June 15, 2012
KARACHI: My, my, oh my! The cat is well and truly out of the bag. Suspicion has turned into reality and Pakistan’s media stands exposed, shorn of whatever little imagined integrity it had.
The true face of the extent of corruption and greed, power games, bribes, kickbacks and hypocrisy that permeated right through the top echelons of the country’s media has come home to roost with a bang.
The leaked video of Dunya TV’s top two anchors, Mubashar Lucqman and Meher Bukhari featuring their controversial guest, ex-clerk-turned-billionaire property tycoon Malik Riaz of the Bahria Town fame, has not only gone viral but has in the process opened an irrepressible and nauseating can of worms.
An alleged ‘on-the-take’ list on a Bahria Town letterhead showing the money and other gifts 19 top anchors from nearly all the news TV channels is doing the rounds on the online forums and so-called “Google groups’. Some of the media ‘icons’to feature prominently on that list has totally befuddled mainstream journalists and viewers alike .
There are reports the list, which features details of banks, accounts and cash transfers, is fake. There are reports it’s not. Either way, the damage has been done and this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not going to take a psychic to predict that more fun and games are to follow or that nothing is going to be the same in the media houses of the country.
The fallout of the leaked Malik Riaz interview has already claimed two ‘victims’ – Dunya TV’s Director Current Affairs NaseemZehra quit in horror and Lucqman was summarily sacked. Not even the MQM will come to his aid. This time he is truly out on his own, a pariah sent packing to perhaps take solace in a few bottles or so.
Meher, that other venomous, self-opinionated prima donna and so-called anchor, who had to exit Samaa under a dark cloud because of a controversial program on late Punjab Governor Salman Taseer that has been blamed for triggering his assassination, has reportedly been told by the Dunya management to resign within 24 hours or prepare to be fired. The gloves are off.
She did try to clarify that she was not entirely to blame. According to The Express Tribune “Late on Thursday, Bukhari attempted to clarify her position during her talk show, emphasizing that it was normal to do what she did, adding that if any anchor who said differently, was lying.”
Talk about being brazen!
Geo ‘Icon’ Kamran Khan too said he had done nothing wrong. In his program, AajKamran Kay Saath, the once highly respected anchor said he had never received any money from any source and was ready to face scrutiny. He went so far as to suggest that a commission be set up to look into his financial status.
Others are likely to follow this righteous route. We all know the result of the workings of such accountability panels. In the end they usually have to account for themselves. The temptations that come their way are just too juicy and too many. There will be many an offer they will not be able to refuse.
All this makes for gripping stuff, but then all scandals do. This time, however, this unpleasant affair has sent shockwaves through a gullible viewership. They feel abused and used. Resentment is running high; disgust even more so. The sense of betrayal is so high it cannot be gauged.
There are suggestions on the social media that the whole lot – the 19 mentioned in the list – should be publically flayed and that some should even be strung up for bringing disgrace to the country and the media industry.
Understandably, emotions are running high. Everybody wants accountability. They want the truth and nothing but the whole truth. They want to know how and why such a thing happened. Rather, how was it allowed to happen?
Therein rests the crux of the whole sordid affair… how?
Very simple; these men and women (I can’t possibly call them ladies and gents) saw an opportunity that they simply could not say no to. It’s not easy to look the other way when you are being offered millions of rupees, luxury cars, and foreign trips, plots of prime property, influence, exposure, and even adulation… just to say a few things here and there. So what if you twist the truth a little. So what if you are following somebody else’s agenda or in that somebody’s pocket.
When one has so much money, does it really matter what people think?
What really gets my goat and has really angered much of Pakistan is that these people were entrusted to do a job i.e. provide the truth in the shape of news. This is something they failed to do. In fact, from the day they said ‘I do’ to Mr. Riaz they were his for the taking… and take them he did.
What is equally galling for the public is that these people used their status and jobs to dole out hours of hyperbole on their shows, bullshitting their way through equally fixed interviews and debates that often resembled the sabzimandiat its busiest. They did not practice what they preached.
Check out their FaceBook postings – pictures of holy places, poverty, hardship, victims of natural disasters, bombings, drone attacks, anti-western posters, prayers etc….
These paragons of virtue lied through their teeth. They incited hatred and violence. They backed and sided with revolutionary and extremist elements, they propagated foreign ideologies and they encouraged chaos...all in the name of television/media.
And all the while they drank deep, intoxicated in their belief that their corruption would stay a secret. That nobody would find out. They never imagined that they would be tricked into ensnaring themselves.
Arrogance has claimed many a victim; these guys are not the first and they will not be the last.
But what happens in the meanwhile. Nineteen names are on a list that speaks of their corruption and the money, land, gifts and favors they have received from Malik Riaz.
The question is if these guys were being paid off by Malik Riaz, was he the only one? Could it be possible that there could be other Malik Riaz’s?
And if he was the only one, then how many other so-called journalists are out there who have not shown up on that list?
How deep does this problem run?
There are other questions that immediately come to the fore:
a) Will the government set up an inquiry commission?
b) Will the Chief Justice or Supreme Court do something about this shameful matter?
c) Will more heads roll?
d) Will these people be allowed to function in other channels post sackings and forced resignations?
e) Will Dunya be able to weather the storm?
f) Where is MianAmerMehmood and why hasn’t he said anything yet?
g) Are there any honest journalists left at the top?
h) Will the media in Pakistan ever be trusted again?
i) What was all that rigmarole about Pakistan’s media conforming to a ‘code of ethics’ drawn up not more than a year ago?
There are a million more questions. Some may have answers, but most of them will remain unanswered or worse still, simply ignored.
The biggest question now is: Does Pakistan’s media have a future without these showmen and women, these ‘champions of causes and truth’?
Will the nation be ready to overlook the fact that every time they look at Hamid Mir, it will not occur to them that this man may have received a prime piece of land in the capital, all five kanals of it, and that he also got Rs2.5 crore from Mr. Malik?
This is the champion of anti-western sentiments and of drone attacks. He posts such patriotic stuff regularly on FB. He is also the man who got famous for interviewing a terrorist. Since when and where has that become the road to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, only in Pakistan!
Or thatNajamSethi might have got Rs1 crore and 94 lakhs, not to mention a one kanal plot in Lahore as well as paid trips to the US, including hotel stay.
This is the man that recently sent legal notices to two other anchors/hosts, accusing them of defaming him, passing on information and taking favors. One of those he sent a legal notice to was TalatHussain of DawnNews. Talat was not on the list.
Could it be Talat was right? That he was telling the truth. It certainly seems that way now.
Then what about that paragon of virtue, that bleeding heart Kamran Khan who is said to have been gifted Rs6.5 million by Mr. Malik as well as a house in Bahria Town?
This is the man that wears the national flag to bed. This is the guy who commiserates and identifies with the poor and poverty stricken. This man!
We all know about Dr.ShahidMasood and his love for money and of Lucqman, his hankering for a luxury car and the loads of money that suddenly gave him the opportunity to indulge in his favorite pastime… getting sozzled! Yeah… wining and dining and such costs money and money doesn’t grow on trees.
Then there is NusratJaved and MushtaqMinhas, the kings of drama and finger pointing. With the Rs1.5 crore and the one Toyota Corolla they allegedly received between them from Mr. Malik, I wonder what all that finger wagging was all about; that higher than thou attitude; that façade of integrity and honesty they so blatantly bleated about on every program. Tut, tut… what a shame!
But the worst, in my opinion, is that journalists’ journalist …Mazhar Abbas. This is one guy we all looked up to. He has been the one man we all believed actually fought for us journalists and our rights. Now we know better. Not only did Mr. Malik allegedly give him a house in Lahore but also Rs95 lakhs. That is not okay in our books.
Oh yes… one other name I can’t resist having a dig at; Sami Ibrahim. Now this is the guy who fled to the United States saying he was being persecuted. This guy got paid to work from the US but as Samy Abraham. Not surprised that this opportunistic guy would pass up the chance to get his share of the pie… even if it was not an American pie. So what if it happened to be ‘paye’ instead? And anyway what the heck’s the difference… Ibrahim, Abraham… same thing, no?
Recently there have been workshops and initiatives aimed at reaching and teaching Pakistani journalists about ethics etc. Problem is such initiatives were aimed at the wrong type of journalists. Rather than start at the bottom, it would have been better to concentrate on the top.
Which reminds me, some years back, the Norwegian founder of a certain trendy genre of journalism, when introduced to Meher for the first time was so besotted with her that he dared suggest to the facilitator of the Pakistani media group attending that international seminar that she was the perfect type of candidate to promote Pakistan. I was there. I heard him.
I wonder what he would say now.
But, all said and done it’s going to take a herculean effort to recover from this scandal… if ever. Corruption is a many headed serpent and we are yet to find a way to behead this one.
(The Communicator is a senior journalist based in Karachi)
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