By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Research-based journalism is an important tool for the documentation of history. It has been used as “reference-based” content in histography and therefore has been useful for further work for writers, researchers, and historians.
Ethical research-based journalism needs citations not only references rather with notes about the source of the material, comments on the level of credibility provision of cross-checking, and of course addition of more than one source if a statement is controversial. However, media ethics have been changing and today one can reproduce a story with some additions, and new titles, and by building a tale of events. It is normal today indeed. However, media ethics still requires citing the source/reference if a main punchline of a newly produced tale/story/ article is published with new titles, etc.
The use of Conceptual Blending for making spicy content requires catchy phrases and words like “secret deal” or “leaked documents” but such journalism is still not acceptable as “credible” and “ethical”. Open-source information and government-published documents cannot be called “leaked documents” and “secret deals”.
One of the latest interesting examples is producing a year-old story with a new catchy title and blending with loaded political content by “The Intercept” under the title of “U.S. HELPED PAKISTAN GET IMF BAILOUT WITH SECRET ARMS DEAL FOR UKRAINE, LEAKED DOCUMENTS REVEAL published on September 17, 2023, with base-material that was already published on October 6, 2022— almost a year ago. More interestingly, the September 17 story of “The Intercept” cited several links for building a political narrative however, writers are shy to give any reference to the original story that was published on October 6, 2022, and do not give credit to the original story that produced claims used by The Intercept.
The original story titled “Pakistan, Ukraine, And The Race For Third-Party Ammunition” written by Elisabeth Gosselin Malo was published on October 6, 2022, in “The Drive” open source. Both the stories discussed the Pakistan-Ukraine military hardware trade which has never been a secret because even the State Bank of Pakistan statement shows Pakistani exports to Ukraine and both countries have a long history of artillery hardware trade. The third party of the story was the British Royal Army which too has half a century-old history of military trade with Pakistan therefore there is nothing “secret” and nothing regarding the “leaked document”. The story of Elisabeth Gosselin was also based on assumptions offering nothing credible and tangible thereby both stories look agenda-driven and fairytales.
The product under discussion in both stories is the Pakistan Ordinance factory’s 122mm HOW HE-D30 projectiles which are semi-fixed ammunition for howitzers, with a maximum range of 9.5 miles and a muzzle velocity (the speed at which the projectile leaves the barrel) of 2,270 feet per second (690 meters/s.) The complete weight of the round, taking into account the projectile and shell, is about 28 pounds. The POF was established in 1951 by the Pakistani government with collaboration from the British Royal Ordnance Factory (an ensemble of U.K. munition factories established during and after World War II). Public British Parliament documents further show that in the 1970s, under licensed production deals, Britain provided training for the engineers and POF staff as well as a technology transfer for the manufacturing of 105mm L64 Tungsten ammunition. The POF is also one of the main manufacturers still producing large amounts of Soviet-style artillery ammunition and is known as the best for light military hardware. Pakistan annually holds an international expo “Idea” for selling its military hardware to all countries that are not under any international ban. The last Idea Expo was attended by over 300,000 visitors. Pakistan exhibits its military production also in international military Expos.
It is also known to everybody that Pakistan and Ukraine share important military ties, of which the largest contract was signed in 1996, for 320 T-80UD tanks built by the Kharkiv Machine Building Design Bureau. Al-Khalid Tank and its variations and versions are symbols of the Pakistan-Ukraine military relationship. Pakistan and Ukraine share different dimensions of relations including economic, trade, military, technology, and infrastructure projects. The military and economic trade essentially revolved around weaponry and agricultural output. The total trade (reference data of March 2022) between the two countries stood at US$ 801.2 million during 2021 including Pakistani exports to Ukraine of US$61.7 million and imports of US$ 739.51 million. Since the inception of Pak-Ukraine relations in 1996 (four years into Ukraine’s independence), Pakistan has been a loyal customer for Ukraine’s armored battle tanks with multiple acquisition and upgradation contracts in place while Pakistan is a producer of the best kind of projectiles used by both the countries. There is no international ban on providing military hardware to and from Ukraine therefore such trade has never been “secret” or “classified”.
The Intercept media outlet has been publishing interviews of former prime minister Imran Khan and has been producing stories for consolidating claims of Khan that he was sent home by the United States and a vote of no confidence against him that sent him home in April 2022 was actually sponsored by the State Department. However, Khan himself twice took a U-turn from his claim and said that the US had nothing to do with his removal but The Intercept still believes without producing any credible data that Khan is a victim of US policy towards Ukraine because Khan visited Russia on the same day when Russia attacked Ukraine. The Intercept has published several stories with the same allegations but without providing any documentation, credible background material, or anything that can be considered “appropriate” to acknowledge its claims.
In August 2023, “The Intercept” published under the title of “Secrete Pakistan Cable Documents U.S Pressure to Remove Imran Khan” was categorically been rejected by the Department of State of the United States, however, this story was quite interesting to read to know how one can establish a “story” out of nothing and by just “believing” instead of providing documentary proofs and pieces of evidence.
It was more than just a news item rather than an opinion as the story itself confirmed that writers were not clear about the credibility of the document that was the base of the story and they just believed what they had written.
The story starts with a para as:
“THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT encouraged the Pakistani government in a March 7, 2022, meeting to remove Imran Khan as prime minister over his neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to a classified Pakistani government document obtained by The Intercept”.
Interestingly, the US Department of State has been denying this categorically since Imran Khan blamed the US for his removal. Moreover, the Spokesperson of the Department of State Matthew Miller again on August 8 (published on site on August 9) rejected this blame.
The Intercept story adds:
“One month after the meeting with U.S. officials documented in the leaked Pakistani government document, a no-confidence vote was held in Parliament, leading to Khan’s removal from power. The vote is believed to have been organized with the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military”.
Using the diction of “is believed”, writers take no responsibility for the credibility and made this news story rather an opinion piece. Yes, they could had have reasons to believe or they could believe whatever they wished to believe but they had not provided credible and tangible data on why they had such beliefs.
The story goes on as:
“The document was provided to The Intercept by an anonymous source in the Pakistani military who said that they had no ties to Imran Khan or Khan’s party. The Intercept is publishing the body of the cable below, correcting minor typos in the text because such details can be used to watermark documents and track their dissemination”.
Writers said that the document was provided by an “anonymous source” and then suddenly indicated “in the Pakistani military”. If they know the source is/was from the “Pakistani military” then this source cannot be called “anonymous”.
“Asked about quotes from Lu in the Pakistani cable, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said, “Nothing in these purported comments shows the United States taking a position on who the leader of Pakistan should be.” Miller said he would not comment on private diplomatic discussions”.
However, responding to the question Miller said “Even if that comment was accurate as quoted they will in no way show the United States taking a position Nothing in these purported comments shows the United States taking a position on who the leader of Pakistan should be. Writers may forget to add “Even those comment was accurate as quoted”. By not adding the previous line, writers categorically changed the sense of what Miller said.
Interestingly the Intercept itself accepts that US authorities have rejected Khan’s propaganda since the day he launched it for his domestic gains. The story continues as:
“State Department again denied the charge throughout June and July, at least three times in press conferences and again in a speech by a deputy assistant secretary of state for Pakistan, who referred to the claims as “propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation.” On the latest occasion, Miller, the State Department spokesperson, ridiculed the question. “I feel like I need to bring just a sign that I can hold up in response to this question and say that that allegation is not true,” Miller said, laughing and drawing cackles from the press. “I don’t know how many times I can say it. … The United States does not have a position on one political candidate or party versus another in Pakistan or any other country.”
The most interesting part of the piece was:
“In recent months, the military-led government cracked down not just on dissidents but also on suspected leakers inside its own institutions, passing a law last week that authorizes warrantless searches and lengthy jail terms for whistleblowers. Shaken by the public display of support for Khan — expressed in a series of mass protests and riots this May — the military has also enshrined authoritarian powers for itself that drastically reduce civil liberties, criminalize criticism of the military, expand the institution’s already expansive role in the country’s economy, and give military leaders a permanent veto over political and civil affairs”.
Was the PDM government run by any military man or had the PDM cabinet retired or serving military men as claimed by writers while stating that “the military-led government “?
Now another cooked story by the Intercept has been published as an “exclusive” story when Interim Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar is visiting the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session and the timing of this story would definitely provide spicy material to foreign as well as Pakistan media to raise critical questions and Interim PM Kakar may face situation where unfocused response without considering relationship between point of reference and frame of reference can provide meat to all who are already waiting to grill Pakistan before, during or after UNGA session.
The most interesting part of the Intercept writings is (now exposed fact) that it targets the Pakistan military without providing any connotation and denotation and is purely based on Conceptual blending. Is it not time that the Pakistan government should ask the outlet reasons for the loaded material it has been producing against Pakistan and the Pakistan Army without providing credibility in its writing?