Dirty Laundry | Pakistan Today

Dirty Laundry

I want to name names and point fingers, but I can’t. Honour among thieves and that sort of thing
I make my living off the evening news
Just gimme something, something I can use
People love it when you lose
They love dirty laundry

Don Henley had the right idea when he sang about the news business. Because that’s just what the news business in Pakistan has become; a wad of soiled undergarments being aired in public, unwashed. But that doesn’t mean that the individuals who work for our media houses are invertebrate, obnoxious, reptilian beings who would sell their own mothers for a scoop. In fact, most journalists, be they newsroom hands or intrepid reporters and camerapersons (who may or may not be putting their lives on the line everyday), are actually some of the most intelligent, sensitive and down-to-earth people I’ve ever come across. But there’s such a thing known as organisational mizaaj, which permeates the core of every sahafi and, for the bulk of their time spent in the field, becomes a part of their persona. This has more to do with people’s expectations from journos than their own selves. So the streetwise crime reporter becomes an over-the-top version of Chuck Norris just so he can ask important people tough questions and get away with it. It’s a character, a persona. It’s his job to be like that. In real life, that man has sacrificed more for his profession than you and I ever could. Keep this in mind the next time a promo for the crime show ‘FIR’ comes on and you’re tempted to poke fun at Faheem Siddiqui’s bad impersonation of the host from America’s Most Wanted.

The news game is not about the individual. It’s about the group. Every major media house, bar none, has an agenda. Some agendas are pretty straightforward, like the anti-government-yet-watered-down-with-a-stiff-upper-lip temperament of Yawn; or the criticise-everything-because-our-man-is-in-opposition style of Lahore-based N-mouthpiece. Others’ agendas, like that of the Red-and-White Media Group and the Maya Khan conglomerate, are more complex. There are special interests, friends of the boss, friends of the bosses’ sons and daughters, political partners and business rivals that must be dealt with. As is too often said, most of the media groups in existence today, except maybe the three oldest ones, were founded merely to provide the owners’ other businesses with cover; political, financial and legal cover. And thanks to the unique way these groups played their cards, we in Pakistan now enjoy tremendous media freedom, to the point that there seems to be no system of checks or balances on the fourth estate.

Dyed-in-the-wool journalists will tell you that all this talk of putting the media on a leash is detrimental to the greater cause. They will try to convince you that, in fact, letting the media operate as a free agent with no regulation and all the power in the world is the way things are and should be done. Sahafi-gardi, they will tell you, is necessary in a situation where most other institutions are inept or impotent. In such cases, the media becomes the final forum for redressal of popular grievances that actually holds any sway. I say to these people: “What a load of croc”!

Every single issue ever highlighted by the news media, be it loadshedding or inflation or political misdemeanours, are all dictated by that particular group’s allegiances. So you should not expect Tez TV to report on the recent ill-managed concert rampage that cost innocent college girls their lives just because the owner of said colleges also owns the TV channel in question. You should, however, expect them to blow out of proportion every single story about the government’s ‘mismanagement of Punjab’ just so they can say “See, our time wasn’t this bad!” You’re right, it wasn’t, because you weren’t there to twist your statements to make them sound like they were coming from Saddam Hussein rather than Shahbaz Sharif.

This game of one-upmanship goes beyond political gain. Media magnates, despite being perfectly rational and reasonable individuals in their own right, seem to depart on power-fuelled acid trips when faced with making decisions that affect the lives of millions. Including their own employees. They treat everything like a number game, because as owners of sprawling empires, that’s what their currency is. It’s all about the numbers. Revenue targets, ratings, profit margins and cutbacks. People? Employees? Readers? Viewers? Just another statistic on the Powerpoint projection of their wealth.

But that doesn’t matter, does it? It’s alright to keep your employees starving while you sip champagne and devour caviar in the comfort of your many mansions. It is only natural for a family of spoilt, rich brats who haven’t done an honest day’s work in their entire lives to deem it unnecessary to pay those who work to build their glorious pyramids. It’s also perfectly reasonable to revoke the hard-earned salary raises of those who toil endlessly just so your son can afford to learn how to live a life free of substances to use and abuse. It’s also perfectly commonplace for the seth to undo everything the seth’s son does, because they don’t share the same vision for the organisation. And it is next to godliness to ensure that anyone who has taken bullets, bombs and the threat of imminent death for family members does not remain tied to your worthless, moralising organisation. It makes me sad to say this, but the group most hated for over-sensationalisation is perhaps the only one that treats its employees like human beings. Not completely, mind you, but just enough that they look like anointed saints in this bazaar of zameer-faroshs.

From the day I signed my first job contract with a (then) respected newspaper to the day that my employment at a moralising media house was terminated because I was too loyal to the cause; it has been a rollercoaster ride for me. For nearly eight years, I wandered from city to city, media house to news organisation, looking for a calling that would let me do what I’m good at, telling true stories. But even today, in this very column, I have to water-down my narrative. I want to name names and point fingers, but I can’t. Honour among thieves and that sort of thing. But a time comes when you have to stick your head out the window and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

That time is now. That person is you.

Follow @mightyobvious on Twitter for more incoherence in 160 characters or less

Syed Hassan Belal Zaidi

The writer is a journalist currently working in the development sector. Tweets at: @mightyobvious_



38 Comments

    • I Ahmed said:

      I probably shouldn't even bother replying since your name is 'Troll' but no lines were 'plagiarised' when they are written in italics and the writer names the singer immediately.

  1. ghrr said:

    great piece. sahafi-gardi is a bigger threat than we realize. just heard today of an organization that has had to push back on government school reform till after elections because they are scared of teacher protests which both them and the teachers know the media will lap up at this point.

  2. jr sahafi said:

    MEDIA GROUPS MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:

    Lahore-based N-mouthpiece: Nawa-e-Waqt
    Red-and-White Media Group: Express News
    Tez TV: Dunya News
    the Maya Khan conglomerate: CNBC & SAMAA
    the group most hated for over-sensationalisation: Geo
    Yawn: Dawn

  3. Sheraz Javed said:

    Dear Mightyobvious,
    You have precisely said what I have been rearing to say for a while about the so-called “Azaad” and “awakened” Media of Pakistan.But you have managed to say it in a polite, precise and logical manner which I would never have been able to say. May you find your true calling soon.

  4. Anwar said:

    Great piece Mighty…!!! Troll however missed the point that you were basing your article on Don Henley's song :P. lol @ plagiarism.

  5. Annoying Guy on Bus said:

    so lemme get this straight…
    Daily Times, AAJ and NEWSONE dont pay salaries.
    Sultan Lakhani of red and white group has cancelled all the things his son had done, including salary increments.
    samaa tv, after maya khan, has fired people for no reason. even their legendary hero noor elahi bugti is no more. he survived two bombing sna d is still fired

    what a situation our media is in

  6. Maha Kamal said:

    Absolutely brilliant expose on media and ethics in Pakistan!

  7. @aamir_khan82 said:

    Wonderful piece I’m speechless to say further abt.

  8. Farooq said:

    Dear you have missed so many things, dont know tenionally or intentionally.
    Samaa TV sacked their main team who gave them fame and top ranks in Pakistani media. Where is the Journalists? where are leader of the industry? and where is???????

    • farah said:

      its not new for the samaa they have the policy to fire emplpyees after 1 year for getting loan.

  9. @mightyobvious said:

    Thank you for all your feedback. My anger had been building up for quite some time, mostly because no one else in the mainstream media wants to discuss this issue. I'm actually relieved that PT gave me enough space to write such venom, otherwise would've had to group them in with all the rest. To be fair, I can't go around being as direct as I would want to on such public forums. Twitter or email, for those who are interested in the real stories.

    @Farooq: My last journalism assignment was at SAMAA. I was part of the team that took SAMAA to the #2 spot and then was discarded like all my seniors. Nadeem Raza, Zulfiqar Naqvi, even Zahid Mazhar: brilliant professionals who fell prey to the pettiness of a seth. But the greater tragedy is indeed Noor Elahi Bugti and the Quetta bureau. There is now even talk of a greater 'weeding out' of a certain group within SAMAA. Can't say more than that. Will let you know when it happens.

    It seems some people have figured a few things out (above). Kudos to you.

  10. @IAgnikul said:

    Bravo! Journalists and media employees deserve more respect. I am not a journalist therefore if anyone wishes to name, names of media moguls who do not live up to their responsibilities they can do it via me! Viva la Revolucion!

  11. Aminullah Chaudry said:

    I would'nt advise spilling the beans. These mafias have incredible power. I wrote an insiders account of the civil service and ended up being ostracised.

  12. Ovais Jafar said:

    BRILLIANT !!! brilliant … the devil inside me is screaming to come out mighty… shall i dope it into submission or let it run wild ?!?! tell tell … i too am dying to name names.. :p

  13. ummar said:

    This is a brilliant piece. It not only mirrors the frustration of honest and dissident voices within journalists. More importantly this article begs us: the awam, to stop taking news on its face value. Arms down Mighty Orwell !

  14. quratzafar said:

    Loved the article. Outspoken, articulate and brilliant. You nailed it.

  15. Thakur said:

    Good shot!!!!!!! but no one raised voice against Samaa managemnet who sacked core news team.??????????

  16. M Mustafa M Khan said:

    Good job Mighty. It needs to be said and you have gathered enough grime in your eight years. Spit it out, make it hurt.

  17. JD said:

    Good piece of writing 🙂 What Zafar Siddique Of SAMAA is doing and on whose payroll ? He is such a looser who forced such a team to resign.

  18. Arjumand_Khan said:

    In this predatory society, people like yourself should come forward and bring "true change". Even in the west , secret societies and lodges were formed to push forward the agenda of reform. At present self serving coterie is exploiting our country. We are ruled and led by pygmies having myopic vision. Mighty how can revenue, profit targets be achieved when we are not producing educated, informed, enlightened populace. Every innovation that is there just to make us "better off" is made to turn into a tool of exploitation. All professions are suffering from this malaise. I am a banker and I see poor depositors being ripped due to highest interest rate spread in the world. Every decent career is a scandal, every profession is besmirched with fraud. I think that time is ripe for us to come forward, shun these petty "jobs" and equally petty "careers" and assume leadership. Let us sit and seek ways to change this, collectively. We need to own "Pakistan". We need to have a vision, a strategy, a program and an operational plan. Everyone wants to leave Pakistan just b'coz they want honest livlihood, reward for hardwork and no harrassment.

  19. hina_takli said:

    mightyyy anguur khataayy hai…sayasat to tu bhi bari khelta hai..ganjay

  20. mota-takla-mighty said:

    6 log tera article parhtay hai…dostoo so comments likhwata hai..ayo dostoo comment karo koye aur to karay ga nahi..MT…mighty takla

  21. Gee said:

    Thank you Mighty for highlighting this issue. But this is still not enough. To affect real change, we must take names. We must expose the hypocrisy of these unscrupulous people and we must do more than just gossip. This is our moral duty.
    Since you have shared some information about SAMAA, let me tell you something even more controversial. In the past few weeks, the morning show by Maya Khan caused a great controversy which led to the entire show team, including Maya, being fired and the senior producer along with rest of the team being made to resign. The story that the public heard was that Maya was not apologizing unconditionally, that was why she was fired by the Chairman of SAMAA and CNBC Pakistan, Zafar Siddiqui.
    But I know from very very reliable sources that when the show was being aired, it was Zafar Siddiqui who was present in the Control Room of SAMAA TV. This is not a conspiracy theory, nor did he make Maya Khan do the show. It is a twist of fate that the chairman happened to be in the Control Room when Maya was shooting her highly offensive episode, live on location. The show’s senior producer, Sohail Zaidi, was on location at the time and he also knew that the chairman was in the control room.
    The chairman had actually come to Control Room to preview a new set of templates that had been developed and was supposed to check those. He remained in there for nearly two hours while Maya’s show was going on air, including that time when Maya was chasing people around in parks. At one point, he even said that “Look at this Maya; she is doing a great job and getting very good ratings. We need more shows like her.”
    This is the same man whose letter was circulated to the media and he mentioned in it that he had asked Maya to apologize unconditionally. Let me ask you, how can a host who has been congratulated on the good job she is doing by the owner of the company be compelled to apologize? Of course she will not. And all these claims of not absolving her behavior just over ratings is a plain lie, because he had himself in fact endorsed her actions while she was doing it. If this seemed inappropriate to him, why didn’t he ask her to stop?
    I must tell you that I was given this information by a very very reliable source. This person even names all the parties involved. Apart from Zafar Siddiqui, Technical Head Shahid ur Rehman, Creative Head Rafiq Rathore, technical director Ali Abbas and Immad of the Maya Khan team were in the Control Room. They are all witnesses to the episode. None of them thought this would ever happen. But it is ironic that Zafar Siddiqui, just to cover his tracks, has fired all of them so that he is not blamed.
    In fact, the head of programming for the TV channel, Server Moosavee, was at home and completely unaware of the content of the show that day.
    But it does not stop at this. I met a few kids from SAMAA a few days ago and they told me that now, there is a deliberate effort to corner people of a certain religious affiliation. The new people who have been hired by Zafar Siddiqui to replace the talented people he fired are now promoting hatred and intolerance. They are openly asking newsroom members of their religious and sectarian affiliations and the kids were afraid that they would also lose their jobs, just because of their affiliations. And there is a very strong rumour that all three members of Samaa core team (NR, ZAN, ZM) which gave Samaa the 2nd spot were also asked or forced to leave because they belong to minority sect.
    Now the top people at SAMAA are incompetent, inexperienced people who will do their master’s bidding. The head of the news is a man who was just a business desk editor at Geo News and the Current Affairs head has nothing to do with current affairs at all.
    Don’t you think it is time that we should take these fundo mindset owners of media houses and channels to the court and question not only their mindset but their ability, qualification and capacity to run the channels? Their screens always speak for the merit and justice however is this a merit that a chartered accountant or a marketing dude running a news channel and setting up an agenda who has no clue what will result what like Maya Khan Show and Mehar Bukhari show resulting in assassination of Salman Taseer? Does it make sense?
    I think one must go to court and all journalist unions and all society pressure groups must support him or her by all means like running a campaign on all the websites including channels’ official and social websites, raising voice in the social gathering, writing in the newspapers (like you did and this shouldn’t stop) if possible giving comments comparatively on balanced news channel etc.

  22. TruthTeller said:

    Excellent post! I have worked at two of the media companies you mention and I know for a fact that power struggles among the head honchos are what determine policy more than efforts to be fair or ethical. Recently at Express Media Group – their stepchild project Express 24.7 was pulled off the air with NO notice because it was not financially feasible but within weeks they had a new channel up and running.
    Bilal Lakhani has been known to make tall claims about improving the media industry but what has he really delivered? Express News has sunk to new lows ever since he has taken over. The channel capitalizes on lowest common denominator latkaa jhatkaa appeal rather than any REAL journalism. Are these the same standards that he has for Tribune? These double standards are disappointing and elitist.
    While Geo is considered sensationalist they do attack those in positions of power not those who are poor and weak like Express (or Samaa).
    This is shameful behavior,
    I hope they enjoy their ratings.
    And their money.

  23. Axee said:

    Mighty, Wonderful piece and I'm 99% agreed with you, rest of 1% will discuss some other time coz it can create "Rang main Bhang" 🙂 lol
    Mr.Gee I know who you are 🙂

  24. Jon Haider said:

    Mighty! Well done, sweetheart. for writing about handsome salary raise by Red-and-White Media Group 😛

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