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Arshad Sharif’s Twitter message raises several questions

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

By Agha Iqrar Haroon

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Arshad Sharif’s Twitter message demanding the formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe funds utilized by Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) for producing patriotic songs and films has triggered a debate that covers several dimensions including the role of ARY, its anchors, the philosophy behind producing patriotic material and so on so forth.

 


Arshad Sharif’s comments are about the era when ARY and ISPR were apparently to be too close to look at as one entity. The question is why did his conscious not compel him to criticize the production of such material that he thinks today is useless to produce or that was commission-oriented?

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He can say he is raising this question when he got hold of a report that deals with financial statements of such production therefore he is raising this issue now. I believe for a resourceful journalist like Arshad Sharif who has connections in all strata of civil and military administrations could have knowledge of who was getting contracts and what was the cost of contracts. Journalists like me have always been thinking about the power of ARY and its reach within the system and wondering how come a television channel that had been facing and losing several defamation cases in Europe has never been questioned and objected to by Pakistani authorities and its license has never been in danger. All cases that ARY lost in courts of law had material in question that was mostly originated, produced, and telecast in Pakistan, therefore, PEMRA could have asked ARY to stop a continued campaign against individuals but it never happened. A maximum token fine and weak notices were all served to ARY for producing fake news.  Who is behind this powerful News Channel that always manages everything for it, has been a long-raised question in Pakistan?

The Friday Times reported last year that the defamation cases, most of which have been tried in courts in the United Kingdom, had cost ARY hundreds of thousands in pounds sterling, so much so that ARY UK filed for voluntary bankruptcy in 2017. However, the bankruptcy has not shielded ARY from further liable allegations.

The most popular cases that ARY lost include of Gul Bukhari case, Ishaq Dar case, Mian Mohammad Mansha case, Mir Shakilur Rehman case and PMLN leader Nasir Butt case.

Gul Bukhari Case

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Gul Bukhari won her defamation case against ARY in the United Kingdom, following a ruling from media regulatory body Ofcom which found that New Vision TV, which broadcasts ARY, had run a fake story about a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) case against her.  In the original broadcast, ARY had aired a news broadcast that falsely stated that the FIA’s counter-terrorism wing had issued Bukhari a notice to appear, pending a counter-terrorism case. Bukhari contended that ARY had engaged in damaging and disparaging statements, likening her to a terrorist.

Ishaq Dar Case

In October 2021, New Vision TV issued an apology to Ishtaq Dar for publicizing allegations of corruption and misuse of authority. During a broadcast of the news program Powerplay, former Aide to the PM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar alleged that Ishaq Dar had prevented the Financial Monitoring Unit of Pakistan from completing its proper due diligence in an effort to “protect individuals involved in the Choudhury Sugar Mills money laundering case.”

Before the UK High Court made a decision, ARY UK offered to publish an apology and pay for damages.

Mian Mohammad Mansha Case

Nishat Group chairman Mian Mohammad Mansha went against ARY when it broadcast allegations against him for money laundering. Mansha testified that the statements were “completely false and defamatory.” Mansha settled with ARY, receiving £75,000 in damages and agreed legal costs of £200,000.

Mir Shakilur Rehman Case

Owner-editor of Jang Mir Shakilur Rehman went against ARY against harassment and defamation campaign. The UK High Court ruled that ARY Network Ltd., and its Chief Operating Officer had failed to provide sufficient defense against these allegations. Mir Shakilur Rehman was awarded Rs.3 million in his defamation case against ARY – although ARY filed bankruptcy before it paid. The court found ARY guilty of making 24 separate defamatory claims against Rahman and ordered the channel to pay damages of £185,000. When costs are included ARY’s total bill is thought to be almost £3m.

Nasir Butt Case

PMLN leader Nasir Butt won a defamation case against New Vision Television (NVTV), broadcaster of ARY News in the UK. The ARY broadcaster had called him a “killer, organised criminal, blackmailer, and gangster. Butt, in response, sued the news channel in the London High Court over allegations made on the TV channel by the then Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan; allegations made in Program “Sawal Yeh Hai,” and allegations made by PTI’s Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan. ARY apologised with Butt in this case.

In an apology submitted at the London High Court to conclude the case with Nasir Butt, the NVTV said: “On 6 July 2019, New Vision television broadcast a number of programmes which contained reports that Nasir Mehmood, who is more commonly known as Nasir Butt, is a murderer, an organized criminal and important member of a drugs cartel who has fled from justice in Pakistan.”

“On 7 July 2019, New Vision television broadcast a programme which contained a report that Nasir Butt is an organized criminal.

“On 14 July 2019, New Vision television broadcast a programme which contained comments from The Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan that Nasir Butt had fled from justice in Pakistan.

“Nasir Butt has informed us, and we are prepared to accept, that he is not a murderer, he is not an organised criminal and not a member of a drugs cartel, and he has not fled from justice in Pakistan.

“We apologize to Nasir Butt for the distress, upset and embarrassment which these broadcasts have caused him. We have agreed to pay Nasir Butt damages for libel and his legal costs.”

An honest and seasoned journalist like Arshad Sharif who has love and pain for his country and his profession should also ask organization he works for that can we not follow journalism without being a source of fake news? Should he not also comment about a share of ARY in the same patriotic songs and films? And should he not comment on the ARY-PTV scandal?

As he has raised the issue of alleged commissions involved in the production of patriotic songs, I believe he should also check and raise the issue did ARY get a commission or not of being a part of different patriotic media campaigns it shared with ISPR including a series of his shows promoting Pakistan Army and Pakistan?

I have no doubts about Arshad Sharif as being a true Pakistani and patriotic person and I have no doubt about his integrity. I know whatever he does for the country, he does out of his love, not for any financial benefits. I just suggest to him there are several thousand or maybe millions of Pakistanis who do work for the country without any financial interest or for getting commissions. Accusing or defaming state institutions for their alleged involvement in financial kickbacks without having pieces of evidence is a dangerous attempt to defame institutions and we all must avoid such action irrespective of whosoever we are and how much we love our country.

Another issue that is important to address is the taunting and negative comments raised on social media against producing songs and films by ISPR.

We all know that the United States spends billions of dollars in the Hollywood industry to promote the might and power of the United States, CIA, and its law enforcement agencies. Russia and several European countries also do that. Bollywood is spending millions of dollars to promote narrative. Why should we not do it?

Prague-based Communication Practitioner Shazia Anwer Cheema in her article published in Pakistan Observer titled “Melodious projectile” rightfully indicates that fifth-generation warfare is considered the future of warfare and producing narrative-led entrainment material is a must job for those who wish to pitch their viewpoint among the masses.

She writes:

Pakistan and India have their respective fifth-generation warfare forces, (Inter-Services Public Relations) ISPR-Pakistan and (Defence Information Warfare Agency) DIWA-India, being military offshoots both agencies are controlled by central armed command. Entire strategic maneuvering revolves around social, cultural, political semiotics, and cognition. Cognitive semiotics is the study of human meaning making process; it deals with cognitive structure such as reasoning, judging and decision-making; why we understand what we understand and how we understand. The basic crux of information warfare is maintaining perceived perception, creating target perception, recreating reinforcing target perception, attention diverting and attention focusing

It is not just India and Pakistan fighting on this front, it is a must have battalion for every military force in the world, more powerful the country will be, more lethal this war will be. Don’t forget all those propaganda Hollywood mainstream movies, starting from the pre-cold war era till date. Information warfare required ammunition in the form of meaning-making tools; film, media, theatre, fine arts, and the list goes on and on because the human cognitive system is capable of creating meanings from a variety of means and all of these play crucial role in perception control. The future winner will be the one who controls the mind without the mind knowing that it is being controlled.

To my utter amazement, a song has canvassed the short-sightedness of a few who are mocking, creating bizarre memes, and writing puns about the capability of an institution. The gist of the mockery is that a war cannot be won by singing songs, I wonder who are these people, how come they are naive enough not to comprehend the simple rule of future warfare; maneuvering and manipulation, and how can they forget that America and Russia are fighting on this front for years now, spending a bashing sum of money. Who said a dispute can be settled just by one song, it was a single shot in continuous vicious warfare. Irrelevant remarks such as ISPR should not involve singing and dancing, if ISPR will not involve in the manipulation of meaning-creating tools then who else will be? This is the duty of ISPR not SSG, armored corps, not Infantry but ISPR, I totally agree that this song could have been effective with better poetry and better music but make sure its esthetic value is not in question as it is not Mozart’s symphony, shooting with words is different from shooting with bullets, words don’t kill on spot, one has to wait and see the results. Kindly do not have any doubt that Pakistan lags behind in information warfare.

I believe instead of appreciating our institutions, we are trying to make them controversial and indirectly serving our enemies. Unfortunate to say that some people in their differences with state institutions have gone too far and of course, their antagonism would serve those who are already finding opportunities to silence those who are trying to protect and promote patriotism and love for the motherland among the masses, particularly our youth.

If we are really honest to raise important questions, then should we not raise them across the board? Selective criticism is of course not a brave act.

Disclaimer:

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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