Social Media Revolution Exposes Corruption in Pakistan

Social media revolution is well underway in Pakistan. The new media are coming of age, and trumping the traditional commercial media. Many of the top journalists in the mainstream media knew about Arsalan's Iftikhar's massive corruption but it was through Youtube that the world first learned about it. The same pattern repeated itself when Duniya TV's incriminating off-air video footage found its way on Youtube.

 Familygate or Arslangate:

It has now been established that Malik Riaz Husain of Bahria Town approached a number of top TV talk show hosts in Pakistan and shared detailed information, videos and documentation about $3.7 million in illegal payments made to Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, over several years. Others, including Chaudhry Aitazaz Ahsan, knew about it and shared it with Justice Chaudhry a while ago. While rumors swirled among the Capital insiders, the public at large was kept in the dark until recently when a video of Shaheen Sehbai talking about it surfaced on Youtube and forced the mainstream media to finally discuss it on air.

Here's Shaheen Sehbai breaking the scandal on Youtube:



Several behind-the-scenes video clips of a Dunya TV talk show leaked on Youtube reveal the television hosts appearing to be helping Malik Riaz Husain prepare his answers, and in certain cases even spoon-feeding him the answers.
The leaked video also shows a son of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and a daughter of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) chief Nawaz Sharif calling in to try and influence the on-air contents. “Why don’t you start talking about it yourself, otherwise [if we ask] it will seem planted, which it is, but I don’t know if it should look planted,” says Ms Mehr Bukhari to Malik Riaz while Mr Lucman say that “I’ll say it on air that I’ve been "pressurised" by Mian Amir Mehmood (Dunya TV's owner) and Malik Riaz to do this program.”

Here's two-part Duniya TV's leaked video on Youtube:



The fact that mainstream media sat on these stories raises serious questions about whose interests are its journalists serving? Why are they afraid to expose the top judges? What kind of illegal payments and other favors are they accepting  from the rich and the powerful? How are the commercial interests of the media owners influencing the editorial opinions and news coverage? Are they trying to hide their own guilt? And to what end?

What's Next:

Free and independent media are often seen as an effective watchdog in a democracy. But the question being asked now is who's watching the watchdogs? One possible answer is that the new super watchdogs are  the ordinary citizen journalists and bloggers who are active in the new cybermedia and not beholden to any special interests.

High-speed broadband expansion led by PTCL has propelled Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing broadband market in the world and the second fastest in Asia, according to a recent industry report. Serbia leads all countries surveyed with a 68% annual growth rate from Q1 2010 to Q1 2011. Thailand (67%), Belarus (50%), Pakistan (46%), and Jordan (44%) follow Serbia. India is in 14th place worldwide with a 35% annual growth rate.

 In spite of rapid growth, the level of Internet penetration is Pakistan is still low. In a population of 180 million, only 30  million ( about 16 percent) are connected to the Internet, according to Internet World Stats. It's enough Pakistan among the top 20 nations in terms of Internet subscribers. And Internet use in Pakistan is growing at a rapid rate, particularly in urban centers where 40% of the population lives, which are also home to the middle class which often forms the backbone of mass-scale uprisings. Mobile Internet use shot up 161 percent in 2010 alone.


I believe Pakistan is entering a new era of the Internet media. And I hope that the new social media will continue to enjoy sufficient freedom and growth to provide wide enough access in Pakistan for the citizen journalists to play their role as a watchdog where the mainstream commercial media fails. Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant for the rot that characterizes Pakistan's power centers today.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Imran Khan's Social Media Campaign

Culture of Corruption in Pakistan

Pak Judges' Jihad Against Corruption

Pakistan Rolls Out 50Mbps Broadband Service

Mobile Internet in South Asia

Media and Telecom Sectors Growing in Pakistan

Internet Service Providers of Pakistan

Chaudhry is No Angel

Justice Chaudhry's Address to New York Bar

Incompetence and Corruption in Pakistan

Zardari Corruption Probe

NRO Amnesty Order Overturned

Transparency International Rankings 2011


Riaz Haq said…
Here's an Op Ed by Pak journalist Mazhar Abbas published on CPJ Blog:

With ratings driving the profits of media channels, journalists and political talk show hosts are being motivated to stir up controversy at any cost. Meanwhile, the professionals who believe in credibility, objectivity, and honesty as essential parts of ethical journalism are becoming sidelined.

This corruption within the media is spreading like a cancer, and there seems to be no antidote. If it is not checked, it could prove fatal for the media industry. We must take steps to address this problem ourselves. If not, Pakistan's journalists could lose the credibility they have earned from years of struggle.

Earlier this month, a video recording of the off-air conversation between two prominent talk show hosts on Dunya TV was leaked. The hosts, Mubashir Luqman and Mehr Bokhari, were speaking to controversial real estate tycoon Malik Riaz in what was purported to be a confrontational interview broadcast on-air. But the leaked video showed the hosts off-air agreeing to questions, discussing questions to be planted, and talking on the phone to government officials about how to construct the debate.

The video appeared on YouTube [here and here, both in Urdu] a few hours after the show aired, and generated a huge debate both in print and online media about the hosts' credibility. Dunya management claimed there was a conspiracy to defame the channel and ordered an internal inquiry. Bokhari, meanwhile, struggled to clarify her position and denied involvement. Luqman was fired because of the insulting remarks he made about Mian Aamir, the station's owner, that were broadcast in the leaked video.

All 17 of the Pakistani Supreme Court's justices took notice, too. They watched the recordings in the presence of Abdul Jabbar, chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. It was not an official proceeding, but Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry questioned Jabbar about his inaction over the interview, the leaked video, and other TV programs ridiculing the judiciary.

Even while the consensus within the Pakistani press was that the credibility of broadcast media had been brought into question, talk shows' viewership went unaffected. This was no surprise: In the past, hosts fired from one station went to another, often with a much higher pay package.

Are these the norms of our society? While controversies, real or staged, often help the popularity of the channels and the anchors, such serious and blatant abuse damages their credibility.

The problem is clear: The media has failed to establish any professional standards or rules of conduct for journalists, editors, or outlet owners. There are no professional organizations like bar associations or engineering or medical councils. There have been very few instances in which any media group or press organization has taken action against its members for violating ethical standards.

It is time for our profession to set some basic rules of conduct, which we will have to enforce ourselves if we want to keep our standing in the public's eye. The time to begin is now.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's ET on Facebook and Linked-in user population in Pakistan:

Users of social networking website Facebook in Pakistan have crossed the eight million mark, revealed statistics provided by Social Bakers. The number of Pakistani Facebook users stands at 8,008,720.

The steady increase in users has put Pakistan at 28th place in the ranking of countries that use Facebook.

The highest number of Facebook users (more than 160 million) is in the United States, followed by Brazil with more than 63 million and India with more than 62 million users.

According to the statistics, the total number of Facebook users in Pakistan grew by more than 1,383,900 in the last six months.

The statistics revealed that the age group with the highest number of Facebook users in Pakistan (3,990,800) lies in the age bracket of 18-24 and the second largest group in the age of 25-35.

According to the data, more men use Facebook in Pakistan than women.

Around 70% Facebook users are male, while 30% are female.


The number of LinkedIn users in Pakistan has reached 1,472,143 (more than one million), as revealed by Social Bakers.

Pakistan stands at rank 10 among all countries that use LinkedIn.
Riaz Haq said…
Growing use of social media is driving political and social activism and significant social change in Pakistan.

Much of the communication and organization of civil society members in support of the lawyers' movement used social media platforms like facebook and twitter.

Pakistan saw the beginnings of online civil and political activism in 2008-2009 when the lawyers, according to Woodrow Wilson Center's scholar Huma Yusuf, "used chat forums, YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, and blogs to organize the Long March, publicize its various events and routes, and ensure that citizen reporting live from the march itself can be widely circulated to counter the government-influenced coverage of the protest on mainstream media outlets (such as state-owned radio and private news channels relying on government-issue licenses".

New media have broken stories where traditional media has failed, like Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's son Arsalan's corruption scandal.

Politicians and their supporters are active on facebook and twitters to organize and get their messages out and influence public opinion and get votes.

New young talent is getting attention by posting its protest music videos online.

Young men in Lahore have organized through facebook to clean city streets.

Young men and women are defying old customs of arranged marriages based on parents' choices and going for civil marriages outside their families and biraderies. Some of it is resulting in violence by the old guard as evidenced in more honor killings.

In 1992, the applications for court marriages in Karachi amounted to about 10 or 15, mainly applications from couples who were seeking the protection of the court for wedlock without familial consent, according to Arif Hasan. By 2006, it increased to more than 250 applications for court marriages per day in Karachi. Significantly, more than half of the couples seeking court recognition of their betrothal came from rural areas of Sindh. This is yet another indication of how the entire feudal system and its values are in rapid collapse.

Flashmobs are becoming more common.

Gays are finding each other through social media and organizing underground gay parties in Karachi and elsewhere.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's an interesting piece from Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) on Pakistani media:

Pakistan’s raucous and increasingly lethal media sector is exerting a powerful effect on decision-making in the country, even though journalists themselves are divided on whether their influence is positive or negative. That’s the key finding of a survey of more than 350 Pakistani journalists, policymakers, and academics. ..... More than two-thirds of policymakers surveyed said the media has a “significant” effect on their decision-making and 94 percent said they “always” or “sometimes” take media reaction into account before making a decision. That group includes current and former government officials and analysts at policy think tanks and civil society organizations. Those policymakers actually have a more positive view of the media than journalists themselves. More journalists and academics believe the media makes societal divisions worse than say media helps heal those divisions; it’s exactly the reverse among policymakers. Likewise, far more policymakers than journalists and academics believe the impact of private TV has been positive. Pakistani foreign and domestic policies are inextricably linked, shaped by a complex web of political, military, and sectarian factors. Media is one element in that equation. Just over half the journalists defined as “significant” the media’s impact on relations with the U.S. and with India, Pakistan’s key rival for power in South Asia; policymakers and academics agreed with the journalists regarding the U.S., but slightly more than half the policymakers and academics said the media’s influence was “minimal” or “none” when it came to relations with India. All three groups surveyed are united in overwhelmingly believing the media has played a “significant” role in exposing corruption, though a sizable minority of journalists were more cynical, seeing their role as “insignificant.” Pakistan is locked in a virtual civil war with Islamist militants, both home-grown and from Afghanistan. Even on this complicated issue, more than one-third of those surveyed from each group believes the media has a “significant” impact on relations with the militants, who recently issued a fatwa against the media, which it declared to be a “party” to “this war on Islam.” The willingness of Pakistani journalists to speak truth to power has consistently proven lethal. In the four years since TV deregulation sparked an explosion of private television channels, there have been almost twice as many deaths as the previous decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the most infamous of which was the 2011 torture and murder of investigative reporter Saleem Shahzad, who, like Hamid Mir, claimed he had been threatened by Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence wing, but who also had just published a book on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yet the complex calculation involved in determining what kinds of stories could prove fatal and which push the envelope just short of that point is reflected in the responses to the question, “Can journalists report sensitive stories without fear of reprisals?” Almost 30 percent of journalists responded “yes,” double the percentage of policymakers and academics who thought that was the case, and another 30 percent of journalists said they could “sometimes” tackle such stories. Pakistan is a nation of contradictions, not least when it comes to the news industry. Nothing better sums up those contradictions than the response to the question: “Should government officials mislead the media if they think it is in the national interest?” At a time when Pakistani journalists are dying in the pursuit of truth, the response seemed to turn reality on its head: More policymakers than journalists said “no,” the government should not have that right.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's NY Times' Declan Walsh on the Hamid Mir Affair:

...The vituperative exchanges have exposed troubling aspects of Pakistan’s oft-lauded media revolution: Along with the military’s concerted campaign to muzzle the press is the heavy hand of querulous media barons who, driven by commercial concerns and personal grudges, may be endangering the sector they helped create.

“The way this has played out is extremely disturbing,” said Zaffar Abbas, editor of Dawn newspaper, one of the few media outlets that have stayed out of the dispute. “I’ve never seen the media like this, really going after one other. If better sense doesn’t prevail, whatever we have earned in press freedom will be lost.”

The stakes are high on all sides. Since 2007, when television coverage played a key role in fanning the street protests that led to the ouster of General Musharraf, the news media has grown into a powerful factor in Pakistani society. Television news has widened public debate and exposed abuses, but it has faced sharp criticism for shoddy reporting and for giving a platform to Islamist extremists.

The exploding market has also turned prime-time talk show hosts like Mr. Mir into powerful figures, and made fortunes for a handful of newly minted media tycoons.


“It is supremely dangerous to be a reporter in Pakistan,” he said.

The military, in particular, has squirmed under the media’s relentless scrutiny. Tensions have been bubbling for some time between the Jang Group, the country’s largest media conglomerate, and the ISI. Jang is owned by Mir Shakil ur-Rehman, a reclusive editor who lives with his two wives in Dubai, where he keeps a tight grip on a media empire that includes Geo News, several sports and entertainment channels, and a stable of newspapers in Urdu and English.

Last fall, Mr. Rehman came to believe that the ISI was sponsoring a new television station, Bol, to dilute his commercial and political clout. His newspapers ran hostile reports about Bol, prompting competing media organizations to hit back with stories that painted Geo as sympathetic to Pakistan’s old rival, India.
Unlike in the Musharraf era, when journalists united against military attempts to muzzle them, virulent rivalries between the businessmen who own the major stations have pulled the news media apart.

Mr. Rehman of the Jang group has a rancorous relationship with Sultan Lakhani, who owns the smaller Express media group, which includes a television station and several newspapers. (One of those papers, the English-language Express Tribune, prints The International New York Times in Pakistan.) A third station, ARY, is owned by a family of gold dealers that has little love for Mr. Rehman.

“The control of the owners and their say in what happens has increased tremendously,” said one editor, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “No editor or journalist can take a stand against them.”

The turmoil has partly obscured the plight of Mr. Mir, who has an ambiguous history with the ISI. He shot to prominence after interviewing Osama bin Laden in 1998, and was initially seen as sympathetic to the pro-jihadi agenda of the Pakistani military and the ISI. But in recent years he has championed the cause of Baluch nationalists, angering the army, and highlighted human rights abuses during military operations.

He is now under close protection at a Karachi hospital, where flowers are piled outside his door and doctors report a steady recovery. In a statement issued through his brother, Mr. Mir vowed to “continue the fight for the rights of people till my last breath and last drop of blood.”....
Riaz Haq said…
#YouTube launches country-specific homepage for #Pakistan with #Pakistan-specific content …

A respite for Pakistanis, Google introduced on Tuesday the local version of YouTube for Pakistan which will deliver country specific content.

If you’re in Nepal, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, you’ll see a new YouTube homepage that’s customised in your local language and domain, a post on Google Asia Pacific blog read.

Pakistan’s IT sector more robust than before

YouTube is already available in Nepali, Sinhalese and Urdu, and now having country-specific homepages means we can bring you the most relevant videos in a YouTube experience tailored for you, said the post written by Gautam Anand, Director of Operations and Content, YouTube Asia Pacific.

“With these launches, we hope to pave the way for the work of more local creators, personalities and musicians to shine on the world’s largest and most vibrant video community. To all our YouTube viewers and creators from South Asia and around the world, we can’t wait to see what you share,” he added.

YouTube has officially been banned in Pakistan since September 2012 after a low-budget movie containing sacrilegious content sparked furious protests around the world. At the time, the country’s top court ruled the site should be banned until a way is found to block all blasphemous material. Google had removed the blasphemous movie following a US court order but its shorter versions are still available online.

YouTube’s local version will present popular country-specific content on its home page. While announcing the launch, Google also presented some of their favourite examples of the South Asian content that’s already available on YouTube.

“Pakistanis love YouTube’s diverse music offerings. One of the country’s most popular YouTube channels is Coke Studio, a series of live studio-recorded music performances by artists from across Pakistan. Atif Aslam’s tribute to the magnum opus of the Sabri brothers, Tajdar-e-Haram is one their most-watched videos, clocking over 11 million views to date,” the post read.

National Assembly session: ‘Ban to stay till YouTube localised’

However, it is not yet known whether this localised version will lead to the removal of the government ban on YouTube. IT Minister Anusha Rahman could not be reached for comment.

In March last year, the state minister for information technology (IT) said YouTube will only be accessible in Pakistan after Google allows the country to manage the video-sharing website locally for proper monitoring. Anusha Rehman had said that the legislation to localise YouTube in Pakistan was under way.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan's social media celebrities: Taher Shah, AwaisLovely, Qandeel Baloch, #YouTube #Facebook … via @sheema_kh

In 2013, Taher Shah released his quirky and outlandish debut song ‘Eye to Eye’. The low budget video went viral in Pakistan, generating endless memes. It took the Pakistani singing sensation three years to grow wings and make a comeback with his “Angel” song.

The video opens in a picturesque meadow with a rainbow. Taher frequently changes outfits and wears tiaras over his signature long black hair, adorns flowing velvet gowns, studded brooches, hair wigs, coloured contact lenses, and masquerade masks. He walks around with what seems to be his angel family. There are some incomprehensible English lyrics and some off-tune singing.

But that isn't what Taher is about. He is creating viral art. Art that is reappropriated and takes a life of its own on the internet. His video was viewed 2 million times in two days, topped Twitter trends in Pakistan and across the border in India, and has inspired endless viral memes and videos.

In this video, one of Pakistan's top singers Ali Zafar takes on Taher Shah's Angel. The video has over 100K views on YouTube, and more than 90K on Facebook.

And then there's a heavy metal version, which has been widely shared on Facebook.

Pakistan's first YouTube star

Taher is not the only Pakistani to be operating in this space. In 2011, Pakistan found its very first YouTube star in AwaisLovely, a young man from one of Pakistan's smaller cities Sialkot. Within a short time, Awais’ amateur dancing videos and conversations about his city and romance mixed with epic music became a viral hit among the country’s internet population.

AwaisLovely generated lots of memes and probably would've taken his fandom to some heights, if YouTube wasn't banned in the country in 2012.

Pakistan's Kardashian?

And then there is Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani entertainer who has taken social media by storm for uploading videos on Facebook about her daily routine and her take on politics at home and in India, usually while sprawled on a bed in clothes that are considered risqué by Pakistani standards. Sometimes she just uploads videos of herself in a hot tub or hilarious edited videos of herself created using third-party apps. She also reposts mixes or memes of her videos and has embraced viral culture completely. Agence France-Presse has called her Pakistan's Kim Kardashian. Her Facebook page has close to half a million fans.
Riaz Haq said…
John Swinton - Yes, He Said It, But...

John Swinton: Yes, he said it, but...

One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

"There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

"There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty_four hours my occupation would be gone.

"The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

"We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

(Source: Labor's Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan’s most influential man is above the law
Imad Zafar

Riaz was a white-collar worker trying to make ends meet by doing different kinds of work. In 1979, he took a loan of few thousand rupees from a friend and secured a small contract in the military engineering complex. This was the beginning of the largest Pakistani real-estate empire

At that time, Riaz was a lower-middle-class man who was not even able to get his daughter treated in hospital and had to sell his wife’s jewelry to pay her medical bills. He also went through the pain of watching his children endure hunger. So he learned the lesson that this society only honors and respects the rich.

With the first small contract, he started building relationships in the civil and military construction sectors. Gradually, he started to build houses for the movers and shakers and finally came up with the idea of a housing society, one that can now easily be termed one of the most luxurious and largest housing schemes in Pakistan.

With the help of his connections, Riaz used the name of the Pakistan Navy for his housing society. Although it filed a case against him for using its name, not a single judge was able to pass a verdict against Riaz or stop him from using it.

Riaz, with the help of his strong connections in the civil and military establishments, gradually expanded his business. He grabbed land from people who were not ready to sell and also bought land all around Pakistan at low prices to expand his real-estate business across the country.

He successfully removed all the legal hindrances in his way by buying the judges in the courts and officers in law-enforcement and making friends in the establishment. In an interview a few years ago with Geo News, Riaz said that every man can be bought and that he used his money and influence to get approval for his housing authority.

Riaz established profitable relationships and provided perks and privileges to police officers, judges, politicians and a few high officials in the army,

Riaz’s success in building a business empire by exploiting the loopholes in the legal and political system proves that the lectures against corruption and discussions on morals look so fascinating and ideal on the talk shows and in newspapers but have nothing to do with reality. This is a situation where you have to pay a bribe even to get your child’s birth certificate; where you have to use contacts and influence to get admitted to a government hospital for treatment; where even getting a child enrolled at a government school requires either bribery or a phone call from an influential person; and where even to get a place to bury a loved one requires a bribe or phone call from an influential person. It is almost impossible not to surrender to the system by accepting that might is right.

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