From the Editor: Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui

February 03, 2006

The Washington Post Fulminations

“In promulgating your esoteric cogitation are you aware of your platitudinous ponderosity?” Youthful stirrings in the exciting transition from school to college in Pakistan prompted us to pose this question to classmates who were not so proficient in English. In due course of time, we realized our folly. The less-proficient in English burnt the proverbial midnight oil to make their successful pilgrimage to Cornell, Stanford, McGill and Loughborough. They emerged as bright doctors, zestful engineers, and innovative R&D professionals to make up an enterprising lot - men of substance. High-sounding verbosity or superficial affectations was not their forte.

Recently, we were reminded of our unbecoming youthful levity on perusing an editorial in the Washington Post. Describing President Musharraf as a “meretricious” military ruler, the editorial smacked of arrogance and made quite a few misleading observations in an imperial tone.

A few excerpts:

“Ever since the war on terrorism began, this meretricious military ruler has tried to be counted as a US ally while avoiding an all-out campaign against the Islamic extremists in his country, who almost surely include Osama bin Laden and his top deputies. Despite mounting costs in American lives and resources, he has gotten away with it…” Quite to the contrary, as pointed out by the Pakistan Embassy, on March 8, 2005 President Bush had told a gathering at the National Defense University: “We are more secure because Pakistani forces captured more than 100 extremists across the country last year, including operatives who were plotting attacks against the United States.”

The lambaste continued: “Yet Gen. Musharraf has never directed his forces against the Pashtun Taliban militants who use Pakistan as a base to wage war against American and Afghan forces across the border. He has never dismantled the Islamic extremist groups that carry out terrorist attacks against India. He has never cleaned up the Islamic madrassas that serve as a breeding ground for suicide bombers. He has pardoned and protected the greatest criminal proliferator of nuclear weapons technology in history, A.Q. Khan, who aided Libya, North Korea and Iran…” Misleading claims. The fact of the matter is that President Musharraf has acted with due expedition to counter the Taliban remnants in the northern part of the country. The Pakistan Army has suffered losses yet the pressure has been maintained, nay, mounted. One is impelled to ask the Post editors if the presence of coalition troops in Iraq has prevented the acts of madness by suicide bombers?

As for the terrorist camps against India, there are none. The indigenous nature of the uprising in Occupied Kashmir has been conclusively proved - time and again. Indeed, Pakistan opened up the whole Azad Jammu and Kashmir territory to international relief agencies after the Oct 8 earthquake. “Had there been any such group in Pakistan, the government would have not allowed charity organizations and UN agencies to function in Azad Jammu and Kashmir,” the Pakistan Embassy protest note in Washington rightly claimed

The madrassas have a new curriculum, marking a wholesome change. The A. Q. Khan network has been effectively dismantled while no such action has been taken against nuclear proliferators of European origin whose complicity in shady dealings has been amply proved. Why such omission on the part of European countries has gone unnoticed, one may ask.

“If targets can be located, they should be attacked -- with or without Gen. Musharraf’s cooperation…” A preposterous suggestion in total disregard of international norms! It is a pity that the Washington Post, which claims to be the bastion of liberal journalism, unabashedly advocates bullyboy techniques.

One need hardly remind the Post editors that the media has to be honest and objective if it is to succeed in fulfilling its role of defining a healthy set of values for society, to draw the line between right and wrong, to be the upholder of liberty and freedom. Tocqueville was wholly right when he declared in 1835 that “a nation that is determined to remain free is right in demanding at any price the exercise of this independence” (of the media). It was the recognition of this noble role that led to the acceptance of the media as the ‘fourth estate’ in the UK as early as 1789. Three decades earlier, in 1753 to be precise, seven million newspapers were sold in the UK annually; 20,000 a day, more than any other country at that time.

Yet, truthfulness and objectivity have been an elusive hallmark of the fourth estate - today and earlier. About seventy years back, the American media found itself precariously perched. It was helplessly dependent for news flow on the British press. Kent Cooper, a former Executive Manager of the Associated Press (AP), complained about American dependence thus: “Reuter decided what news was to be sent from America. It told the world about Indians on the warpath in the west, lynching in the south, and bizarre crimes in the north. The charge for decades was that nothing creditable to America was sent…. Figuratively speaking, in the United States, it wasn’t safe to travel on account of the Indians.”

Stressing the same point more incisively and in the context of the present times, William James Stover (Information Technology in the Third World, Colorado, US, 1984) observes: “The concentration of telecommunication facilities, news agencies, mass media outlets, data resources, and manufacturers of communication equipment in a small group of advanced countries precludes a full, two-way flow of information among equals. As a result, the flow of messages, data, media programs, culture and other information is directed predominantly from bigger to smaller countries, from those with power and technology to those less advanced, from the developed to the less developed world…” Not surprisingly, UPS’ monthly output of 150 filmed stories from N. America and Europe sharply contrasted with 20 from Asia!

Today, the media wields a formidable clout. It can demolish states, institutions, and even presidents of the most powerful country of the world. Instructive excerpts from Modern Times (Paul Johnson, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1992):

“The men and the movement that broke Lyndon Johnson’s authority in 1968 are out to break Richard Nixon in 1969 …breaking presidentship is, like most feats, easier to accomplish the second time round…” (p. 647)

“Remember”, he (Nixon) told his staff, “the press is the enemy. When news is concerned nobody in the press is a friend. They are all enemies.” (p. 647)

“Nixon never put his side of the case since, rather than risk the prolonged national convulsion of an impeachment, which might have lasted years, he resigned in August 1974. Thus, the electoral verdict of 1972 was overturned by what might be described as a media putsch. The ‘imperial presidency’ was replaced by the ‘imperial press.’ “ (p. 653)

If the powerful American president was so helpless before the more powerful media, what could be the lot of the have-nots, the developing countries, or the Third World known for the ‘third-ness’ of its strivings? More Rosenblu, former editor of the International Herald Tribune, furnishes an insightful answer: “The Western monopoly on the distribution of news, whereby even stories written about one Third World country for distribution in another are reported and transmitted by international agencies based in New York, London, and Paris amounts to neo-colonialism and cultural domination.”

The quotations from various sources in this piece may sound excessive yet they have been mentioned to lend credence to the argument.

It is in this context that a Los Angeles Times editorial comment made sometime back should be perused. It is a comment that could serve as food for thought for many a newspaper editor: “As a member of the industry we hesitate to offer unsolicited advise to the ubiquitous media… Each news outlet should reexamine its decisions. Were they true to a mission of delivering news not speculations of reporting facts, not hyped promotional opportunities?”
- afaruqui@pakistanlink.com

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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