Axact and media ethics
My mind flashed back to the story of Dr B B Qureshi who breathed her last three years ago as a homeless, lonely person at the Edhi Centre in Karachi. According to media reports, she was Pakistan’s first female PhD, who had done her doctorate from Trinity College in Dublin and included among her students was Kofi Anan, the former secretary general of the UN. Upon her return to Pakistan she experienced an unwelcoming attitude both in the teaching community and in her own family. The heartrending story of Dr Qureshi tells us that it is not education that determines a person’s worth in society but that one needs to be trading in fake degrees in order to be rolling in billions.
The tsunami like reaction of some major media houses over the Axact news story is not rocket science to understand. The target was a soon to be launched television channel that was being financed by Axact’s money stream. “Jab kashti doobne lagti hey to bojh utara kerte hain” (when a ship is sinking you unload it) and, hence, within no time the journalists that had joined the channel after they were tempted with astronomical salaries fled the Titanic ship that had hit an iceberg. It was interesting to listen to their tales about sudden pricks of conscience. The misdeeds of Axact have been enthusiastically covered by the electronic media. But it is media as a whole that is in the spotlight with its pants down.
We have seen in the recent past how some media houses lined up to begin a smear campaign against Hamid Mir while he was down with bullet wounds. We have witnessed how certain media outlets and some anchors joined hands with spymasters and promoted blasphemy charges against a private channel that was being repeatedly stabbed by the agencies and their operatives. And we have also seen how Imran Khan was promoted by certain channels during his ill-fated dharna (sit-in) adventure while he was publicly accusing a private channel of rigging the election and having links with Indian agencies. We have also seen the detestable level of hypocrisy and opportunism when the same network began interviewing Khan sahib without confronting him with his past accusations. It seems that neither leaders have any sense of ethical behaviour nor do media houses follow any ethics. If selling fake degrees is an offence leading to the premature death of a new channel, how come it is ethical to see a strange combination of religion and showbiz on a morning show by someone who has purchased a fake online PhD degree? Similarly, a former law minister of the previous PPP-led government also purchased a fake PhD degree to add the title of Dr to his name. Unashamedly, like the other showbiz sermoniser, the former minister also began appearing in the media giving lectures on theology and morality.
A bigger question has not been addressed adequately in the Axact related media coverage. How come a little known person was able to create an empire in such a short time? Axact’s owner, Shoaib Shaikh, is either a super conman or a skilful artist. When I first read about Axact’s booming business, the story of the South Sea Bubble Scam of 1720 came to mind. The British South Sea Company promoted a fake sentiment of great returns on future trade with South-America. The hysteria among investors soon led to shares rising to 10 times their value in no time. While some made huge fortunes, thousands were ruined once the bubble burst. Even Newton lost his hard earned savings. Our prime investigative journalists can claim to be the Newtons of our time.
There is another possible explanation as well as I am reminded of the case of a multibillion export refund scam by another charismatic individual by the name of Raja Zaraat. This interesting person was a clerk in the customs department but he gradually became very rich and influential due to export related assignments. He later established his own group of companies and ran many charity organisations. Even chairpersons of the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) attended his functions. A former colleague, and someone who was privy to his case, told me that Zaraat was able to play like a God because he was looked after by a powerful intelligence agency. It was only when the media sensationalised his export rebate scam leading to his arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that the intelligence agency abandoned him. I will not be surprised if a somewhat similar story is behind the rise of Axact’s owner