The Echochamber of Malice: How Pakistani media beat its Indian counterpart on misrepresenting Nawaz's Mumbai statement

The Echochamber of Malice: How Pakistani media beat its Indian counterpart on misrepresenting Nawaz's Mumbai statement
By Usman Zafar

It’s not every day that you see Pakistan and India agree on something. Or anything.

But I must admit, after seeing the headlines on Nawaz Sharif’s interview in DAWN over the past few days, I was truly surprised.

The Indian media, it seems, had their wildest dreams fulfilled. You could see their excitement in their headlines.

Indian Express ran with Nawaz Sharif: Militants active in Pakistan, should we allow them to kill in Mumbai?”.  Economic Times went with Nawaz Sharif 'admits' Pak terrorists behind 26/11 Mumbai attacks”. And Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) ran the headline Militants from Pakistan attacked Mumbai, claims ex-PM Sharif”.

But the Pakistani media wasn’t going to be left behind. In their uber competitive spirit, they decided to amplify their current affairs loudspeakers, and unleash them on a public desperate to know what was going on.

Explosive headers on TV channels ran amok, like. The one who stayed silent over Kalbushan Yadev has begun speaking the language of Modi”. Or “After Dawn leaks, Nawaz Sharif issues yet another pro-enemy interview to Cyril Almeida. And let’s not forget Has Nawaz Sharif become a threat to the sovereignty of Pakistan?

Screengrabs from Indian media websites

Take that Indian media! We may agree with you, but we sure as hell aren’t going to be beaten by you!

But what about the paper that actually had the exclusive interview that began this tsunami in the first place?

Their headline read For Nawaz, it’s not over till it’s over”.

Wait, why didn’t they go with something explosive? After all, they had the scoop before everyone. Why not go with the Mumbai headline instead? So then I took a look at the quote:

“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”

Screengrab from

It’s funny how your brain works when adrenaline levels go down, and the anger surges drop. And then you start to see the story behind the story.

Analyzing Nawaz's original statement

Let’s start with Sharif’s 26/11 ‘admission’. He said “Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?

Did he say “we did allow them”? No. Did he say “They killed 150 people in Mumbai”? No. Did he even say that these were Pakistani militant groups? No. What he did simply, was engage in hypothetical rhetoric, a “what if” scenario. That’s why he questioned “Should we”, instead of exclaiming “We did”. This is English 101, and any half-decent editor would latch on it in a heartbeat.

But that hypothetical question was turned into a confession by the Indian media. For no reason other than a desperation to validate their narrative. They tried clever ways of camouflaging that.

How Indian media twisted and distorted Nawaz Sharif's statement

For example, Times of India, which ran with the headline “Nawaz Sharif admits Pakistan played a role in 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks”, stated in its story that Sharif “tacitly admitted that Pakistan played a role…”

So it’s not really an admission. It’s a ‘tacit’ admission. Which is a nice way of saying, “He didn’t really say it, but we think he kind of implied it, so that’s as good as an admission”.

I don’t remember anyone going to jail over a crime they implied they did. You either did it or you didn’t.

Perhaps that’s why the Economic Times tried having it both ways by putting the word ‘admits’ in quotation marks, i.e. “Nawaz Sharif 'admits' Pak terrorists behind 26/11 Mumbai attacks”. Sorry, ET, just adding quotation marks doesn’t absolve you.

Economic Times ridiculous use of quotes to absolve itself

Then there’s the ‘admission’ on Pakistan-led militancy. The IANS story copy states “"Militant organisations are active (in Pakistan)," Sharif told the Dawn newspaper in an interview.

But the Dawn story never mentioned ‘(in Pakistan)’ in its quotes. That was something put in by IANS. So Sharif never really said he was talking about Pakistani militant groups, or even groups based in Pakistan. But by adding that nice tidbit, it implies that Sharif was talking about alleged Pakistani groups.

That gave the Indian press all the ammunition it needed. Indian Express removed the brackets, misquoting that Sharif said “Militants active in Pakistan”. Hindustan Times claimed “Nawaz Sharif has publicly acknowledged that militant organisations are active in the country”. Times of India changed the quote altogether, replacing ‘active’ with ‘thriving in Pakistan’.

The ex-PM said neither of those things. But through an implied narrative, quotes and their meanings can be manufactured out of thin air.

Pakistani media beats its Indian counterpart to disgrace

That thin air quickly turned into hot air when the Indian broadcast media ran with these. It was pretty much the same as the print media, multiplied by a 100. So it is a waste of column space to analyse what their ‘pundits’ and ‘analysts’ said.

What was deplorable though, was how Pakistan’s media ‘analysed’ this issue.

A disturbingly large number of anchors were not making their opinion from the Dawn story, but rather from the Indian media’s distortion of that story.

Combine that with the seemingly omnipresent vitriol against the government, and you have the toxic brew emerging on our TV screens.

It was appalling that a number of channels were not quoting the original story, but actually the misquoted versions from the Indian media. To make matters worse, the visuals being shown in the current affairs programs were actually showing screenshots of the Indian media headlines instead of the original story.

Why didn’t Pakistan’s media question this narrative?

After all, when the Indian channels alleged Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai attacks, or the Pathankot assault, we went all out on the offensive.

But we didn’t do that here. Because we had a narrative to validate as well. Besides, in this culture of breaking news, who has time to really see what was actually quoted? It’s much easier to put a screenshot of a salacious headline instead.

And when you combine that with our own headlines, it makes for Must See TV!

Then we took it a step further. The above headlines, which question the ex-PM’s commitment to Pakistan, was bolstered by our own pundits and ‘analysts’, who took no time to grind their own axes. Accusations flew of Sharif following a pro-India agenda, even though he has issued multiple statements against Indian interference in the wake of the Kalbhushan case. And even though it is his government that is upholding the death sentence of Kalbhushan, despite enormous international pressure, he is seen as “speaking the language of Modi”.

Nawaz questioned on Kulbhushan Jadhav

We took the Indian media’s stance, word for word, angle for angle. We were lazy and grossly incompetent at best, and complicit and propagandistic at worst. We didn’t care where our information came from and how, as long as it reinforced our malicious narrative. How pathetically irresponsible. Is this how we want to inform our public? Through unverified malice?

We should expect better from our press than to engage in such fabricated lies and misinformation. In today’s culture of ‘fake news’, the last thing we need is to tarnish our own institutions and their leaders just to peddle a toxic narrative based on pre-conceived biases and distortions.

Our public deserves better. I think that is something we can all agree on.