A Lesson in media manipulation – by Eqbal Alavi

Today’s US diplomatic cables leak by Wikileaks, called Cablegate has set off a global diplomatic crises with various countries feeling the heat for remarks and allegations in the leaked messages. While none of the 2, 200 emerging from the US Embassy in Islamabad have been released yet, others from around the region have already sparked debate on various issues. The case of the US wanting access to highly enriched uranium has been somewhat overshadowed in the local media by one alleged quotation of the King of Saudi Arabia terming the President “the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress”.

Let us examine the original quote from transcript, available on the Cablegate website:-

King Abdullah firmly believes that Asif Zardari is the primary obstacle to the government’s ability to move unequivocally to end terrorist safe havens there (“when the head is rotten, it affects the whole body”).

Source : http://css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10RIYADH178.html

The New York Times, which mentioned the alleged quote in its coverage mentions this conversation as:-

“King Abdullah “called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body.”

The News mentions this as:-

“King Abdullah calling President Asif Ali Zardari as “the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress””.

This quote has then been pasted across all newspaper, websites and blogs across the globe., on

Daily Times
Aaj TV
Telegraph (India)

And hundreds of other places.

While the real quote itself is not flattering, although completely laughable since Asif Ali Zardari was being lambasted for being insensitive about collateral damage (“Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me” in Bob Woodward’s unprovable “Obama’s Wars”) just weeks ago, it shows how a single word can change entire narratives. A manipulation to “progress” has allowed the media to portray the remarks from the Saudi monarch as representative of Asif Ali Zardaris’ views as a corrupt leader. There is no doubt that the man’s character has been called into question many times, and many countries see his tarnished image of the yesteryears as problematic but the way manipulation has been done to align it with the media narrative of the President being corrupt is highly deplorable, criminal and shameful. Urdu media of course has used the same quote and the media is now talking about the said quote as proof that Saudi Arabia, a country that is represented as our true friend regardless of their historical role and yet again proven private financing of Al-Qaeda and other terrorists, views the present government as a corrupt regime.

The misquote, nay manipulation, has been used already by Dawn, The News, Express and Daily Times and most likely will be used by all leading newspapers. In this they choose not to dig deep and check sources and rely on the New York Times, a globally credited news source, and therefore can be assessed as having not been merely jumping on the anti-PPP bandwagon. However, the effect that this quote will have cannot be ignored. It shows us that a simple change of word, deliberate or mere mistake, can lead to a lot of damage. The global media now shows that Saudi Arabia, which is seen as Pakistan’s ally, does not trust the leadership of the country, see them as a problem to the country’s progress and view them as corrupt rulers. The local media will most definitely utilize this alleged quote of the “Khadim e Harmain Shareefain” to state that the stories corruption of the government have crossed international boundaries and the justified criticism of the media’s sensationalism and mis-representations on the issue of corruption were therefore not valid. The narrative of “corrupt government” will be further strengthened and the President’s image further tarnished, yet again without any proof and this time through manipulated quotes.

Concerning the real quote from King Abdullah, it is ironic that the President of a government that launched military action in Swat, Orakzai, South Waziristan and openly engaged terrorists across the country is being called as being an obstacle to removing terrorism. The previous regime stonewalled international pressure to tackle terrorists in FATA and let the monsters of Swat grow, while the current government tackled the issue head on and it’s coalition partners in the KP have suffered immensely due to their stand on the issue of terrorism as well. No one can rightly accuse the current regime of having avoided tackling the terrorists. Times are difficult and the terrorists have increased their attacks, but nobody in his right mind can accuse the PPP and Asif Ali Zardari of having been soft on terrorists. Benazir Bhutto was killed by the establishment using Baitullah Mehsud and the PPP has never been accused of having a soft spot for militants. For the monarch of a country that has again been shown to be playing a double game and financing Al-Qaeda and other militants behind the world’s back, asking the US to bomb Iran and posturing itself in such a way that it rips apart the whole concept of Muslim brotherhood, to accuse Pakistan – the biggest victim of terrorism and Wahabi financed monsters is laughable.

Shame on the New York Times for having manipulated the quote for whatever reasons. Shame on the local media for jumping on the NYT’s gun and ignoring to check the source for themselves. Let us see how a manipulated quote can have damaging consequences.

What has further been ignored is the Saudi support for dictatorship in the country. The very next sentence after the manipulated quote says:

The King told General Jones that U.S. development assistance would rebuild trust with the Army, which he asserted was staying out of politics in deference to U.S. wishes, rather than doing what it “should.”

The international and local media have conveniently ignored that Saudi Arabia support anti-democracy moves in the country. The country that supported the dictator Zia ul Haq and during his regime solidified the network of Wahabi madrassas that it funds till today, is yet again supporting unconstitutional moves from the military of Pakistan. It is worthwhile to note that Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has met the King of Saudi Arabia twice in the last eighteen months. It seems perhaps that the Saudi monarch is upset with the steadfast stance of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani on the issue of terrorism and would like to see the military and the establishment ruling the roost directly and protecting their combined child, the Taliban.



Latest Comments
  1. plutonic66
  2. Junaid Mangi
  3. M Usama Kabbir
  4. Abdul Nishapuri
  5. Chung Witry