Saturday, May 22, 2010
The secret diary of Hamid Mir
Or why news telly in India is so insensitive!
If Saturday morning’s crash of an Air India plane in Mangalore that resulted in the loss of 159 lives was shockingly tragic, the coverage of the horrific incident by television news channels was appallingly callous. Chasing TRPs, some channels tripped over each other to be the first to get ‘exclusive’ tid-bits of the accident, and took ghoulish delight in presenting macabre details. What was most insensitive was television reporters thrusting their mikes into the faces of survivors and asking stunningly bovine questions. Actually, they were not asking, but demanding replies to questions that were uncalled for. So we had these shaken and injured survivors, too traumatised to think straight and possibly still in a daze, unable to comprehend what had gone wrong in the last few minutes before the plane they were travelling in from Dubai was to have come to a halt on the runway and then slowly made its way to the parking bay, recounting their horror for the benefit of television news channels. What they (or grieving families) said made little sense, which is understandable. Our smart alec anchors would have been far more incoherent and incomprehensible had they been through something far less traumatic and life-threatening.
Make no mistake. The survivors, who were in need of immediate medical assistance and could do without television cameras at their moment of ordeal, were not being brought to the screens of your television sets to inform you about what happened, why it happened, how it happened. In any event, none of the few who survived the crash could possibly throw any light on what went wrong with a landing that was supposed to be smooth — the commander and his co-pilot had landed the same aircraft on the same runway innumerable times in the past and are believed to have known the terrain like the backs of their hands — but proved to be fatal. The survivors were pounced upon by camera crews because it gave them a great high (they were able to get ‘exclusive’ grabs for their channels) and their bosses an opportunity to claim that they had it before anybody else did. That in the process all norms of decency, dignity and discretion were rudely trampled upon, and editorial caution that should have been exercised was thrown to the wind, matters little to our television channels.
Which, of course, is nothing new. Why else would our television channels have sought out Hamid Mir, the now disgraced ‘star’ of Pakistani television and chief of Geo TV, for his comments whenever issues related to that country or India-Pakistan relations cropped up? That Hamid Mir has a dubious past is known to everybody on either side of the Radcliffe Line. Nor is it a well-kept secret that Hamid Mir’s sympathies have all along been with the Islamists and not the modernists of Pakistani society and politics. By extension, his association with the ISI and the Pakistani Army has often been a subject of animated discussion. Yet, what is known as ‘mainstream media’ in India had no compunctions about showcasing Hamid Mir and presenting his views as those representing ‘mainstream opinion’ in Pakistan!
Well, mainstream opinion in Pakistan, at least that which reflects what the educated, thinking classes of that country think, is at the moment heavily loaded against Hamid Mir. Recently, a tape surfaced on Facebook which had him talking to a member of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or what is popularly referred to as the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ by Pakistanis. The conversation had nothing to do with news-gathering: It amounted to Hamid Mir instigating the TTP to kill Khalid Khwaja, a former ISI agent known to be close to the Americans who had been kidnapped by the Punjabi Taliban. The tape reveals Hamid Mir accusing Khalid Khwaja of having links with the minority Ahmedis and the Americans, both sufficiently sinful in the books of the Pakistani Taliban to merit the death sentence. Subsequently, Khalid Khwaja was killed. Hamid Mir tried to disown the tape, saying it was not his voice. Strangely, the ISI has confirmed that it was indeed Hamid Mir’s voice on the tape; senior journalists who have known Hamid Mir for years have also confirmed the tape’s authenticity.
A debate is now raging in Pakistani media circles about who taped the conversation between Hamid Mir and the TTP, and why was the tape leaked. According to some journalists, the outing of Hamid Mir also exposes the deep rifts within Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, namely the ISI, the Military Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau. Any one of them could be trying to embarrass the other as Hamid Mir is said to have had livewire links with all of them. Another theory has it that the whole purpose was to expose the Islamists within Pakistan’s intelligence agencies by those sections in the ISI, MI and IB aligned with the either the US or China — sort of an ‘ideological’ war which has now come into the open. This is discounted by knowledgeable members of Pakistan’s commentariat who believe, and perhaps rightly so, that there is little that divides Pakistani intelligence agencies and their operatives ‘ideologically’; any alliance with either the Americans or the Chinese is purely tactical and does not automatically denote rejection or repudiation of Islamism.
The fine print, really, is inconsequential. The fact remains that Hamid Mir is more than just chief of Geo TV; he is also in cahoots with Pakistani intelligence agencies and has strong links with organisations like the TTP which are considered ‘strategic assets’ by sections of the Islamabad-Rawalpindi political-military-jihad complex. What is also of some importance for us is that Geo TV belongs to Independent Media Corporation, which owns the Jang group of newspapers. And as we all know, the Jang group is the Pakistani partner of a well-known Indian group of newspapers in a joint venture called ‘Aman ki Asha’ which aims to promote cross-border harmony and peace. It would be perfectly in order to ask how can a media group that has die-hard Islamists with links to terrorist organisations vehemently opposed to peace with India in senior positions be a trans-border peace partner. It would also serve some purpose if we were to be told as to why the Jang group was selected over other newspaper groups or independent dailies like the Daily Times, which has played a leading role in exposing and outing Hamid Mir. Chinese whispers are not exactly reliable. But there could be some truth to the story doing the rounds that it was neither aman nor asha that prompted the partnership between the two media groups.
[This appeared as my weekly column Coffee Break in Sunday Pioneer, May 23, 2010.]