How Pakistan’s Media Promotes Self-Righteousness And Conspiracy Theories
Prime Minister Imran Khan has said: “Pakistani news media is freer than its Western counterparts.” He argued that Pakistani media could publish anything without proper verification because there were no libel laws in the country. So, Pakistani media is freer than the Western media, he concluded. It is a bizarre argument. In contrast to Mr. Khan, The Guardian wrote in its issue of November 5, 2019: “Journalists, activists, authors, and politicians spoke to the Guardian of a climate of ‘extreme fear and self-censorship’, and the suppression of opposition political voices, even worse than during the military dictatorship of General Zia, who oppressively ruled Pakistan between 1977 and 1988.”
In addition to fear and self-censorship, Pakistan’s news media lacks commitment to excellence. Journalistic concepts such as objectivity, fairness, accuracy, and balance are by and large alien. However, it overflows with self-righteousness, persecution complex, conspiracy theories and emotionalism.
Saazish (conspiracy) is one of the most overused words. The concept of fact-checking does not exist. Not only there is no mechanism to ensure accuracy, newspapers treat their columnists as sacred cows, shielding them from criticism.
India and Hindus are the biggest recipients of criticism. Journalists write against them, considering it their patriotic duty. It has nothing to do with the current Indian government. India is religiously described as the azli dushman or eternal enemy (Shakeel Farooqi, Express, December 14, 2016). Regardless of their political differences, all of the Indian leaders are enemies of Pakistan and disciples of the evil Chanakya (Ibid). India has a makrooh chehra or disgusting face (Nawa-i-Waqt, December 29, 1999).
All the Urdu newspapers, which are read by most educated people, promote hatred against India, but Nawa-i-Waqt (The Voice of Times) is the undisputed champion of Indophobia. In the 1980s, its late owner-editor, Majeed Nizami, declined President Zia’s invitation to accompany him to India, saying that if he ever went to India, he would go riding a military tank as a conqueror. He repeatedly said that Pakistan should not shy away from using nuclear weapons to wrest Kashmir from India. His fondest wish was to turn himself into a nuclear bomb and get dropped on India (Nawa-i-Waqt, November 5, 2008). The U.S., Israel, India are the biggest terrorists (Nawa-i-Waqt, December 23, 2008). They want to annihilate Pakistan (Nawa-i-Waqt, January 15, 2012).
The Jews and the U.S. also receive their fair share of criticism. For example, the Jews are not only the enemies of Islam but also of humanity. They are despicable conspiratorial people. They are responsible for all bloodshed in the world, including the Crusades and the two world wars (Shakeel Farooqi, Express, January 8, 2019). According to Majeed Nizami, 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy against the Muslim world (The Nation, March 7, 2004). He falsely claimed that the U.S. newspapers had written that on September 11, 2011, not a single Jew reported to work at the WTC and nobody had contradicted this story (Nawa-i-Waqt, June 10, 2004).
Pakistani newspapers routinely publish unsubstantiated claims. Here is a sampling. The Americans invented the Coronavirus eight years ago. They had also developed its vaccine. They sent the virus to China to economically destroy it (Mazhar Barlas, Jang, April 22, 2020). The West has allocated $870 billion to convert poor Muslims to Christianity (Asaas, Rawalpindi, April 12, 1999). Nusrat Mirza, a well-known columnist, has written that the U.S. was responsible for the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods in Pakistan (Jang, March 23, 2010). India has been massacring Kashmiris for the last six decades. Its genocide of Kashmiris is worse than what Hitler did to the Jews (Asadullah Ghalib, Nawa-i-Waqt, February 10, 2015). The barbarism of Changez Khan and Hulagu Khan pales into insignificance when compared with what the Indian military has done in Kashmir (Muhammad Khalid Qureshi, Nawa-i-Waqt, March 31, 2018). The Indo-American lobby is in power in Pakistan (Brigadier Shamsul Haq Qazi, Nawa-i-Waqt, April 9, 2006). Pakistani rulers are India’s stooges (Nawa-i-Waqt, October 11, 2017). India is a fanatical Hindu state (Nawa-i-Waqt, February 3, 2009).
Applying the epithet ‘extremist’ to Hindus is superfluous as all of them are extremists (Nawa-i-Waqt, October 27, 2005). And what does the word Hindu mean? Hindu is a Sanskrit word that means a thief who cowardly asserts his ownership right to stolen goods (Nawa-i-Waqt, January 2, 1966). “Hindus can never tolerate Muslims” (Nawa-i-Waqt, March 7, 2006). On February 22, 2004, Nawa-i-Waqt dehumanized the entire Hindu community: “Because of their appearance, our youngsters mistake the Hindus for humans. These human-looking creatures are bloodthirsty beasts, dreadful crocodiles, dragons and cunning foxes.” Waxing eloquent, Mirza Ahmad Noor Tahir declared in Ausaf (December 9, 2004) that cunning, deception, fraud, hypocrisy, falsehood, and enmity against Islam are stuffed into Hindus’ genetic makeup.
“India is a conspiratorial country whose Hindu leadership is cunning and glib,” wrote Mr. Ata Muhammad Malik in Pakistan, an Urdu newspaper, of September 3, 1999. “India is hell for minorities. The Indian security forces gouge out the eyes of living human beings, cut off their limbs, and throw acid in the vaginas of women. They routinely desecrate the religious books of all minorities.” “Since day one Pakistan has been facing an ignoble, cunning and malicious enemy in India, which in its heart of hearts never accepted the creation of Pakistan” (Nawa-i-Waqt, August 1, 2005). The U.S. had been more inimical to Pakistan than India (Ausaf, November 22, 2004), and don’t forget that the U.N. is the mistress of the U.S. (Ansar Abbasi, Jang, April 5, 2018).
In a front-page analysis in Jang, Pakistan’s best-known newspaper, Javed Rasheed wrote on February 18, 2005, that the construction of the Baglihar dam in Kashmir was an anti-Pakistan conspiracy of RAW, the foreign intelligence agency of India, Mossad and the CIA. The Pentagon prepared the Kargil war plan against India. The Americans rescued the Indians on the assurance that they would sign the CTBT in September 1999 (Jasarat, July 30, 1999).
The U.S. is the representative of anti-Islamic satanic powers such as Hindus, Jews and Christians, wrote Nawa-i-Waqt editorially on April 29, 2019. “It is helping the Modi government in turning India into an extremist Hindu state. The Modi government is hell-bent on destroying regional peace and security.” It also claimed that India had staged the drama of Pulwama suicide bombing in Kashmir to whip up enmity against Pakistan. “Now if the world leaders don’t shed their cloak of expediency the destruction of the planet earth at the hands of India is the writing on the wall.”
It is imperative to change this situation. The people of Pakistan deserve better. They cannot be expected to think in a balanced and rational manner when they are constantly bombarded with disinformation and emotional rhetoric. Democracy cannot flourish in such an atmosphere. The news organizations need to train their talk show hosts, producers, columnists, reporters and copy editors in journalistic ethics and critical thinking skills. The institution of fact-checking has to be instituted. Newspapers will have to allow their readers to comment on columns and news stories in their online editions.
Shakil Chaudhary is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher. He is the author of Handbook of Functional English (Ferozsons). He can be reached at [email protected]