequate educational qualifications and professional expertise to comment on national and International affairs. The majority of them are just graduates or degree holders from relatively unknown foreign universities. The same is true with Pakistani civil and military bureaucrats. Whereas you will find a large number of books written by the Indian generals, civil bureaucrats, and journalists on Indo-Pakistan wars and national and International issues, tell me the number of Pakistani authors. It is because, as some people say jokingly, the Pakistani intelligentsia is dumb due to the overconsumption of meat, particularly beef.

Coming back specifically to the Pakistani media persons; have you read any worthwhile research paper or meaningful analysis by anyone of them? All you come across is Tik Tok type Tweets and discussions on the TV channels. I have my doubt that the op-eds attributed to some Pakistani anchors, appearing in the Washington Post and other leading International newspapers, are written by them. It is because their writings, published in the International media, do not corroborate with the intellectual level displayed by them on their respective Pakistani news channels. So, how do you describe the Sophists?

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In ancient Greece, the Sophists were considered orators, public speakers, and mouths for hire. They were known for giving the spin to their speech – a skill that came to be known as rhetoric. And they were respected, feared, and hated. The Pakistani Sophists are presently hairsplitting the difference between “conspiracy” and “intervention”, interpreting, according to the philosophy of their sponsors, if “cipher” and “transcript” are the same thing, or have different connotations. A contest of words is their forte – one person’s words against another’s.

 

Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.