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Category: Anjum Niaz, Articles

Made to Order Media

Made to Order Media

By Anjum Niaz

He’s a doctor by career but a journalist by profession. How convenient is that! Yet, the maverick who rose to dizzying heights just in a span of eight short years is left licking his wounds. Marey Mutabik fallen hero, Dr Shahid Masood has finally admitted to Iftikhar Ahmad of Jawab Deyh that the might of the state (read establishment) is stronger than all his VVIP contacts put together. He is said to have damning proof on matters most sensitive (too hot to write here), still he’s been shown the door at the PTV. The surgeon-turned-media darling got chummy with Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Pervez Musharraf; chatted up retired and serving generals for kiss-and-tell stories; interviewed anyone he so chose to grill and eventually landed as the czar of Pakistan Television, despite not wanting to take the job but took it at the insistence of Asif Ali Zardari!

Opinion slinger Doc Masood got cagey and constrained when goaded by Iftikhar Ahmad to name the people hounding him. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of namelessness and anonymity. If maverick Masood is running like a scared chicken, God help the rest of his tribe. Anyone wanting to do a sizzler must set it aside to cool and wait for power horses to disintegrate before making it public. We live in hypocritical times - can’t mention the ethnic party that arm-twists the media from time to time; can’t openly write the reasons why the so-called ‘Friends of Pakistan’ are unwilling to give us money; can’t demand from our leaders as to how much money they have stashed away abroad; and most importantly where did that money come from?

The Sharifs today form an open season for media to hunt. Nethermost was their treatment of the media when in power. Saifur Rahman, trained by Nawaz Sharif was his attack dog. Rottweiler Rahman would pick up the phone and bark his threats. The measly-mouthed man meant what he said. We know of editors and reporters mauled by his intelligence agencies. That was the era of the white tinted-glass Toyota Corolla chasing you on Islamabad streets. However, lifafa journalism was thriving. Media men, who got their sons stuffed in lucrative posts like the FIA and other money-making jobs, or got fat on state largesse doled out by the Sharifs, today continue to be ace columnists and TV gurus. They are bounty hunters looking for new booty from anyone who will bite. Some of them have already wormed their way to cushy jobs in the media.

While the Pakistani press has to watch its backside and write in riddles confusing their readers even more, the foreign press is up and gunning for the present rulers. It writes without fear or favour. Op-ed columnist for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof is in Pakistan.

He’s the same journalist who would at any opportunity use very harsh language against Musharraf - though the latter remained mum and never responded. Now Kristof has criticized Zardari by writing that the president “seems overwhelmed by the challenges and locked in the past. Incredibly, he has just chosen for his new cabinet two men who would fit fine in a Taliban government.”

The two men of course are none other than Israrullah Zehri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani. They are now gaining international notoriety. Personally, if Pakistanis think that Zardari can charm Obama into stopping predator attacks, I have news for the pinheads. The US has put into Afghanistan, airplanes called ‘Reapers’ which are far deadlier than the predators and are operated by pilots sitting in a place 60 miles outside Las Vegas, Sin City! More of the ‘Reapers’ another time, meanwhile our two gentlemen ‘Reapers’ are pulling Zardari down but who dare expose them armed with facts that have been sealed?

“If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing,” said Sir Kingsley Amis, the literary critic. Great advice, but those who follow it require nerves made of steel; not nervous neurons. The media in Pakistan is free. That may be so, but the men and women tasked with reporting/writing/ analyzing often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. The power brokers of today are a jumpy tribe: be they the Maulana Fazlur Rehman of diesel notoriety or battle axes Fauzia Wahab and Firdous Ashiq Awan of the PPP; be they the sweet and sour Rehman Malik or master planner Salman Farooqi; be they the upwardly mobile Ambassador Haqqani or the PM’s press secretary Zahid Bashir. Granted that the PPP government has always had the best track record for tolerance, letting you chip away at its character; still there are individuals out there today waiting to catch you if you dare name them.

Red flags on their computers go up the minute their names are mentioned in the press. They pick up the phone and dial you. You’re surprised at their alacrity. It takes a moment to register what the phone call is all about. You’re even more surprised as to how they have the time to comb through the stack of newspapers looking for their mention. Ah, I get it! They are masters at ‘Boolean search.’ Boolean, my friends, is an application for searching the contents of plain text, rich text, HTML formatted text, MS Word, PDF and just about anything on the Internet.

These ‘good folks’ either make you feel like a heel or praise you to the skies, depending on what you have written on them. Oftentimes you land in their ‘dog house’ for revealing facts that they would prefer to remain dead. Instead of getting their official minions to respond to the ‘letters column’ in the newspaper where you have dared to expose them, they prefer to pick up the phone and call you direct. Recently in one of my columns I mentioned Ambassador Haqqani and promptly got a stinker from one of his sympathizers (whom I shall not name because I hold him in esteem) ticking me off. The Washingtonian put me to shame by telling me what a great job the ambassador was doing and asked why he was mentioned by me. Quite right! Even Shahid Masood avoided naming Haqqani in Jawab Deyh in connection with some matter involving Benazir Bhutto.

The funny thing is while all these hawks watch their turf, nobody is watching out for the president and the prime minister - two men drawing the most criticism. Perhaps the two are invincible. And now that the ISI has disbanded its political wing, no one is keeping count of all the wrong being committed to be used as reasons for a coup. If the photos are a giveaway to the shape of things to come, then notice the beret-wearing General Kayani sitting or standing with hands folded and a shoulder stoop in presence of these two ‘democratically elected’ ironmen of Pakistan.

One PPP media magnate turned jiyala who is afraid of neither the media nor the establishment is Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. In these cloudy times when ambiguity, equivocation and indefiniteness are practiced by power brokers and the media alike, Taseer’s words are refreshing. Whether you agree with him or not is another matter but at least he’s up front and spunky towards the Sharifs.

The letter writer guv is the Sharifs’ bete noire - appointed by Zardari presumably to give them a run for their money. “Twenty-six departments are without ministers, including health and education,” Taseer tells me. “Dengue fever is ravaging Punjab, but the chief minister won’t appoint a health minister - why?” He daily throws the Constitution at Shahbaz Sharif’s face by quoting relevant passages. In a letter dated November 15, he reminds the chief minister unequivocally that he and not the chief minister is “the executive authority of the province”.

He accuses the CM for being the “de facto minister in charge” of these 24 departments which are being “run by bureaucrats taking orders directly from the chief minister.”

The best defence the CM can put up is to get his law minister to unfurl a dossier allegedly prepared by the Pervez Rashid brigade of dirty tricks. It has photos of Taseer’s kids taken off their ‘Facebook’ pages. The law minister is seen raving and ranting about indecent things happening in the Governor’s House. “The PML-N has already transferred around 3,000 officials who are being made to play musical chairs. When I tell them (the Brothers Sharif) that Punjab is not their hip pocket they begin to hit me below the belt by waving these photos.”

Governor Taseer may be a loudmouth, a bully, a Sharif tormenter, but what he is not is an insecure person. “I am here at the pleasure of the president. I will leave only if he dismisses me via a notification.” And he knows that that is unlikely.

(The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: [email protected])

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