The Pakistani media is a mix of the good and the bad. Like our own. A wide section of it is inimically India-centric— like our own who think Pak-bashing is a sure way of engaging audience.
In relative terms, I still rate our media as more diligent while sourcing and crosschecking facts.
At times, they do go overboard but aren’t, like some Pakistani counterparts, behaving as stenographers. Forged papers pedaled as Wikileaks documents by a news agency and a news portal illustrate best the phenomenon.
In the instant case, even relatively responsible English language newspapers such as The News, The Nation and The Express Tribune, a partner of the International Herald Tribune used the documents without verification. They could have reverted to the original recipients of the Wikileaks feed— The Guardian and New York Times— to verify their authenticity. They didn’t.
Acting out of predilections rather than foresight, they found the forgery irresistible — talk as it did of Indian involvement in Balochistan and Waziristan; Indian military leaders as incompetent and Kashmir as another Bosnia.
They cared not that the original purveyor of fake leaks–- Online News Agency — was a propaganda tool of the Pak Army and Daily Mail, the newspaper that first hoisted the forgery on its website, a newspaper known for publishing gossip, conspiracy theories and other stuff normally used to blackmail, misguide or character-assassinate.
The faux pas has triggered a debate on journalistic ethics in Pakistan. But its outcome is unlikely to change the media’s approach to India. What makes me all the more pessimistic is a phone call I received the other night from a friend with whom I’ve worked over the past decade to build peace between our two countries. “Nobody publishes me in Pakistan any more,” he said of his writings on India-Pakistan peace and cooperation.
Quite obviously, the Army and the secret agencies hold complete and total sway over the country’s affairs. The issue to be probed is as to who did the forgery? How the fakes got into newspapers is a no-brainer; intelligence inspired stories being a daily affair in Pakistani publications.
Journalists who refuse to play ball with snoops get threatened, beaten up and even have their houses burgled. I know many such upright Pakistani scribes whose struggle against army dictators and civilian autocrats has few parallels in India.
My own experience in India is somewhat similar. I find the constituency for peace shrinking every day— be it on account of Wikileaks, Islamabad’s prevarications on bringing the culprits of 26/11 to justice or the daily dose of adversarial statements. Even the most ardent of Indian peaceniks are lying low, unsure of the road ahead.
Indian media that played the facilitator in the past hasn’t been on board since 26/11. Its skepticism is only reinforced by propaganda meant to vilify India on the lines desired by the Pak Army, its intelligence agencies and their beachheads in Pak newspapers and TV channels. A bit of that malaise is visible also on our side with intelligence-based stories finding space without much ado.
The clout of secret agencies has been a reality in Pakistan since the days of General Zia-ul-Haq. But in India, the trend’s relatively new, felt with full force with the recent disclosure of the Radia tapes.
Regardless of who let the tapes out, snoops or corporate rivals, the revelations have hit the media the most. A top Pak TV anchor had had to similarly run for cover after leakage of a recorded conversation in which he was heard exchanging notes with a Taliban leader on intelligence operatives. A former ISI chief also went public recently with details of money distributed to put together a regime in the 1990s.
Gathering information is no easy task as a thin line distinguishes journalists from lobbyists and spies. Tread carefully. That’s the moral to be drawn from Radia tapes in India and fakeleaks in Pakistan.