By Babar Ayaz
May 30, 2014
The nature of the beast called commercial television is such that the anchors whose programme get high ratings and consequently loads of advertisement revenues start acting larger than life. They do not accept any editorial control
People in Pakistan have been nurtured on conspiracy theories, so much so that the thinking and circulating of such bizarre conspiracies has become a national pastime. For decades, we have been told by our establishment that ‘Yahud and Hanud’ (the Jews and Hindus) are conspiring against the Islamic state of Pakistan and are responsible for all our miseries. Behind this thin veil we hide all our follies and failures. One of the latest conspiracy theories is that the attack on Hamid Mir, in which he was critically injured, was stage managed by the media group he works for because it wanted to put blame on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and that it also served Nawaz Sharif’s government, which is not fond of its intelligence chief either. If that is true, and some morons believe it, then sir, kudos to Hamid Mir for being the bravest stuntman in the history of the country.
One retired senior army official said the ISI is not so clumsy as to fail in killing anybody. He has faith in his organisation and thinks either the attack was by an amateur contractor or it was just a message to Hamid by a militant group. Another businessman says that the attack on Hamid Mir could be a RAW conspiracy in cahoots with the media group, which wants to defame our premium agency. If that is true, then why did the media organisation and Hamid Mir start beating ultra-nationalist drums for bailing out the same establishment when it was in a fix on intelligence and security failure the day the US forces took out Osama, or when the Kerry-Lugar Bill rightly tried to establish the democratic government’s supremacy over its military establishment by diverting the whole debate to the violation of sovereignty, or when Pasha played the Memogate drama? My articles on these issues were critical of the media beating the sovereignty drums instead of finding out our mistakes but I will still defend the media body and Hamid Mir’s right to believe and say whatever they like.
This is not all; the other day a leading businessman trumped all conspiracy stories. As the media group has landed itself from the frying pan into the fire, thanks to its flamboyant Shaista Lodhi’s stupid morning programme, our conspiracy theorist said that perhaps Shaista was planted on the television channel by the ISI and she deliberately provoked the religious sensibilities of the public. Now to me this theory is equally as outrageous as the one that claimed Hamid hired somebody to attack him. I do not think the ISI would get into creating religious trouble as it is already bogged down with Jihadi outfits. Yes, what is possible is that once Shaista made that mistake, it gave all the ‘king’s men’, who stand and wait to jump to duty, the opportunity to file umpteen cases against the media group. And why would they not when they have the facility of the omnipresent blasphemy law at hand? When Station House Officer (SHO) Umar Daraz can brazenly use it against 68 lawyers who protested against him, Shaista’s faux pas was the golden opportunity for all those who are hell bent to bring the mighty media group down. Shaista and the channel have apologised profusely for this mistake but in the situation of an all out war, the agenda is to muzzle the media. Those in the media who are after the media group’s blood in this game are not seeing beyond their nose as press freedom will be scuttled by the establishment once they are through with taming the most powerful group.
Instead of coining conspiracy theories, the media has to look at the weaknesses of its internal system. Particularly the nature of the beast called commercial television is such that the anchors whose programme get high ratings and consequently loads of advertisement revenues start acting larger than life. They do not accept any editorial control. If the anchor is close to the owner of the channel he/she acts independently. That is the weakness of the media group under question and almost all television channels — they do not have powerful, professional editors and programme controllers. This has resulted in excesses. At the same time, except for the news, there is no need to have so many live programmes where it is very difficult to weed out unprofessional items.
A concerned citizen wants to know whether there is some connection in the sudden rise of Imran Khan, Sheikh ul Islam Qadri, when Hamid Mir’s issue was already boiling. My take on this is that probably there could be a link between the agency allegedly involved in the attack on Hamid as claimed by his brother and his close friends. However, this does not mean a conspiracy. These politicians do not have to be told to jump according to a sinister plan. They wait on the fence to find opportune timing where their political interests and agencies’ interests converge in pressurising the government. Both benefit each other. So, it is an oversimplification to say they are just stooges pulled out whenever the establishment needs them.
His second investigative query was that during this turmoil, Altaf bhai suddenly demands Pakistan’s ID card. Who encourages two absentees, Qadri and Altaf bhai, sitting thousands of miles away, to stir up trouble at home? If I remember correctly, Altaf Hussain had applied before the attempt on Hamid Mir’s life. According to my sources, even last year, during Zardari’s time, he had approached the Pakistan High Commission to be given a passport but one of his senior colleagues advised the government to delay the process because he (Altaf) is angry and would calm down in a couple of days, and that is precisely what happened. It appears that some people in his party do not want him to be back for whatever reasons.
Such conspiracy theories are floating around the country despite the fact that almost everything is out in the open since the media has acquired some freedom. Perhaps what is lacking is objective analysis of the issues and speaking out the bitter truth about our mistakes as a country and as institutions. The blame game that anybody who does not support the establishment’s point of view on national issues is a foreign agent should stop now otherwise we will never come out of the present mess.