Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Who Says There's No Investigative Journalism In Pakistan?

A piece in Dawn caught my eye recently, for making the point that investigative journalism in Pakistan is wholly absent:
Whistle blowers and investigative journalism, two parts of a whole, have sadly never matured in Pakistan. It’s not the journalists who are the weasels; it’s our leaders because they don’t like to expose others for fear that their own mega millions rattling in their cupboards may come out. Or we lack the wherewithal (read money) to whistle up the blowers necessary to produce ‘breaking news.’

Au contraire, ma soeur! Perhaps you have not borne witness to Ansar Abbasi's relentless push for justice...with regard to Farah Dogar's exam scores:
ISLAMABAD: The two samples of Miss Farah Hameed Dogar’s answer sheets reveal another aspect of scandalous jacking up of her marks.

[...]

After this correspondent secured the question papers of Physics II and Urdu for the Federal Board HSSC-II Examinations 2008 and compared the same with the two samples, as reproduced in the IHC judgment, it is also revealed that the judgment pointed out a wrong answer for the Physics II answer reproduced in the verdict.

On page 13, the judgment said: “On visual examination of Physics-II paper, answer to question No 5(b) is given below: - “No, the plates of capacitor is not of different sizes; however to decrease the electrostatic factor a dielectric medium is putted in between them.”

Then the judge wrote: “The examiner crossed the question and awarded zero mark. Later on, he gave one mark. On re-evaluation (re-assessment), another mark was added.” It means that in this particular question of the paper, the candidate got two marks.

The question paper, however, shows that the above answer pertains to XIV (b) of Q.2, which reads as: “A capacitor is connected across a battery: (b) Is this true even if the plates are of different sizes?” It carries total one mark as part XIV, having three sub-parts — a, b and c — had total three marks. Against the answer reproduced above, the candidate, when reassessed, got two marks against the part that carried only one mark. It means even if Miss Farah’s answer was 100 per cent correct, she would not have got more than one mark, but she got two.

Horror of horrors! For those who need some backfround info on the insane Question 2, subpart XIV, subsubpart (b) story, click here and then here. Brilliant stuff all-round.

Anyway, this got me thinking. Where is the investigative journalism in Pakistan? I know there are some severe structural impediments to digging real dirt -- and no, Mr. Abbasi, exam scores don't count I'm afraid -- such as lack of money and a notoriously insular and cabal-like political elite. But it's not as if money isn't pouring in now, and which country doesn't have cabal-like political elites? The U.S. has Deepthroat, India has Tehelka and we have exam scores. No, seriously. Why are so many of the big political stories in Pakistan (BB's Surrey estate, Zardari giving permission for drone attacks in secret) broken by foreign media organizations?

I know we have a few Pakistani journalists in the audience. So perhaps they can enlighten us, because I'm at a loss to explain this.

13 comments:

sabaimtiaz said...

I think a lot of investigative journalism in Pakistan died around the same time that the monthlies - Herald and Newsline - began to wane when news channels began to mushroom.
In the '90s there were so many great investigative stories that would come out from those magazines. I think that breed of journalist was replaced to a huge extent by a barrage of young kids who joined television channels for the love of the money as opposed to the love of the profession. And I think now there are so many problems attached to investigative journalism: not just the very real threat that you'll be killed but also the lack of background info available to younger journalists. Most importantly, it comes down to the bosses: how many of them will sanction risque stories going ahead?

Ahsan said...

Saba:

Excellent point. Completely forgot about Herald, which until well into this decade, was the standard-bearer of excellent journalism. The only problem was their circulation wasn't great compared to the average newspapers or even other magazines.

Huma said...

I wouldn't necessarily agree that there hasn't been any decent investigative journalism in the last few years - there have been some stories in the electronic media at least, that have been decent, if not brilliant, examples of investigative journalism.

The problem really is that with the focus on incessant live coverage and competition between channels on who cuts live where first, an emphasis on the quantity of news items as opposed to their quality and understaffed news rooms, it has become harder to even spend more than a day on a story.

Another problem that I see is that there is no concept of follow-up stories, in both the electronic media and the print media. I can give you this example of a great story that aired on Geo News some months ago about this town in Baluchistan that had no access to running water, with water being ferried to the town via trains, which they aired incessantly and took several politicians to task. Months down the road, there has been no follow up of whether things that changed.

I really do feel that the execs who run both papers, magazines and tv channels need to step back and realize that live coverage of whether Pervaiz Elahi went to the bathroom or whether Maulana Fazlur Rehman's pagri fell off is really not what people want to hear. Only then will we probably see some good investigative stories, because honestly Pakistan is a great place to be a journalist because of the immense amount of stories that one can do here.

Anonymous said...

"The current chairperson of the FBISE, Miss Shaheen Khan, was too shy to talk to this correspondent."

can someone explain this to me?

karachi khatmal said...

i think herald and newsline still offer quality stuff, it's the electronic media that has yet to come up with truly killer stuff investigative wise. i think it would happen, it'll take some time for this industry to mature.

but there have been good programs with spy camera stuff on several channels for small stuff, so i know it will eventually build further.

and if you wikipedia kamran khan and mehrangate, you will find one great example.

takhalus said...

i agree newsline and herald were cutting edge in their time..and still do some good work. There is no equivalent on TV

bubs said...

The great investigative journalists of the 80s and 90s eventually decided they had to make a living, either by working for foreign organisations or by becoming editors. Since Herald and Newsline are the only publications that showed any enthusiasm for investigative journalists but have very limited resources they are unable to hire the people or fund the training that would allow a new generation of investigative journalists to rise.

bonobashi said...

@sabaimtiaz

Certainly a perceptive point, going by circumstantial evidence, since I don't have a clue who or what Herald or Newsline were. But.

The change from magazines to electronic media brings about its own impact. You will appreciate that a TV news channel has little time to follow up cases and stories, unlike a magazine, or even a daily. When the TV channel turns into a 24 hour channel, pressure on producers for content becomes worse. It's unbelievable, what these guys will do for a story, something new, something that'll keep the anchor busy for 45 to 90 seconds of airtime.

Part of the loss of differently paced investigative journalism is due to this. There's no time for it on TV. Also, apropos of nothing, part of the hysterical reaction to news from these 24 hour channels is due to the frantic need to provide stuff; it's like being the cage attendant at the altar of Moloch.

Ahsan said...

Huma:

By any chance, are you and Saba sisters?

Anon728:

Afraid you're on your own there.

In general:

Yeah, I wish I'd written this post and said Herald and Newsline were exceptions. It's clear from everyone's comments that they are widely respected.

foolsparadise said...

No Offense & IMHO, Pak e-media is hell boring, with all news/ talk shows /programs appears to be same and often ending with no apparent Conclusion. No wonder people in Peshawar watching Indian News Channels (for FREE, as most of them DO NOT pay anything) if for nothing but time pass.

Also there is tendency of copying blindly, which make it worse (Aaj Tak -- Kal Tak / Airtel - Paktel :-)) )

Anonymous said...

Forget investigative journalism, the first step is to least ensure readability of basic news reports. I second what foolsparadise said, Pak needs more intelligent e-media output. Where is the analysis, media activism and promotion of democratic ideals.

I for one think that newspapers ought to have some basic position (left,right or center) and push that view forward with elan.

And why dont e-media sites in Pak encourage comments and discussions?

~desiguy

Huma said...

Ahsan: Yes we are.

Ahsan said...

Anon718:

On the newspapers' editorial slants, they do exactly that. Non-issue as far as I'm concerned.

You're right about the media sites being from the 20th century though. In this respect, Dawn has proven to be a real game-changer -- in the last 6-8 months, they've really renovated their site and made it quite interesting (blogs, comments etc etc).