Moeed Pirzada

In the pure interest of ‘common sense’ every man & woman with average IQ should be able to see through the façade of ‘Split Media’; let’s pull the mask off this funny allegation and see the man cleverly hiding behind the poster of ‘Azadi Sihafat’ and this phony debate of ‘Split Media’ and you will see media tycoon: Mir Shakeel ur Rehman, Owner of Jang/Geo.

It is important to understand that the current battle in Pakistan is taking place not between the journalists but between Mir Shakeel ur Rehman and Pakistani Military. Both are sinners, both suffer from power grab impulses and have bones in the closets and it is military’s repeated interventions in politics that have lead to a situation where many intellectuals have understandably developed knee jerk phobias whenever a situation involves military. But despite this troubled history now compelled to choose between a self-serving businessman, “a Media Tycoon” and “a National Institution” that inspires countless millions, most journalists like most patriotic well meaning Pakistanis are choosing military over the antics of Mir Shakeel ur Rehman.

[though generals are strongly advised not to over-read this support for this is purely nationalistic in nature]. Unfortunately journalists employed by Mir Shakeel ur Rehman are going everywhere in defense of their ‘Seth’ under the phony term of ‘Azadi Sihafat’ and creating bad blood with other media people by calling them ‘army stooges’. Even Editorials & columns are being written, thanks to unfettered Cross-Media ownerships & its Force Multiplier Effect. But we need to be kind to all of them; for poor souls, at this stage, have no real option but to defend the ‘Seth’ and they can’t say that we are defending actions of Mir Sahib so the only option they have is ‘Azadi Sihafat’ – but this ‘phony debate’ is not the real issue in a country with countless TV and radio channels, thousands of independent bloggers and millions and millions glued to internet and other social media platforms (almost 200k are following this one page alone) – And should we forget those 130 million carrying handheld devices?

Real issues are: Media Concentration; unfettered Cross-Media Ownership, lack of meaningful Editorial Boards inside the Media Organizations, absence of Ombudsmen and Compliance Officers inside the Media Organizations, absence of international standard HR-development policies and absence of meaningful editorial independence for journalists working inside various groups so that owners can’nt force them on streets to orchestrate political interests of their owner. The two issues (Absence of international standard Human Resource Development & Meaningful Editorial independence) are often not discussed but have huge significance. Since promotion and rise of journalists is not linked with performance indices but sycophancy and there is a huge power politics inside the industry built around this, so it is possible for owners of media groups to force journalists out on streets to defend political interests of their bosses.

No one has used this more intelligently and skillfully than Mir Shakeel ur Rehman but problem is generalized. Cross-Media Ownership has become an international norm; it helps media groups to generate economies of scale and it would have been irrational for Pakistani govt’s to keep denying this. However like every other public debate in this unfortunate country, issues were not properly defined. While permitting Cross-Media Ownerships upper limits of size, total viewership’s & market share etc were not defined. Result has been a huge ‘media concentration & monopoly’ in the form of Jang, GEO & News ie the largest circulating Urdu paper, largest English paper and the most entrenched and most private channel all in the hands of one businessman: Mir Shakeel ur Rehman. This media monopoly is without exaggeration perhaps the biggest in the last one hundred years achieved by one single man in any single national market.

Many will think of Rubert Mudoch and Berlusconi but their media empires were checked and monitored by powerful regulators and the presence of other media groups and also by the presence of highly educated and aware civil society groups that become watch dogs over media monopolies. Pakistani regulator PEMRA was a still born child; without an autonomous structure and without ownership of industry it has unfortunately become an “illegitimate orphan”.

This is a pure political challenge. Mir Shakeel ur Rehman has become so big that there is a clear cut “Fear” & “Need” Relationship with other media bosses, journalists, judges, politicians and political parties and governments who all are either afraid or in need of the support of Mir Shakeel ur Rehman and Mir Sahib consequently sees himself as a “King Maker” and is not afraid of directly launching attacks on state. Neither PM Nawaz Sharif who has decided to align himself with Mir Shakeel nor Pakistan Military that has decided to challenge Mir Shakeel fully understand the implications of the current crisis. And Imran Khan who was supposed to be the main opposition leader is missing from the political scene.

Closing Geo is not the solution. A temporary snap closure would have created the moral effect, but the moment has perhaps passed. We have reached a situation in our Media history (Murdoch & Berlusconi moment) where issues of monopoly and personal power of media tycoons need to be comprehensively addressed by politicians and intellectuals and civil society otherwise Media Tycoons won’t let govts and state function or achieve its national and regional goals in the best interest of electorates. Media Tycoons have not been elected by the people but due to their “mind controlling powers” over large segments of media and public they can play havoc. Media Tycoons can align themselves with political parties, army, foreign powers, intelligence agencies as per the need of the moment; challenge for the state is to curtail monopolies – otherwise governance is not possible.

PM Nawaz needs to understand the risks of his brinksmanship; his decision to align himself with a media tycoon, Mir Shakeel ur Rehman, against his own military, in this crisis has backfired and PM Nawaz quite unnecessarily ended up reducing his moral authority and broadened the political space available to the military. One unintended consequence of this crisis & govt’s blunder has been that all those in media, civil society, public and political opposition unhappy with govt policies or Mir Shakeel ur Rehman’s power have by default empathized with the military and the bizarre situation is that military by default has started to look like a “political opposition” – this situation in a democracy is unacceptable and both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan need to carefully analyze and take leadership above the fray.

PM Nawaz needs to understand that his every next move is opening up more fissures and soon he will land himself in a chaos difficult for him to manage; and he is fast reaching there. If this chaos continued, he at best, will end up having a dysfunctional government which will be a tragedy because elections 2013 had given him a huge opportunity to create a legacy.

Meanwhile all of us need stop bashing “Jang/GEO” – these are also our national brands; our principled fight is against a single businessman; his name is Mir Shakeel ur Rehman, who should be respected for he is a genius; our problem is with his “power grab”…Power Corrupts & absolute power corrupts absolutely!