Thursday, 26 May 2011

How one TV reporter tried to reveal the underbelly of the Pakistani media


The Ombudsman

By Christopher Beam

Posted Friday, May 20, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Last November, 30 of Pakistan's most influential journalists boarded a plane bound for Saudi Arabia. The occasion was the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are expected to perform at least once in their lifetimes, if they can afford it. On this trip, however, money wasn't a problem: The Pakistani government picked up the tab.

For months, the story of the government-sponsored hajj went unreported. The fact that reporters were accepting gifts from the government hardly qualified as news. Plus, reporters in Pakistan have an unspoken rule, a kind of omerta: You don't write about other reporters.

Unless you're Matiullah Jan. Jan, an anchor for Dawn News in Islamabad, launched a new show in January called Apna Gareban—the name means "under our collar," an Urdu idiom that translates as "our own underbelly"—in which Jan investigates the conduct of his fellow journalists. On the show, he acts as a kind of one-man ombudsman for all of Pakistan, badgering reporters, ambushing them Bill O'Reilly-style, and guilt-tripping them on air for their alleged misdeeds—behavior unheard of in the Pakistani media. "This is a very revolutionary thing," says Mehmal Sarfraz, op-ed editor at the Daily Times in Lahore. "Somebody had to do it."

In February, Jan aired an hour long report outing the journalists who visited Mecca on the government's dime. Many of the reporters defended themselves. One said God had called him to Mecca, and he had to obey, despite having gone on hajj twice before. "God called you three times?" Jan asked, incredulous. Others said they didn't know where the funds had come from, and they never bothered to ask. Pakistan's supreme court soon ordered the reporters to pay back the money, though some have appealed the decision.

The issue wasn't necessarily that journalists had taken a trip that was paid for by the government; journalists, Pakistani and otherwise, do that all the time. (This article, in fact, was made possible by the East-West Center, which organized a trip to Pakistan funded by the U.S. State Department.) The trip to Mecca wasn't a reporting trip—some journalists even brought their families—nor was it acknowledged publicly until Jan brought the issue to light.

The growth of the Pakistani media over the last decade has exacerbated journalistic corruption. Newspapers flourished in the 1980s and '90s, but there was only one cable TV channel, the state-run Pakistani Television. That changed in 2003, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf, frustrated that Pakistanis were getting much of their news from India, relaxed the ban on cable channels, or "electronic media." The medium boomed, as Pakistan went from one cable TV station to dozens in 2011.

As the sector has grown, so has its power. "The media is more unrestrained now than ever," says Najam Sethi, a columnist and the editor of the Friday Times in Lahore. "We can get away with murder." Sensationalism abounds, fact-checking is a foreign concept for many outlets, and TV reporters who have rushed in to fill the media vacuum often have no journalistic background. The agency that regulates cable channels, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, prohibits content that is "defamatory or knowingly false," but it rarely takes action.

Many Pakistani journalists accept gifts from politicians, presumably in exchange for favorable coverage. Less blatant forms of corruption—caving to threats from militant groups after a suicide attack by replacing the word "died" with "was martyred," for example—are common. In the most egregious cases, "reporters" aren't reporters at all but simply businessmen with press cards who use their access to the press to help friends, punish enemies, and blackmail law enforcement. If you're pulled over by a traffic cop and you have a press card, says Jan, you don't have to pay.

Yet the media rarely critiques itself. Only one Pakistani newspaper, the Express Tribune, has hired an ombudsman, and his mandate is limited to that paper. He doesn't write a column, either—he just handles reader complaints in-house. Media "navel-gazing" may have a bad name in the United States, but the Pakistani media's belly could use some inspection.

That was Jan's thinking when he created Apna Gareban. The purpose was to turn the same critical eye on journalists that they turn on politicians. Jan has worked for several years as a court reporter for Dawn News in Islamabad. "In court, we talk about right and wrong, black and white, accountability, justice, equality of treatment before the law," he says. But those terms are almost never used in conversations about the press. "All of the sickness of society is being scrutinized by the media, but the media is not being held accountable itself." Apna Gareban became the first major TV program to dig into the backgrounds of influential journalists, essentially making Jan the ombudsman for all of Pakistan.

In the first episode, Jan visits the federal government's Press Information Department, where publishers—and often reporters themselves—go to solicit government ads. (A big chunk of the ads that appear in Pakistani newspapers and on TV are paid for by the government, usually to promote new projects or to congratulate officials for their achievements.) There, he interrogates a reporter who's asking for ads. "If they don't give you ads, do you publish stories against them?" says Jan. "Well, they do give us ads," says the reporter, "so why should we say anything against them?"

The transactional relationship between the government and the press is a recurring theme. In one episode, Jan examines the 290 million rupee ($3.4 million) "secret fund" set aside by the Information Ministry for journalists. The fund covers everything from buying ads in newspapers to providing medical care for reporters to paying for their daughters' weddings. All this is to the good, former Information Secretary Ashfaq Gondal tells Jan: "There is no one to look out for the welfare of these journalists." Jan plays along. "These are great deeds," he says. "So why would you keep this a secret?" Gondal responds that the purpose of the information ministry is "to establish a sort of goodwill within the populace so that the populace tilts toward progress and keeps up with the times." What better way to "establish goodwill" than to buy off the press?

Another episode focuses on the awarding of lavish government housing to top-tier Pakistani journalists at cheap rates. Jan kicks off the program by reading the names of the 24 journalists, displaying their pictures, and describing their homes and how much they pay in rent. When confronted, one reporter insists it's his "right" to get preferential treatment. Another compares his situation to that of a BBC reporter, whose salary is subsidized by the government. "Do BBC's journalists get premium apartments from their rulers?" asks Jan. "I don't have that information," says the reporter. "Forget information," says Jan, "they don't get any, you know this."

Jan's interview technique, a one-two combo of logic and shame, drives his subjects into contortions. At first, the well-known anchor Asma Shirazi defends her decision to go on the government-funded hajj by saying she was misled about its funding. Then she says that even if she knew it was publicly funded, she would have gone anyway. Then she accuses Jan of failing to go after the "real big criminals," like journalists who take land as bribes. Finally she agrees to pay back the money.

Jan is more than happy to play populist demagogue, despite being the son of a retired Army colonel and living in a relatively comfortable neighborhood of Islamabad. "The taxpayers are hungry for food and thirsting for water," he tells Shirazi, "scrounging for every cent they can get, and instead you spent hundreds of thousands of rupees to go on a free ride to the pilgrimage."

His crusade hasn't exactly endeared him to his colleagues. "Watching fellow journalists squirm" is "painful," writes Steve Manuel, who worked at Pakistani newspapers for 25 years and founded the website Journalism Pakistan. "There are other ways to expose such people … tattling on fellow journalists is not one of them." Manuel also argues that Jan could be more critical of his bosses. "Why not also highlight the corruption practiced and encouraged by big media houses including Dawn?"

Jan says he's been careful to investigate his friends, too. And he's paid a price. For one episode, Jan invited prominent columnist and longtime friend Rauf Klasra onto the show to explain why he lives in a high-end government residence. "I told him at the start of the show, we're not friends in the studio—I'm a journalist and you're a journalist," says Jan. During the interview, Klasra turned the tables on Jan by producing documents that accused the CEO of Dawn Media Group, Hameed Haroon, of corruption. Jan invited Haroon onto the show on the spot, but he never came. Jan and Klasra's friendship hasn't recovered.

The most profound moments of Jan's program are not his attacks on the media, but what they reveal about broader systemic problems in Pakistan. When Jan asks a judge why he doesn't punish media organizations that fail to pay their journalists—not uncommon in Pakistan—the judge blames the system. "I really want to prosecute them," the judge says, and salary issues fall squarely within his jurisdiction. But "there's always a reason or a loophole that the defendant exploits to circumvent penalization." Even when the judge orders someone to appear in court, they often don't show up. "I tell the police to summon the person to court, and they come and tell me the person is unavailable. What am I to do?"

In April, Apna Gareban was shut down after 12 episodes. The final straw was an investigation into the conduct of a reporter at Dawn News, Jan's employer, who was making money on the side by selling goods from a kiosk provided by the government—a clear conflict of interest. "We knew [Apna Gareban] was going to be an experiment," says Jan, who has returned to reporting on the courts full time. "I'm reconciled to the fact that there were pressures on the organization from the highest levels of the media industry." The journalists who'd been exposed were angry, and media owners were worried they'd be next. "They looked in the mirror and saw what they looked like," says Jan. "Then they decided to break the mirrors instead of washing their own faces."

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


by Mohammed Sulaiman Abbasi


I am a Mechanical Engineer by training and profession. Being an Engineer, I have been trained to look at a problem and devise simple, cheap and practical solutions. It bothers me to no end that my country just seems to slide further and further down a slope from where there seems to be no recovery. I have been racking my brain to find a way out for my country for it present state of turmoil.

I have looked at Pakistan and its multitude of problems and to my Engineer’s mind the following seem to be worthy of attention. These are listed in order of importance.

1 – Crippling Debt

2 – Poor Economic performance (growth, low GDP etc)

3 – Illiteracy

4 – Erosion of moral values.

I have not even bothered to list, power cuts, growing gap between the rich and poor, the very strange political setup or even the issue of personal safety, terrorism etc.

As I have said, I am a simple Engineer with a simple view of the world. I am of the beliefs that if 1-4 are addressed; all other ills of my country will automatically fall in place.

Crippling Debt & Poor Economic Performance

Over the years, Pakistan has mismanaged its economic affairs. Balance of payments is totally skewed. Govt. expenditures far outstrip income. Over the years the country has become dependent on handouts from the US called “aid packages” etc. On top of the aid packages, Pakistan has taken loans from the World Bank and the IMF. As all of us know that once you owe money you are forced to dance to the tune of your creditors.

What is absolutely necessary is for Pakistan to get back on track is to rid itself of debt.

The way I see it is that Pakistan has to develop the industrial base. Mind, that the selection of the type of industry has to be done carefully with an eye on export oriented strategy. This will lead to the following:

a – Create jobs

b – Improve balance of payments by industrial output earning foreign exchange.

Of course, you may say, “It is easier said than done”. What needs to be done is to get 100% of the debt be paid off and we need to say to America, “Thank you for all you help but we don’t need any help”.

My proposal is rather simple.

We have very few allies left today. One of them is China. China and Pakistan have a very special relationship. Right from the start in 1947, China has stood by Pakistan. To be fair, Pakistan has been invaluable to China as well. A great deal of arms technology has reached China through Pakistan during the time when China was a closed country.

Chinese are a wise people not easily swayed by world events. They are not easily intimidated by the Americans. The Chinese are cautious people. Pakistan needs form a business alliance with China. Get China to pay off 100% of all monies owed to all the agencies to whom we owe money to in exchange for something China needs. Stop any and all money, technology, assistance, involvement (security related or other) from the USA. It is no secret that USA has not proved a friend of Pakistan and it has no sympathy for this country. The only country USA cares for is itself. We have been used and abused by America for its own gains. I do not blame the USA for this but it us and our short sightedness to blame! As the saying goes, “If you sleep with dogs you will get up with fleas”. Today we are totally flea ridden!

The question one can ask is why would China want to pay off Pakistan’s debt? We have nothing to offer them. Actually, I think there is something we can offer them. At the end of the day it is business. A business deal is where two parties can benefit from each other. We have already determined that Pakistan will benefit from China by it paying off Pakistan’s loan; but what does Pakistan have to offer China?

China has a huge growing giant of an economy. It has a huge hunger to fuel this economy, it needs to grow. The problem is that being a wise nation, China does not want to open up all its provinces too quickly to this economic revolution. China is a communist nation and new to this economic revolution. Wisely, it is cautious not to expose the whole county to this revolution and limiting this phenomenon to a few cities/areas (Shanghai, Beijing to name a few). What Pakistan can offer is full and free access to its land and warm waters of the Arabian Sea by hosting the Chinese explosion.

The business proposition Pakistan needs to work with China is that in exchange for paying off its debt, China can build as many factories it wants and take all profits from such investments – no questions asked. Mind you, the deal should include turn over of ownership to Pakistan after 20 years. If you look at the proposition from China’s point of view, in exchange for paying off Pakistan’s debt it will gain free access to land upon which it will build industry whose output will enter the world from the ports of Pakistan. What China needs to work out is the payback period for the original debt plus the investment of the huge industrial base it will setup in Pakistan. Usually viable business venture have a payback of 3 - 5 years. Having the ownership turn over of 20 years will give China ample time to turn a good profit.

By default, if China has to make money with its new industrial base, it will have to renovate the Pakistan’s tattered infrastructure to support the huge growth that will come. The salary scales in Pakistan are still low enough for Chinese firms to turn an easy profit by remaining competitive on the international market.

What Pakistan gains will be freedom form its debt and a creation of jobs at a level never imagined possible. There will inevitably be a sprouting of support industries around the main Chinese investment. Within a period of about 7 – 10 years the economy of this nation can be turned around and can come close to having a growth figures enviable by others.

In the above model, the economy of the country will be divided into two parts. (A) The economy driven by Chinese investment. Where all profits from this investment will be bagged by China. No taxes will be levied on this output so as to allow China to produce with the lowest overheads. (B) The economy of Pakistan in almost its present form. Its present industrial units, agricultural base and so on. Pakistan will continue to earn income from the usual taxes and export as it does now. The difference being that it will no longer have to pay anything towards its debts. The additional deposable income now available will be spent on education, developing infrastructure (along with the Chinese) and security.

Chinese investment towards industry can be in the form if industrial estates that can be guarded as in Al-Jubail Industrial City with limited access and the requirement of an official ID cards for the workers to enter. Certainly we cannot ignore the terrorism factor that will play to destabilize the Chinese onslaught of investment.

Electric power to support this level of investment will have to be via additional hydro electrical units or perhaps Nuclear Energy. There are vast reserves of coal that my also be used to generate energy. This will lead to environmental pollution, but, at this stage we cannot afford to be sensitive to such matters.

Note: Present level of expenditure on the defense needs to continue unchanged. I believe that we need our Air Force, Navy and the Army to be the strongest it can be. It should be so strong that any nation, USA, India, Afghanistan or any other are forced to think 10 times before taking us on.


With a population of about 60% under the age of 15 years, Pakistan will have to think radically outside the box.

Education up to the tenth grade has to be made compulsory. Teacher’s pay scales have to be revised to the point where teaching becomes a profession of choice attracting the finest minds.

We have enough Educational institution turning out Degree holders but the quality of curricula is very poor. We do not have any institutions that can lay claim to being the best, or second best or third best even the 50th best in the world. Our degrees are not recognized anywhere. Yes our professionals work all over the world but never as fresh graduates. What needs to be done is not to increase the number on Universities but to improve the quality of the output.

Not every child needs to become an Engineer, Doctor, Lawyer etc. mainly because the Pakistani Economy can only support just so many Professionals. However what is missing are Polytechnic institution turning out a trained work force. Our work force learns on the job from the “ustaad”. This is not a desirable state of affairs. Polytechnic institutions will invaluable in turning out skilled work force that will be ready to take up jobs in the Chinese industrial base proposed above.

Some of the funds now available to the Government as no more payments toward debt are necessary needs to be diverted to the Universities for the purpose of Research and Development.

There is another problem prevalent in the villages. This problem can be summed up as the resistance to the advent of education of the farmers by the feudal land lords. The fear being that if the common villager became educated then the power he has over them will erode in time. Thus it is often the case that teacher sent to a particular village is chased off and the government built school is used to house the cows of the feudal land lord. To address this situation, the school inspectors have to be empowered to stand up to the feudal lords with out any fear. They need to be accompanied by a group of armed police while doing village school inspections. Salaries of the School Inspectors need to be at a level that makes bribery pointless.

All village schools need to be to the matriculation level.

Once hope returns to the masses that education is the path to self betterment, the need for parents to enroll their children in Madrassas where some fool does systematic brain washing of young minds will eventually stop.

At the end of the day we all want peace, three decent square meals a day and hope for a bright future. A place where or kids will have a decent life. All of the above are deeply linked to the economic growth of a nation.

Moral Values

This is a tough one. We have reached a stage where the line between right and wrong no longer exists. Our moral fiber has been damaged beyond repair.

If I look back to my youth, it was my father who taught me to be honest no mater what. His vision of right and wrong was as sharp as a needle. He taught me never to loose sight of right and wrong even if it meant that by remaining truthful, I may suffer a loss. Never to lie, have the courage to say “What you are doing is wrong”.

How many fathers take the time and coach their sons on right and wrong. Judging from the rampant dishonesty and corruption in my country – not many.

Today an honest Policeman, Customs officer etc (if you can find one) is immediately transferred because he refuses to play ball. Our moral fiber has degenerated to a point where an honest person is referred to as “innocent”, “buffoon” or simply unworldly wise. It has been decades since I have heard any one call himself “sufaid poosh”. Instead of being proud of being “sufaid poosh”, we are ashamed. In our society, the more crocked one is and the more money one amasses by illegal means is directly proportional to the respect he is given.

Isn’t that a shame?

So how to restore our nations moral fiber? That is indeed a tough one.

It is our religious leaders (imams) who are responsible for taking care of the nation’s moral fiber. But our imams are ill equipped to carry out the sensitive task entrusted to them. Instead they have their own agendas of invoking young impressionable minds towards violence.

All imams must be certified to be able to hold that position. All imams must be graduates of an Islamic University and must have at least a BA degree in Islamic Studies with a minor in Education as a minimum qualification before he is able to hold a microphone in the Masjid. Additionally, they must be on the Ministry of Religious affairs payroll. The Friday “khutba” must be an official document prepared by the Ministry of Religious affairs. All imams must stick to this document during the Friday sermon.

It is sad to say that despite the steps mentioned above there is little hope restore our moral fiber. Perhaps a more radical approach will be to start with the three year olds and build an entire new generation of morally true nation.

As I said this is a very difficult task to do with desirable outcome.

In Summery, it is not an easy task to turn around my country but until and unless a major, radical change from the root up is brought about there is very little hope. In fact chances are that if left to its own devices, this country will most certainly be carved up by USA. USA will engineer its breakup with the North seceding to Afghanistan and Punjab/Kashmir to India. Perhaps Baluchistan may become a new independent country and so may Sindh. It is hard to say what will become of Pakistan.

Nothing is impossible as long as there is a will to do so. One thing is for certain, we just cannot allow Pakistan’s to remain in its present state.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Rs 1,000,000,000,000 Black Hole.

by Khurshid Anwer

Dr Farrukh Saleem’s comments on the national budget:

Rs 1,000,000,000,000 is the difference between what the Government of Pakistan (GOP) earns and what it spends.

GOP looses Rs 300 crore a day, every single day.

Rs 11 crore per hour or Rs 20 lakh per minute for every single minute of the entire year.

GOP would have lost Rs 60 lakh by the time you will finish reading this brief commentary.
GOP is now less of a government and more of a black hole. When nature creates a black hole, nothing can come out of it because its density and gravity increases to infinity while its size shrinks to zero.

Pakistan’s one trillion rupee black hole created by the GOP has no chance of shrinking because it is just like cosmic drain which is going to suck jobs, dreams, aspirations and wishes of the Pakistani public.
Presidency cannot survive without a Rs 3.5 crore injection a month, every month of the year.

The PM Secretariat cannot survive without devouring Rs 50 crore a year.
The Cabinet Secretariat with an army of ministers gobbles up Rs 100 crore a month.

Then there are ‘developmental funds’ – nay political bribes – to be paid to all of our honourable legislatures.

At 100 senators, 342 MNAs and 728 MPAs that’s a cool Rs 300 crore a month down the drain every month of the year. Imagine; lawmakers doing gutters.

Then there are at least half a dozen black holes within the real black hole;

-                           Pakistan International Airlines,

-                           Pakistan Steel Mills,

-                           Pakistan Electric Power Company,

-                           Pakistan Railways,

-                           Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Utility Stores Corporation.

Among them they loose at least Rs 250 billion a year or Rs 70 crore a day, every day of the year.

Then there are others:

-                           Tomato Paste Plant,

-                           Roti Corporation of Pakistan,

-                           Pakistan Stone Development Company,

-                           Pakistan Hunting and Sporting Arms Development Company,

-                           National Institute of Oceanography,

-                           Pakistan Gems & Jewellery Development Company,

-                           Technology Commercialisation Corporation of Pakistan,

-                           National Industrial Parks Development & Management Company,

-                           Technology Up-Gradation and Skill Development Company,

-                           National Productivity Organisation,

-                           Centre for Applied & Molecular Biology,

-                           Council for Work and Housing Research,

-                           National Institute of Electronics,

-                           Pakistan Council for Science and Technology,

-                           Pakistan Council of Research in Water Technology,

-                           Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research,

-                           Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority,

-               Central Inspectorate of Mines.
Wait there are more:

-                           National Insurance Corporation,

-                           Heavy Electrical Complex,

-                           Machine Tool Factory,

-                           Services International,

-                           National Power Construction Company,

-                           National Fertilizers Corporation,

-                           State Engineering Corporation,

-                           National Construction Limited,

-                           Pakistan Steel Fabricating Company Limited,

-                           Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation,

-                           Ghee Corporation of Pakistan,

-                           Republic Motors,

-                           Pakistan National Shipping Corporation,

-                           Pakistan Railways,

-                           State Cement Corporation of Pakistan,

-                           State Petroleum Refining & Petrochemicals Corporation,

-                           Trading Corporation of Pakistan,

-                           Cotton Export Corporation of Pakistan,

-                           Rice Export Corporation of Pakistan,

-                          Pakistan Industrial and Technical Training Centre and

-                           Pakistan Engineering Company.

From here onwards budget making is a piece of cake – add every ‘Demand for Grant’ from the president downwards, deduct the IMF-allowed budgetary deficit and surprise, surprise you have the final revenue figure.

By the end of the next fiscal year, the president, the prime minister and everyone below them would end up overshooting their allocations by 10 to 20 percent.

Surprise! Surprise! By the end of the next fiscal year GOP will give mother nature another Rs 1,000,000,000,000 black hole.


My comments: Revenue generation in a big way is required to undo the above. This cannot be done without growth in Industry and agriculture. Industry needs input of mega quantities of power and agriculture needs input of mega quantities of water. To produce these mega quantities we need mega dams. The 'Sindh' and 'Punjab' Cards will never allow mega dams to be built. So we are back to square one, one step forward, two steps back.

All talk of stopping Drone attacks and blocking NATO routes is nonsense. US will come down on us like a ton of bricks. National sovereignty will not come without economic sovereignty.

Khurshid Anwer