On intellectual prostitutes in Pakistan’s English media

by admin

Beyond the byline
By George Fulton
Source: Express Tribune, 3 Aug 2011

There is nothing like the thirst quenching coolness of an ice cold Coca-Cola to relieve my parched mouth after a roza. By the time iftararrives, my mouth has the caked, arid dryness of the Gobi desert. Nothing brings me greater respite than those first few freezing, ice-cold sips of Coca-Cola as it slips down my scorched throat. Coke — it really is the real thing, the nectar of the Gods and the elixir of life.

Ok, did you notice something slightly odd about the previous paragraph? Apart from the little lie I alluded to about performingroza. Perhaps the constant shilling for Coca-Cola raised your eyebrow higher than the US debt ceiling. If you then found out I were actually in the pay of Coca-Cola you would probably angrily dismiss my protestations about the soft drink being the elixir of life etc as corporate prostitution of the worst kind. You would be rightly livid at my deception. My views, no longer my own, had instead been compromised and corrupted by payment. You wouldn’t be the only one upset. The Express Tribune would fire me for defrauding the newspaper — using my position as a columnist and this platform to promote views for which I benefitted from financially. And yet this is now common practice within Pakistani newspapers.

Today yellow journalism isn’t confined only to the Urdu press. The growth in the English language newspaper market has ensured a plethora of new writers on the scene. This has been mostly positive. The problem lies in the fact that, as columnists, we all need to rely upon another source of income for our livelihoods. In Pakistan, you cannot live off op-ed writing alone. For example, prior to leaving Pakistan, my main source of income was from working for the British Council.

Other writers derive their main income from the development and governmental sectors, often working in a freelance capacity. Where it becomes problematic is when they start promoting ideas for certain development or governmental campaigns in their columns. Campaigns that they are being paid to promote. Let’s take the economy as an example. A writer will be contracted to work on a campaign to promote and stimulate a debate on Pakistan’s economy. International donors as well as some local NGOs are paying for the campaign. For the sake of transparency, they should mention their motivation for writing the column. They fail to do so. They fail to mention the inherent conflict of interest and where they are receiving their funding from. Instead, they propagate views as if their own, without owning up on whose behalf they are generating the debate. What they are doing is inherently dishonest. In short, we, the reader, are being duped, deceived and ripped off.

That’s not to argue that writers should not write on behalf of international donors, government agencies or NGOs. But the Pakistani press and the columnists they hire need to promote full disclosure. We need to know the self-interest and financial benefit that the author is benefitting from when writing so we, the readers, can filter the views expressed through a complete prism.

So next time you read a column, look beyond the byline. Ask yourself, how is the writer making his/her living? (For full disclosure, I currently work as the director of a think tank called the Atlantic Partnership — which encourages transatlantic dialogue. So if I start banging on about the work of Nato, please haul my posterior over the coals.)

Back to Coca-Cola, they once actually asked me to front a campaign of theirs in Pakistan. I said no. I could piously declare that it was because I didn’t want to compromise the editorial judgment of the show I was doing at the time. How could I discuss childhood obesity whilst whoring this sugar-laden soft drink beloved by kids? But my decision was far less altruistic. Vanity. I couldn’t bring myself to drink a coke, shake my head, goofily shiver and then say ‘Brrr’.

This column was brought to you by Pepsi — the choice of a new generation.

……

Reader Comments (from ET)

Salman Abbasy
Aug 3, 2011 – 9:41PM
Thank you very much for that remarkably subtle admonishment of Pakistani journalists. Alas, your advice falls on deaf ears. Pakistan’s leading columnists and TV talk show hosts berate politicians and bureaucrats who neglect full disclosure of income and assets but grow coy about the gifts, favours and income they receive from influence-peddlers, most notably the Information Ministry and intelligence agencies.

Aftab Kenneth Wilson
Aug 3, 2011 – 11:50PM
Majority here have tags around their necks. This is the reason that they are labeled as “Intellectual Prostitutes” in this field of Journalism. There was a time in Ayub Khan’s days when he introduced dust bins which had this written on it “Use Me”. This was done to keep areas of importance clean from filth but unfortunately some who were associated with flesh trade use to stand next to these dust bins. As a result the government of the day at that time had to remove them, wryly. In present circumstances we need to check them out so that journalism is not plagued by this trade for deception. You have rightly pointed out all pitfalls in this business of journalism. Once again, George, you have come up with a real and painful truth.

Omair Shakil
Aug 4, 2011 – 12:44AM
Yellow journalism is rife all over the world and Pakistan is no exception. Fox News and News of the World, anyone? The consumers need to be more discerning when it comes to interpreting the fodder being churned out by the numerous television channels and newspapers. The government should take the first step in eradicating this menace by disengaging all the columnists it keeps on its payroll.

IR4M
Aug 4, 2011 – 1:05AM
Its true that being writer in Pakistan is not consider as a earning proffession, there is a need to promote reading habbits among mass and make strong commitment in printing business. We are paying very little to our cultural and educational part, and its true that we can write just for hobby not as profession.

Rafiq Khan
Aug 4, 2011 – 1:11AM
You raise an important point. Information asymmetry and absence of any controls and lack of ethics at large, and the absence of law has resulted in many journalists being hired guns. It’s not difficult to tell who is working on who’s agenda.

Talha
Aug 4, 2011 – 2:07AM
You first para made me stand up and go out for a refreshing coke.
It really quenched my thirst, well done George and my gratitude to Coca Cola for this heavenly drink.
Seems like Eidi will come early into my pockets this year.
Thank to Coca Cola once again.

Cynical
Aug 4, 2011 – 3:14AM

Newspapers,magazines and TV is substituting for Schools,colleges,universities and libraries; small wonder we have so many uneducated men/women around us, with degrees attached to their name.

Mirza
Aug 4, 2011 – 7:23AM
Dear George,
Thanks for telling it like it is. I know that most of the Urdu press is yellow to the core. Even many of the English writers have been less than honest and receive under the table payments. Even the Wiki-leaks have disclosed that the biggest group in Pakistan is a total sellout. One only whishes that some honest people like you out these rich whores? The names and their connections would be an eye opener.
Thanks again for bringing this important issue out for debate.
Regards,
Mirza

N
Aug 4, 2011 – 7:43AM
Very well put in the context of our land.
My favorite is a guy who writes letters to the GHQ and claims to be standing for a liberal society where the fauj should answer to the civilians. As soon as the GHQ men frowned, he unloaded his bylines on India to show how legit it was to have a large military – entirely contradicting himself in the process. Having propped the unsupportable, he claimed his “Pakistani” nationalism and a hordes of this generation lapped it up.

Bina Shah
Aug 4, 2011 – 10:09AM
Good article but yellow journalism isn’t the same thing as conflict of interest.
From Wikipedia:
“Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.[1] Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.[1] By extension “Yellow Journalism” is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.”
Conflict of interest:
“A conflict of interest (COI) occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other.
A conflict of interest can only exist if a person or testimony is entrusted with some impartiality; a modicum of trust is necessary to create it. The presence of a conflict of interest is independent from the execution of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs.”
The first is legal, although not professional; the second can result in fines and jail terms in many countries.
Sorry, the pedant in me just had to point that out. Otherwise, excellent points about the nature of journalism in places where no code of ethics exists (Pakistan and elsewhere).

Rafay Alam
Aug 4, 2011 – 10:13AM
As someone who has written op-eds for a number of years, I find your aspersions very worrying as I too am a contributor to the English language press. Do you have any proof of what you claim, or is just one of those things? I mean, it’s fairly convenient to make generalization and cast aspersions on fellow Pakistani while living abroad, isn’t it?
Also, what do you think of the Education Emergency campaign so successfully managed by out mutual friend Fasi Zaka? Would you bracket him (and me, since I wrote about the subject as well) as yellow journalists? I, for one, don’t think we were “dishonest” or that we “duped” any readers.

A J Khan

Aug 4, 2011 – 11:42AM
Extremely well written article. Many Pakistani Journalist are suffering from this contagious disease. It does not mean that such journalists are not there in India or USA. New York times timely stories are part of such compaign. Beside you see this disease in the comments coloumn.

George Fulton
Aug 4, 2011 – 11:50AM
@ Rafay Alam I too wrote about the Education Emergency. No it was a worthy campaign that needed promoting, but i wasn’t paid to do so and nor were you (i presume). The conflict lies when you are being paid to push a debate and use your platform as a columnist to do so without declaring the self-interest. As for Fasi, he worked on the campaign but as far as i am aware wasn’t paid to do so. Also, he mentions the conflict of interest in this article: http://tribune.com.pk/story/132482/we-dont-need-no-education/
@ Bina Shah. Yes, well done for pointing out the nuances between the two. Stupid mistake on my part. Thank you for keeping us scribes in check!

Temporal

Aug 4, 2011 – 12:13PM
Full disclosure should be integral in both columns and op Ed pieces

YB
Aug 4, 2011 – 12:55PM
Reply
Good one, George. Now tell us who you were really talking about. My guess is Mosharrif Zaidi?

John
Aug 4, 2011 – 2:22PM
I thought you were talking about Fai. So Pakistanis here is the case for prosecuting your Dr. Fai.

Meekal Ahmed
Aug 4, 2011 – 3:11PM
Well said. I think a lot of Pakistani’s reading the English press are more aware now. The journalistic community have done a brave job of talking about corruption in government until you read sordid stories about their own ranks.
Now retired and a writer to keep the mental cob-webs at bay, I too have been accused of bias and, by implication, taking a fee. And on this very paper, talking about the Air Blue accident and the need to give closure to the grieving families I was asked whose view I was “propogating”.
The only people who could be paying me are the Air Blue Affectees Group, those miserable souls who run from pillar to post for compensation and whose only crime is that they want to know WHY their loved one’s perished on that misty morning in Islamabad just over a year ago.

eccentric

17 hours ago
what ever happened to journalistic objectivity and professional integrity; however much of the responsibility lies with us as well….accepting half truths and value laden connotations blindly has led to our perception being shaped by manipulative media for us,
Recommend

Issam Ahmed
9 hours ago
George: Good points, solid piece, but without naming names and citing specifics isn’t the article somewhat hobbled? Also, prior to leaving Pakistan, you say you worked for the British Council. Was it not worth mentioning you were employed by a foreign government while you commented on national affairs in Pakistan?
Recommend

——-

From Twitter:

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
@omar_quraishi This does not happen in Pak, of course. Even foreign correspondents in Pakistan are not excepted.🙂

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
@omar_quraishi I must, however, thank you for your honesty in acknowledging the GHQ’s influence on front-page journos.
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@Laibaah haha that u should ask the editors of Dawn, The News, DT, ET, etc etc etc — will the BLA provide them security?

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
@omar_quraishi There is a vast reality between army and BLA. Please don’t ignore that.
4 Aug Favorite Reply Delete

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
@omar_quraishi example — journo uses ISPR briefs, resources, choppers to cover Balochistan, what kind of report will be generated? honest?
4 Aug Favorite Reply Delete

omar_quraishi
example reporter is sent to UK to cover event paid for by MNC what kind of report will be generated? negative? critical?

omar_quraishi

@rafay_alam surely you know as i do that our top notch columnists are flown to GHQ all the time – english press incl & they get front page treatment I can only speak for my pages, for th rest & most arent on mine, you had better ask other eds

——–

Attacks on George Fulton:

BinaShah Bina Shah
Just went back and read George Fulton’s piece properly and carefully. Oh dear God.

BinaShah Bina Shah
Pretty stupid mistake to make in an op-ed column, I’d say. @shakirhusain @Razarumi @mosharrafzaidi
4 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply

BinaShah Bina Shah
Have written a comment about the difference between conflict of interest and yellow journalism. @shakirhusain @Razarumi @mosharrafzaidi

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
My Op-Ed for ET on the ethically dubious, lifafa op-ed writing in the development sector http://ow.ly/5UoV9

OmarWaraich: RT @shakirhusain: @georgefulton1 takes the high road http://bit.ly/gDDFie

shakirhusain shakir husain
@GeorgeFulton1 you’d been paid by them 3 months prior and didnt disclose that. didnt disclose they were behind it even though you knew.

@GeorgeFulton1 nah. i’ll pass. just wanted to point out you did exactly what you pontificated against in your piece.
13 hours ago

shakirhusain shakir husain
@GeorgeFulton1 so what’s the new gig? your byline doesn’t say…

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain not exactly – at no point was I paid to promote a particular debate or article.
13 hours ago

shakirhusain shakir husain
@GeorgeFulton1 my point about disclosure still stands. nowhere in the piece does it say you’re an ex employee of the BC who’s behind it.

evo3X3 f (bluest)
RT by shakirhusain
let me qualify that, since you were on TV; when on TV did you disclose you were being paid by british council? @GeorgeFulton1 @shakirhusain

shakirhusain shakir husain
@GeorgeFulton1 when you wrote the piece you relied on them for a reference for future employment. no disclosure=conflict of interest.

shakirhusain shakir husain
@GeorgeFulton1 nope full disclosure is that you disclose that you paid your bills via Brit Council and they ran the campaign.

shakirhusain shakir husain
@GeorgeFulton1 yeah but you’d been paid by them and your ex colleagues asked you to write the piece. still a conflict son.

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain please read my piece again. I explain there.
13 hours ago

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@evo3X3 I worked for the council after appearing on TV.

shakirhusain shakir husain
@georgefulton1 takes the high road but when he wrote this http://bit.ly/gDDFie nowhere does he say he’s employed by the British Council.

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain no because I already had another job when that piece was written.

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain I certainly wasn’t paid to write that having left the BC months before but you are right should have mentioned having…
13 hours ago

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain but had I been working for them at the time and not declared it yes it would be a conflict.

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain I was in the UK when I wrote that and no longer employed with the British Council – having left 3 months earlier.

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@rafay_alam so did I. I believed in what it was trying to achieve – as did you. U don’t have to declare coz you weren’t making money from…

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton

@rafay_alam Omar I am not saying Ed emergency was – unless you were being paid to promote it and didn’t declare an interest, that’s all.

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
We need pendants like u to keep us in check🙂 RT @BinaShah: I’m an observer in this one. But typos make me upset. @schitturi @GeorgeFulton1
4 Aug

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@rafay_alam but i didn’t accuse anyone. By the way has my reply to your comment appeared yet? Should answer some of your points raised.
4 Aug

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@rafay_alam I didn’t accuse any one person. I was talking about the practice generally. I cede your point about generalisations

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain who? And if they did, surely the article applies to them then. I was talking about the practice I’m general.
4 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply

kaalakawaa Kala Kawa
I never knew George Fulton was working for the British Council until his op-ed today. Itnay saalon ka dhoka / lack of full disclosure.

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@kaalakawaa but I never wrote about the work of the British council.
4 Aug

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@GeorgeFulton1 @SamadK @shakirhusain @Nadir_Hassan George makes generalizations/casts accusations w/o proof. That’s just dirtying debate.

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@SamadK I’m Chairman LESCO, now I can’t have an option on the energy crisis without being “dishonest”? And yes, PT paid me for my piece.
4 Aug

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@omar_quraishi Planning Commission flies me to Isbd to Growth Strategy conference (it didn’t); now I can’t write about the economy?

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@omar_quraishi @Nadir_Hassan I wrote for Ed Emerg at Fasi’s request, but I was not “dishonest” b/c I didn’t make “full disclosure”!!
4 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@Nadir_Hassan If there are people who are paid to say things, he should have named them. I’m op-ed and am not guilty of his generalizations!
4 Aug

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@omar_quraishi But what of the dozens of op-ed he had written?

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@Nadir_Hassan @omar_quraishi But Fasi, who works for BC, organized it; it was not “dishones” nor misleading.

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@omar_quraishi Luqman does an ad for PEPCO; now he can’t do a show on the energy crisis without a disclaimer (his bona ides notwithstanding)

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@omar_quraishi And you’re the op-ed editor of a major English paper, so the accusations do stop at your desk too!

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@omar_quraishi Not fair at all. Education Emergency campaign was not “dishonest”.

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
Logical conclusion to @GeorgoFUlton1 column is that op-ed writers should be paid much, much more! What say you, @omar_quraishi
4 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
@GeorgeFulton1 Fasih got loads of opinion columns on that: Isn’t that “forcing” opinion? He was paid, I wasn’t #showmethemoney
4 Aug

rafay_alam Ahmad Rafay Alam
There r categories, @SamadK and they r generalizations. I’m an op-ed writer, & I feel George bracketed me with the likes of J Ch and Lucman.

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@rafay_alam @Nadir_Hassan that would lead to accusations and ppl not given chance to defend themselves no?
4 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@rafay_alam @Nadir_Hassan err — no – as i just said he mentioned that fact in his column — tribune.com.pk/story/132482/w…
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@Nadir_Hassan @rafay_alam dont see anything wrong with that argument at all – besides NO NAMES were taken — not even obliquely
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi

@rafay_alam hmm not getting what u r saying — check the link tribune.com.pk/story/132482/w… — fasi disclosed in the article that he was involved
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@rafay_alam sure they do — haha — lets bring them out — i have no shares in any mnc, not on any univ syndicate — what else jee
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@rafay_alam @GeorgeFulton1 @SamadK @shakirhusain @Nadir_Hassan sir come on–no names taken – how can there be any accusations with no names?
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
what im surprised is that george didnt take any names — and the article was quite general — and i think the argument was a fair one no?

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@abbasnasir59 sir i agree — but if he doesnt reveal is different than ed knowing the link and not revealing —

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@rafay_alam @GeorgoFUlton1 which is precisely why most r freelance — otherwise full time would mean main source of income is their writing
4 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@rafay_alam @GeorgoFUlton1 hmmm — not sure he’s saying that — but we pay ours quite well — for most its not their only source of income
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi

@rafay_alam who says you cant sir – surely you know as i do that our top notch columnists are flown to GHQ all the time – english press incl. and they get front page treatment sir — i can only speak for my pages – for the rest, and most arent on mine, you had better ask others eds
4 Aug

omar_quraishi omar r quraishi
@rafay_alam they werent pushing the BC’s point of view or work, achievements or lack thereof

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@rafay_alam @binashah have responded to your comments underneath. Not sure if they are published yet.
4 Aug Favorite Retweet Reply

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain however pertinent the issues you are raising – if you have a financial interest in raising them and don’t declare it to…
4 Aug

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain do know the difference. That still doesn’t justifying defrauding readers. Secondly wasn’t singling anyone person out….
4 Aug

GeorgeFulton1 George Fulton
@shakirhusain what is the motivation for writing the piece? Are you rec financial benefit for promoting this POV – if so you should…
4 Aug

—–

mosharrafzaidi Mosharraf Zaidi
very pleased I had the privilege to be involved with the #educationemergency campaign and the #economycheckpk campaign.

mosharrafzaidi
Alhamdolillah, I stand by every position I’ve taken in the public domain. Each one has been my own.

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
Kufi Shia thanks God! RT @mosharrafzaidi Alhamdolillah, I stand by every position I’ve taken in the public domain. Each one has been my own.

mosharrafzaidi
Govts both Pak & foreign seek my advice on publicpolicy matters. I feel privileged 2 make a living providing it

———

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
Is it a coincidence that @cpyala & @pakmediawatch two media critic blogs have never written on media silence on Baloch, Hazara, Tooris etc.
4 Aug Favorite Reply Delete

Darveshh Kamran Hussain
@Laibaah @cpyala @pakmediawatch They, like their Shahid Saeed friend, don’t have background knowledge of Balochistan. It’s not their subject
4 Aug

pakmediawatch Pakistan Media Watch
@Laibaah Please do research before making false accusations bit.ly/mXCMLj @cpyala @Darveshh

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
@pakmediawatch Thank you for the token link. Do you have similar posts on Hazara genocide and Saraiki Shia genocide? @cpyala @Darveshh

Laibaah Laiba Ahmad Marri
@pakmediawatch btw, your post has no mention of the Baloch mass murder by Pak army and silence on this issue in media!!! @cpyala @Darveshh

5 Comments to “On intellectual prostitutes in Pakistan’s English media”

  1. A specimen from Pakistan’s English media:
    Three musketeers and the “PPP abandoned Salmaan Taseer” narrative
    http://criticalppp.com/archives/37948

  2. bina shah and co
    Social Media Summit in Karachi which never was! – by Laiba Marri
    http://criticalppp.com/archives/51444

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