Banning BBC World Service in Pakistan is stupid & counter-productive

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Moeed Pirzada | FB Blog |

The decision of the Pakistan Cable Broadcasters Association to ban BBC World Service in Pakisan is unwise. The Cable Association and all their advisers ought to know that this is merely an emotional reactive decision and it does not serve them or Pakistan well. If any thing it sends the wrong signals about media freedoms in Pakistan.

I understand that they are reacting to BBC showing a documentary, “Secret Pakistan” that alleges that Pakistan has been double crossing the Americans and British and has been actively supporting the Taliban. This documentary was first aired in end October and first week of November. For some strange coincidence it was being shown again on the last weekend, immediately after the NATO attack in which 25 Pakistani soliders and officers died. Most Pakistanis think that NATO attacks were planned and deliberate and a disinformation campaign is being done in western media to now justify the killing of Pakistanis. Documentary somehow or the other (I gues by coincidence) has been caught in this controversy, because of its ill-timed repeat, otherwise it has been seen by hundreds in Pakistan since end October.

But now it is being viewed very ‘insensitive’…even then I argue that BBC World Service banning sends the wrong signals about a country where media are more robust free and plural than most countries across the world. Pakistan for instance, in its debates on foreign policy, has more plurality than the US and UK, where it is not possible for commentators to say any thing postive about Pakistan or disagree with the general attitude towards Pakistan. United States has no figures like Najam Sethi or Pervaiz Hoodbhoy or Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa for instance…

Why it is counter-productive?..because it ingores the most basic fundamental fact that this Documentary, and all such products, are principally directed towards British and world wide audience. Very few people, less than 1% of total Pakisani viewership, watches international news channels and a tiny fraction of that watches BBC. BBC for all practical purposes had no reach or influence in Pakistan; it’s a dying media world wide. By banning BBC World Service, which we will not sustain for more than few days, we have only done them a huge favour; attracted more attention towards this documentary and created quiet undeserving accolades and credibility for the producers who made this pathetic, substandard, prejudicial, Islamophobic propaganda product to support the line of western intelligence agencies.

What kind of documentary “Secret Pakistan” is? …I have carefully watched this; it is like a few Pakisani producers getting together and making a documentary, to prove that TTP, Pakistani Taliban, are have been created by CIA or RAW and are being funded and advised by them. To prove the point, a Producer can interview lots of Pakistani intelligence officers, media people, victims of bomb blasts, religious leaders etc to record all comments that support the initial contention.

This kind of media product, in which opposing view is conveniently suppressed, or belittled (for instance there is no comment that questions that why will Pakistan support even Al-Qaeda or if Pakistan is aligned with Taliban then who is aligned with Pakistani Taliban?) is not to advance understanding on a subject but to collect evidence to support a pre-supposed idea or a given script. And this off-course depends upon who funds the project?….another example will be a Pakisani channel producing a documentary to prove that 9/11 was an inside job…but lets move on..

Who funds BBC?…BBC has never been understood in Pakistan. It is infact a respected media outlet here, first because we have an old colonial baggage and we are unnecessarrily impressed of British, but also because few people among you will know that BBC World Service is actually funded by British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO); it has been conceived as a propaganda arm of the Foreign Policy and has a broader outline and agenda that is followed. Ask yourself the question: has it ever made any thing that raises really difficult questions on US and British foreign policy? will BBC be able to make a documentary on what CIA contractors are doing in Pakistan? …or how many innocent men, women and children have died in CIA drone attacks?

Or a honest documentary on Raymond Davis with his latest episode in Colorado that gives the verdict on what might have happened in Lahore on 27th Jan? this is not to deny that many intellectually honest media persons have served BBC and have tried to bring out the truth but in the end it is the money and editorial guideline and control that wins and not individual integrity. (same shit we have, there is not much difference) The best example of that compromise was that when BBC producers and editors tried defying Blair government on Iraq dossier and lies of the British government and “the famous 45 Minute Claim” the Blair government effectively decapitated the whole BBC top management to send a message to the BBC community and media to behave; since then the organisation has acted mostly as a lovey dovey puppy for the British Political Establishment…

What is even more interesting about “Secret Pakistan”? …this documentary interview some supposed Taliban leaders who confess that ISI has not only been giving them space to operate but even weapons to fight…though the whole documentary is replete with such suggestions and comments by western commentators but this “real admission by Taliban” is considered a great value addition by the producers and this is what probably irks many idiots in Pakistani establishment. Instead of reacting emotionally and banning BBC they needed to develop an ability to point out the glaring antics of propaganda….let me tell you something; in May 2004, Pierce Morgan, the then Editor of Daily Mail was sacked by its Publication, after coming under fire from British Political Establishment when Queen Lancashire Regiment took the stand that the photos Daily Mail published in which British soldiers were abusing Iraqi prisoners and pissing upon them were not real. Photos were what we call in media as “enactments”.

Pierce Morgan had intially taken the stand that photos were real, however army pointed out that the truck that had been shown in photos (identified by its registration number) had never been sent to Iraq. Army was right in its facts; it was a argument by technicality, Pierce Morgan later argued, with lots of credibility and it was widely known that such or much bigger abuse of Iraqi prisoners and public was happening in the hands of occupying British and American soldiers; what afterall was Abu Gharaib? …but British Political Establishment was able to humiliate and sack a successful editor and able to send a message to all British Media to behave in so called state interest or be ready to become the “next example”….

Now what have producers of “Secret Pakistan” done? they too have collected so called Taliban leaders of their choice and made them talk on camera to make these admissions. One only needs some common sense to see the pathetically frauduent antic of these BBC producers, how many real Taliban leaders being helped by ISI will appear on cameras to make these admissions? and what will happen to them afterwards? (since supposedly ISI controls them) …but this does not end here; many Pashtun Journalists have told me, when this documentary was first aired in October this year, that some of the so called Taliban are in fact Hazaras; now everyone knows that Hazaras are the unfortunate victims of Pashtun Talibans cruel limited world view. But the bottom line is that if you do these antics inside Britain with the Briitsh state then you are kicked out, you do this against Pakistan at the expense of British Foreign Office and you become a celebrity….(or the producers are arguing that these are ‘enactments’ and we need to trust their ‘integrity’; please give us a break!).

But having said all this my considered analysis is that Pakistani military, ISI, other state institutions should take heart, open their eyes and ears, read some new books, watch some good movies, walk in fresh air outside Aabpara or Faizabad fortresses, may be fall in love with some educated girls, but learn and grow up to live in a complex inter-dependent world in which no media organisation is independent or neutral and they should be able to develop a critical feedback to such charlatans like the pathetic shameless producers of this BBC documentary, ignoring them would have been the best strategy…please don’t act like ‘jilted lovers’..and please take off this stupid ban upon BBC World Service; you are only giving them importance and doing them a huge favour; they are sitting in London and thinking and feeling that they have done something ‘great’…upon the ‘natives’..please please ignore them, they are not that important or relevant any more…

Also, we need to grow beyond the old “White Man’s Burden”…we need to become adults, we need to overcome our infatuation with British and our belief in their neutrality, their standards or sense of fair play; (Was’nt Uncle Mountbatten good enough to understand their character?) they are as good and bad as we are; difference is mostly in terms of urban and industrial development and the money they have…instead of expecting “fair play” from old colonial masters we should encourage and demand our cable operators to make other international channels like Russian TV(RT), Chinese TV(CCTV) and Al Jazeera English or even Euro News more commonly available across Pakistan…. it is time to grow our taste beyond BBC’s clever ethno-centric, Islamophobic propaganda….

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