Did US Succeed In Buying Out Parts Of Pakistani Media?
A Pakistani newspaper bans a Pakistani columnist, telling her criticizing US government ‘is against editorial policy.’ One more sign of growing US government influence within Pakistani media.
SPECIAL REPORT with input from editorial director Gulpari Nazish Mehsud| Thursday | 17 March 2011
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—There are signs the United States has met some success in using the power of the dollar to create a pro-US lobby inside Pakistani media. In other words, after success in meddling in Pakistani politics after the 2006 Musharraf-Benazir-US-UK deal, which largely remains a secret, US government has moved a step forward to create a proxy lobby inside some Pakistani news organizations.
It is interesting to note that at least two former employees of US government – Farahnaz Isphahani and Murtaza Solangi, both former executives at Voice of America – today occupy senior media management posts in the federal Pakistani government; the former as media adviser to the President of Pakistan, and the latter as head of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, the media arm of Pakistani government. Although both Ms. Isphahani and Mr. Solangi ceased all ties to their former employer, their case deserves a mention in the context of increasing foreign influence within Pakistani media.
The latest sign of this is how Pakistani English-language daily newspaper Express Tribune hired Dr. Shireen Mazari last month to write weekly columns only to renege when the renowned Pakistani defense expert started criticizing US policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
More astonishingly, the publisher of the newspaper admitted to Dr. Mazari that her opinions critical of US government contradicted the Pakistani newspaper’s policy, according to emails seen by PakNationalists.com.
This is ironic because former US ambassador Anne W. Patterson lobbied in 2009 to ban several Pakistani media commentators, among them Dr. Mazari, succeeding in stopping Dr. Marzari’s decade-old weekly column. The move was part of a media offensive inside Pakistan that included allocating at least $40 million according to US media reports to buy influence inside Pakistani media. Patterson, who was widely known in Islamabad as ‘bully ambassador’, was the main architect of this offensive. Former US ambassador to Pakistan Ryan C. Crocker is known to have criticized Ms. Patterson’s style saying he had resisted meddling in Pakistani affairs before being succeeded by Ms. Patterson. The Obama administration refused to extend her term in Pakistan and she left for home last year. Some reports suggest her role in worsening anti-American feelings in Pakistan was a key consideration in sending her packing despite recommendations to the contrary by senior officials in the pro-US Pakistani government who had developed a liking for her because of her support for the incumbent Pakistani government.
Pakistani media is vibrant and vast, with over 80 television channels and hundreds of newspapers, magazines and periodicals. The expansion in Pakistani media happened thanks to enterprising Pakistani entrepreneurs and a Pakistani military-led government that liberated laws governing the news media. Critics say the aim was to help the growth of Pakistani voices that could take Pakistan’s message to the world. Instead, they charge, what has happened is that foreign interests and programming are increasingly making their way into Pakistani homes. This unusual situation reached its zenith in 2008 when Mr. Solangi as chairman of PBC handed three of his organization’s strongest relay towers to VOA to broadcast American propaganda to Pakistani Pashtun regions in the tribal belt. Even today, Pakistan’s state-run radio and television stations are nonexistent in the tribal belt, with VOA and BBC and sometimes Indian stations being received with clarity.
Pakistan is probably one of the rare countries in the region that allow this type of breach. Other neighbors, such as China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, closely protect their media space and consider media a first line of defense. Not so in Pakistan.
WITH EXPRESS TRIBUNE
The Express Tribune is the Pakistani affiliate of International Herald Tribune, which in turn is a joint venture of Washington Post and New York Times. The two newspapers have known links to US government and were cheerleaders in promoting fake information planted in the media weeks before US invasion of Iraq.
Instead of drawing on the extensive technical expertise of its American media partners, what has happened instead is that the Pakistani Express Tribune has apparently lost its own editorial judgment.
In the email exchange, parts of which are reproduced below, the publishers of the Pakistani newspaper clearly indicate that criticizing US government is ‘against the editorial policy’ of their newspaper. Our only comment is: if only the same could be said about mainstream US newspapers, which have led the demonization campaign against Pakistan between 2004 and 2009.
On 13 March, Dr. Mazari emailed Mr. Bilal Lakhani, the publisher of Express Tribune. Excerpt:
“I do know the US pressure that is being put on the media today – after all the previous US ambassador tried to stop my columns […] clearly because I support my arguments with facts which the other side finds uncomfortable! Be that as it may, it is sad to see such intolerance in a paper that purports to reach out to all Pakistanis. I am attaching a copy of the column that was censored as it will now be put on Internet of course. As you can see there is nothing offensive in it except for US apologists.”
On 14 March, Mr. Lakhani replied. Excerpt:
“Dear Dr Shireen Mazari, we published two of your pieces previously – pieces that ran counter to the editorial viewpoint of our newspaper. I think more than anything else what has happened here is that there has been some miscommunication between the Editors and our Opinion and Editorial Pages Editor. Instead of offering a weekly slot, I believe we had intended to offer a monthly slot to you. I fully apologize for this miscommunication which led you to believe we were censoring your work. Certainly not […] In my capacity as publisher, I can only reassure you that your pieces were not published because of censorship.”
Mazari replied, questioning there ever was a ‘miscommunication’ in offering her a weekly column. Excerpt:
“Dear Mr Lakhani , thank you for your response. I am glad to see you have admitted to censorship at the start of your last paragraph. I am sure your paper is doing well but it would be sad to see it become known as a reflector of only one point of view […] But that is your prerogative as owner and publisher. One last point I wish to bring to your notice yet again is that I did not ask for column space – it was [editorial page editor] who began persuading me since November … to write a weekly (not monthly) column your paper and it was not till February that I agreed on certain terms and conditions including a firm date of publication and no censorship of the views expressed. So there was enough time from November till February to rectify any misunderstanding that may have been created on the frequency of the columns. Anyhow, it is sad to see that so-called “liberals” are equally unable to tolerate dissent and differing viewpoints! With regards, Shireen Mazari.”
ANOTHER TRIBUNE CASE
Writers other than Dr. Mazari have made similar complaints against the Tribune.
Asked why this is happening, Ahmed Quraishi, a columnist, tried to explain why Pakistanis such as Dr. Mazari are being victimized in their own country. “US dollar is tottering on the brink of uncertainty in many places,” said Quraishi, adding “but in Pakistan the dollar can still beat Pakistani rupee any day. So loyalty to the state can easily be purchased. The release of foreign terrorist Raymond Davis is a good example. We have three million good reasons, or dollars, to explain it. That’s how it goes in Pakistan until a day comes when Pakistanis change it.”