Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFFEE: Mirroring the past, The Daily Times, May 10, 2014

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Mirroring the past

Even when the evidence that the photos were a hoax became overwhelming, the then prime minister refused to comment on the issue and stated that it was a matter for the management of the newspaper to decide

In 2003, the British media was bursting at the seams with stories on the Iraq war. The Iraq invasion was not popular with the liberal media in the UK and many left leaning journalists became radical opponents of the war. One such passionate journalist was Piers Morgan who was then the editor of a tabloid called the Daily Mirror. While British soldiers were risking their lives in Iraq, the paper kept publishing scathingly critical stories relating to the war. The overzealous paper published shocking photos relating to British soldiers in Iraq, which were purportedly acquired for $ 40,000. Of many offensive photos, in one a British soldier was shown urinating on a hooded Iraqi prisoner. The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (QLR), which was sent to Iraq, condemned the publication of the photos complaining that the photos had endangered British troops.  Despite the fact that such pictures were used by al Qaeda strategists for recruitment purposes, the British army and intelligence agencies did not go berserk. The security establishment instead collected credible evidence and proved the pictures to be fake at a news conference.  The regiment’s brigadier, Geoff Sheldon, asked the newspaper to apologise for damaging the QLR’s reputation. Even when the evidence that the photos were a hoax became overwhelming, the then prime minister refused to comment on the issue and stated that it was a matter for the management of the newspaper to decide. On May 14 that year, the Mirror admitted its fault but, as the editor was still not ready to apologise, he was fired and an apology was published by the paper in which it admitted that it had been the victim of a “calculated and malicious hoax”. 

Despite the fact that showing respect to the US army is an important element of patriotic feeling in the US, newspapers often publish stories and photographs that expose malpractices of serving army personnel. Journalists, however, cannot always be on the spot. For instance, The Boston Globe, a subsidiary of The New York Times, published photos that had been provided by a Boston city councillor in a press conference. The pictures had been taken by Arab propagandists from a pornographic website and faked as US soldiers raping Iraqi women. A simple internet search would have established this fraud to the newspaper but arrogance and overconfidence did not let the paper do that. Finally, when the evidence became overriding, the editor had to admit that the photo was a fake and apologised for a “lapse in judgment”.  

When the scandalous fake photos were published, both the US and UK armies were actively engaged in a war and the pictures greatly enhanced the dangers to the lives of the soldiers on the warfront. No public campaign was launched and the armies continued to stay focused on their professional duties. However, in Pakistan, the scene is entirely different. After unleashing staged demonstrations by phony leaders belonging to fabricated organisations, now two heavyweight performers are being set free to galvanise public support in favour of our oversensitive security establishment. While Dr Tahirul Qadri can be excused as he has no stake in the present parliamentary system, one is less forgiving in the case of Imran Khan.

Mr Khan has been clamouring for four constituencies for long but accusing a television channel of election rigging sounds like a forced insertion in the script. If the leaders of the PPP had complained that the media and former chief justice were responsible for their poor election performance, one could appreciate their concern, but media in general and this television channel in particular had projected Mr Khan as the messiah. How so suddenly has this fact dawned upon the architect of ‘naya (new) Pakistan’ that a news channel was instrumental in his defeat and hence he is now boycotting it? Mr Khan must make a more persuasive case. Politics is the art of perception management. Already critics have accused him of being promoted by the agencies as, allegedly, they wanted a Trojan horse to make inroads inside the political landscape of Pakistan. By making wild accusations against the former chief justice and the media group, Mr Khan is not dispelling the impression about his role as a national leader. If he wants to be the prime minister he should focus on his government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After two or three years people are going to ask what mega projects he initiated there. By what percentage did tax revenue and literacy increase in the province? What contribution did he make as a parliamentarian in good law making? Just gimmicks are not going to help. “Mubarik ho, mubarik ho” (congratulations) was the call of the Canadian sermoniser from inside a container last time. What are the two leaders promising the nation this time? Let us wait and see. 

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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