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Read Azhar Iqbal’s article about how his country’s journalists are holding other journalists accountable for fake news and how the courts have become involved.
By Azhar Iqbal, International Graduate Fellow of Cross Cultural Communication at Ural Federal University, Russia.
Fake news is hot news in Pakistan. Sensationalism has spread as an anchor of the Pakistan talk show, Live With Dr. Shahid Masood (video below), said the arrest of a man charged with rape and murder of a 7-year old neighbor is guilty. Is this appropriate for a journalist to make such statements and is his reporting accurate?
After authorities received the body of the little girl named Zainab, a strong social media campaign created by activists and media professionals might have led to the arrest of a suspect, Zainab’s neighbor, Imran Ali. The messaging on social media stated that Ali had confessed and was sharing how he committed the murder.
While most of the people in the country was demanding justice from the Pakistan Supreme Court for Zainab’s death, and was asking for Ali to be hanged, Dr. Masood continued to make claims on this television show about the murderer. Masood is also a well-known physician.
Firstly, Masood said Ali is a member of an international mafia organization involved in violent child pornography. Secondly, Massood claimed that Ali has the support of two ministers involved in the pornographic business on the dark web. Apparently, Dr. Masood only presented the names of the ministers to the court and were not told to the public. And finally, Ali was accused of having 37 foreign currency accounts where he has made numerous transactions worth millions of dollars and Euros.
Distracting from finding justice for the death of the little girl and her family, the debate of Dr. Massod’s news facts have come under question.
FACT CHECK: An investigation of Ali’s checking records at the State Bank of Pakistan found no bank foreign accounts. He doesn’t even have a bank account in Pakistan. Imran has only a Mobile company account were he keeps less than 200 Rupees (1 Rupee = 1/16 USD). He is a laborer by profession and lives hand to mouth.
This fact-checked news aroused a storm in Pakistan’s journalism community, and the direction of investigations and attitude against the suspect changed.
A debate against the television talk show host started on national electronic, print and social media about his credibility and professional responsibilities. Dr. Masood is under question allegedly for spreading fake news without taking the full investigation account more seriously.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan summoned the Dr. Masood and asked him to prove his serious allegations against Ali. At the time the anchor stood by his information and did not see it as misleading news. But at a hearing with Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Saqib Nisar, Dr. Masood was called again to produce evidence of his claims.
“Foggy [weather] Lahore [second largest city in Pakistan] was welcoming Dr. Shahid Masood on Sunday,”said Ajmal Jami, a broadcast journalist reporting after the proceedings. Jami said dozens of lawyers and journalists reached the Supreme Court registry. “‘Anchor Doctor’ was present at nine in the morning and many big names of media anchors were also there,” he said.
Masood said in court that his news was just information and investigation was not his job. The court again asked him to provide evidence to back his claims against Ali. If you prove your claims, we’ll give the certificate of No. 1 anchor, said Nisar. But the consequences can be worse if you fail to do so [prove allegations], he said.
Even senior journalists advised him to apologize before the court, but Masood stood by his statements, said Jami. Many journalists showed anger toward their colleague on his stance. A senior journalist, Hamid Mir, who was also in the courtroom, said later on the talk show On the Front with Kamran Shahid that the Chief Justice had warned Masood that he will have to defend himself and might be punished if he cannot prove his statements, the justice said.
Mir also wrote an article for the Daily Jang, the largest circulated Urdu newspaper in Pakistan, and expressed his frustration with the case. “The society will only produce such Shahids [martyr], where scientists are to teach us history, politicians become anchors and anchors become politicians,” he wrote.
At yet another talk show 11th HOUR by Waseem Badami, Mir said Masood was called to rostrum [podium] three times but he failed to present any evidence to support his information he presented on the news. He said his body language was clearly showing that he had nothing to prove. Mir also said there were three intelligence agencies, including the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency, reporting that all three allegations by Dr. Masood are proven to be wrong after their investigation.
Even when working within the ethical journalism industry, ratings might be a component of spreading fake new. “We are taught to confirm from various source before filing a story in the era of print journalism,” said Nadeem Malik, another working journalist in the broadcast industry. Unfortunately, within the non-journalists sector inside the electronic media, fake news does produce fake ratings, he said.
Taking to Twitter, another journalist, Shahzeb Jillani, a corrrespondent for the BBC covering Pakistan, Beirut, Washington and London, tweeted about the double standards of Pakistan’s top anchors. “How cute! Our TV anchors appearing on each others’ show debating basics of journalism,” said Jillani. “If only they could all start practicing what they preach, it would make our news channel more bearable to watch.”
Many other senior anchors and reporters have condemned Shahid Masood’s alleged fake news. They included journalists Saleem Bukhari, Mazhar Iqbal, Naseem Zehra, Mazhar
Abbas, Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui, Mujeeb-ur-Rehamn Shami, Aftab Iqbal and others who were also in court.
As a matter of fact, this is not the first time when an anchor has proclaimed high ratings because of controversial statements. Almost every prime time talk show montages and promotes claims to be the number one talk show. But this circumstances was different. It seemed like there was more attention drawn to the Pakistan pornography group rather than the criminal case against the little girl.
Some talk show anchors have been charged and received notices for reporting fake news, but with a small fine they were able to move pass a stay order from court.
The unethical and power of fake news has overcome the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and has made it powerless. Masood was advised to apologize and admit his mistake. He did not do either. PEMRA is in favor of a strict punishment for the fabricated news from this anchor.
What will be precedent in this case? And who else will be producing fake news and not facing the consequences of unethical reporting?
Latest update: Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency stated that no Pakistani is involved in child pornography on the dark web.
Azhar Iqbal is an International Graduate Fellow of Cross Cultural Communication at Ural Federal University, Russia; Second Master Degree in Communication Studies from Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore Pakistan. Co-founder of The Educationist a Pakistan-based monthly English newspaper. Research interests are, media, communication and journalism. New media technologies in the fields of education, politics, culture and society. Also writing for Feedback Russia (A Russian Portal), Maeeshat (An Indian Megazine), Our Russia (A Russian Journal) along with The Educationist (A Pakistani Newspaper) and SizingUpTheSouth.com.
SizingUpTheSouth.com has two SPJ member correspondents writing for this news website; Muhammad Ittefaq reports from Germany and Azhar Iqbal reports from Russia. They are both Pakistan journalists studying abroad.