Handling Media

Daily Times, July 26, 2006
Government seeks to ‘soften-up’ 30 ‘negative’ journalists
‘Handlers’, ‘coordinators’ and ‘butterers’ appointed
Staff Report

ISLAMABAD: In a major PR exercise, the government of Shaukat Aziz has prepared a list of 33 columnists, writers and reporters in the English and Urdu print media of Pakistan and assigned its top “spin doctors” to neutralise the “negativism” of these writers by making them “soft and friendly”.

Understandably, no editor or owner-editor has been so targeted, suggesting that the government thinks it best to directly deal with the troublesome writers than indirectly through their prickly bosses.

The glib new information minister, Mohammad Ali Durrani, will lead his team of spin doctors along with the affable information secretary, Shahid Rafi, to work on the targeted columnists and reporters and “soften” them up so that their criticism of the Aziz government’s policies and decisions is muted.

The top Urdu columnist, Irshad Haqqani of Jang, is to be “softened” up by two top government stalwarts – Information Minister Durrani and the principal information officer (PIO) of the federal government, Ashfaq Gondal.

Mr Rafi is also tasked with buttering up Khalid Hasan, the Washington-based correspondent of Daily Times and The Friday Times.

The others from Daily Times on the government’s “soft” hit list are Kamran Shafi (columnist) and Irfan Ghauri (reporter). Khaled Ahmad, the contributing editor of TFT, figures prominently in the line-up.

The military’s chief media manager, Major General Shaukat Sultan, has been asked to chasten Kamla Hyat, a human rights activist and columnist of The News.

The ‘secret’ list also mentions Rauf Klasra and Ansar Abbasi of The News and Mehtab Haider of The Nation, but doesn’t say who will “handle” them.

Strangely enough, the names of Sherry Rehman and Farhatullah Babar of the PPPP also figure on the list of negative columnists. Who will pick up the phone in Islamabad and brave the wrath of these stalwarts is not clear.

Naturally, too, the names of Karachi’s most intransigent columnist, the veteran Ardeshir Cowasjee, and his associate Amina Jilani, are highlighted. Sources wondered who would have the guts to try and silence them, which is why no particular handler has been assigned to them. Roedad Khan, a former senior civil servant and presidential advisor, is also named for his unrelenting hostility to the Musharraf regime. Apparently, the government is again a loss to know how to deal with him.

Mr Durrani has also taken upon his robust shoulders the task of handling a number of senior Urdu columnists: Hasan Nisar, Abbas Athar (both from Daily Express), Attaur Rehman, Irfan Siddiqui and Haroon Rashid (all from Nawa-i Waqt).

Senator Tariq Azeem, the PMLQ’s media manager, has been entrusted the job of buttering up Attaul Haq Qasmi (Jang) and Abdul Qadir Hassan (Daily Express). Mr Rafi will apply his charm on Dr Ajmal Niazi.

The PM’s press secretary, Javed Akhtar, has also been roped in to “coordinate” with Hamid Mir (Geo TV), Farrukh Saleem (The News/TFT), Shafqat Mahmood (The News) and Khaled Ahmed. He claims to know these gentlemen well.

Respectable Karachi journalists shouldn’t be alarmed. They haven’t been left out of the loop. The former journalist turned PM advisor on media affairs, Jaffar Bilgrami, should be soon getting in touch with old hands like MB Naqvi and Ghazi Salahuddin of The News. The PIO, Mr Gondal, will have his hands full dealing with Ayaz Amir of Dawn and Farooq Qaiser and Raja Anwar of Khabrain.

Since the list and strategy is now out, thanks to Daily Times, it is likely that the government may temporarily abort this prime ministerial initiative. It is also possible that the proposed “handlers” and “butterers” may now be assigned different target groups to throw these journalists off guard.

“Should anyone on this list receive an offer of a plum government job or cosy assignment or free junket, he or she should know the motive behind it and the public’s reaction to any innocent acceptance by any of them,” remarked an ever-vigilant editor.


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