The Pakistani press is becoming increasingly independent and free-wheeling, representing new opportunities for government criticism. This newfound press freedom, however, has also resulted in numerous mishaps, if not incidents of gross irresponsibility, in the Pakistani media, one example of which surrounds an article written at The Cable.
Pakistan’s The Nation bills itself as Pakistan’s “most respected publication in English,” and “internationally the most quoted Pakistani newspaper,” but it often levels controversial and thinly supported accusations at elements of the government led by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari and has published unsupported allegations about U.S. journalists working in Pakistan.
In one such case, a Pakistani official is now pushing back. Islamabad’s man in Washington, Amb. Husain Haqqani, has sued The Nation for libel after the newspaper published an article Oct. 14 accusing the ambassador of threatening to reveal state secrets if he were sacked due to the botched rollout of the Kerry-Lugar Pakistani aid bill.
The article in The Nation appears to be based entirely on an Oct. 12 Cable itemquoting Haqqani as saying he was not being fired and also citing Pakistani sources as saying that “Haqqani has reams of documents that could embarrass the forces aligned against him and sacking him could open up a Pandora’s box of controversy.”
In the Nation article, however, writer Ahmed Quraishi, shown at right, states without evidence that the Pakistani source was “close to Ambassador Haqqani,” and states without evidence that Haqqani is “contemplating going public with embarrassing Pakistani official documents.” Neither allegation was part of the article in The Cable.
The title of Quraishi’s article goes even further in misrepresenting the reporting in The Cable, and reads, “If fired, Haqqani threatens to unveil ‘reams’ of Pakistan’s secrets.”
(Quraishi also mislabeled the author of The Cable as “Bill” Rogin; not sure where he got that one.)
Haqqani is suing The Nation and its editor in chief, Majeed Nizami, for one billion Pakistani rupees, which is equivalent to about $12 million U.S. dollars. He remains at his post and there are no signs he is on the way out.
Nizami and The Nation also stand accused this month of endangering the life ofWall Street Journal South Asia correspondent Matthew Rosenberg, after publishing a front-page article Nov. 5 accusing him of being an agent for the CIA, Blackwater, and as having ties to the Mossad, the famous Israeli intelligence agency.
Sourced to one anonymous “official of a law enforcement agency,” the article sought to portray Rosenberg’s meetings with various officials and travel around the region as evidence he was something other than a regular journalist doing his job.
The Rosenberg article prompted the leaders of 21 top international journalism organizations to write to the government of Pakistan asking for protection for foreign journalists placed in danger by such unsupported accusations. TheJournal‘s Daniel Pearl was killed in Pakistan in 2002.
“We strongly support press freedoms across the world. But this irresponsible article endangered the life of one journalist and could imperil others,” the letter stated. “It is particularly upsetting that this threat has come from among our own colleagues.”
Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thompson also sent a separate letter to Nizami and The Nation‘s Shireen Mazari defending Rosenberg’s status as a well-respected, objective reporter and demanding a retraction.
“Our profession has been done a great disservice by the utterly baseless article,” Thompson wrote. “At present, your paper is guilty of spreading falsehoods, but it could ultimately be complicit in a far greater tragedy unless this wrong is corrected.”
Pakistan Media Watch, a blog covering the missteps of Pakistani media outlets, has ongoing coverage of the Rosenberg scandal and other abuses by The Nation.
Author Ahmed Rashid explained in a recent article on the BBC Web site that elements of the Pakistani press are dedicated to toppling the Zadari government or stirring controversy by airing conspiracy theories while ignoring serious news events.
“Pakistan is going through a multi-dimensional series of crises and a collapse of public confidence in the state. Suicide bombers strike almost daily and the economic meltdown just seems to get worse. But this is rarely apparent in the media,” Rashid wrote.
“The campaign waged by some politicians and parts of the media — with underlying pressure from the army — is all about trying to build public opinion to make Mr Zardari’s tenure untenable.”