What really happened at Nasdaq?

Published: September 17, 2010
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Pakistan's Counsel General Mr Babar Hashmi

A recent popular story concerning Pakistan’s Consul General in New York, Mr Babar Hashmi, is circulating on news channels, newspapers and internet blogs. According to the story on August 25, 2010, the Nasdaq Stock Market, an American stock exchange, offered the consul general an hour of free-of-charge use of its seven-storey tall MarketSite Tower, a massive video display in Times Square in New York, to broadcast an appeal for Pakistan’s flood victims. Given the high visibility of the display, it was expected that this would garner at least one million dollars in donations. Hashmi, allegedly squandered the opportunity by broadcasting his own images instead. He has been thoroughly vilified for this action. However, an investigation of the issue questions the veracity of this widespread account.

According to an official Nasdaq press release issued on GlobeNewswire on August 24, 2010, the Pakistani Consul General was invited to Nasdaq’s prestigious Closing Bell ceremony that signifies the end of the day’s trading. The whole event was scheduled to last for fifteen minutes, from 3:45pm to 4:00pm.

The bell ringing

Hashmi attended the ceremony along with his commercial attaché, Muhammad Aamer. The Closing Bell began with brief introductions by two Nasdaq officials, including Meyer Frucher, the Vice Chairman of Nasdaq OMX, the parent company that owns and operates the Nasdaq Stock Market. Frucher himself spoke about the challenges faced by Pakistan and the country’s relationship with the US. Hashmi followed him to the rostrum and spoke for the allotted time of just over two minutes. He discussed the floods ravaging Pakistan and appealed for assistance, providing information on a donations account in the New York branch of the National Bank of Pakistan and on Pakistan International Airlines’ free relief service.

Images from this appeal, and from a brief photo-session that had immediately followed, continued to be displayed on the Nasdaq Tower following the Closing Bell ceremony. Archival footage of the entire ceremony is freely available on Nasdaq’s website.

Aamer clarified that said:

The media event at Nasdaq was no more than 15 minutes long. The consul general was invited to only ring the closing bell of the market day on August 25, 2010, as the chief guest. He turned the simple bell ringing event into an opportunity for highlighting the plight of the flood affected people of his country.

Findings

According to sources, the Pakistani Consulate was given the opportunity to play a video clip for 30 seconds, not one hour. This position has been reiterated by both the Consulate and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its press briefings on September 2 and September 9. Moreover, in response to inquiries, a Nasdaq spokesperson stated via email that:

Nasdaq gives organizations participating in bell ceremonies the option to run a 30-second video on the Nasdaq MarketSite Tower within a given timeframe. The Consulate General of Pakistan in New York provided a video message for the Nasdaq MarketSite Tower and the Closing Bell on August 25, 2010.

However, it has not been verified whether a 30-second video clip was in fact played and has only obtained unconfirmed reports that there were last-minute technical difficulties in playing the provided video that could not be rectified in time, including that the video was either not in the requisite format or that it was too long for the 30-second slot. Nasdaq’s spokesperson only stated that,

The Consulate General of Pakistan in New York plans to take the opportunity to broadcast a video message on the Nasdaq MarketSite Tower in the near future, and Nasdaq looks forward to continuing its show of support for the flood relief efforts in Pakistan.

Nasdaq has already made good on its word. On September 3 Nasdaq invited the American arm of the UNHCR to the Closing Bell ceremony. The UNHCR’s appeal for flood relief in Pakistan was also broadcast on the Tower, accompanied by a video featuring Hollywood actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie.

Media Distortion

Details about this event are widely available, including the aforementioned official Nasdaq sources, and fair coverage of the event that appeared in most newspapers. However, the narrative that has taken hold in the Pakistani media makes little or no mention of Hashmi’s attendance at Nasdaq’s Closing Bell ceremony as the source of the images transmitted on the Tower.

There are a number of glaring discrepancies in reports on private media channesl. One correspondent referred to the Nasdaq Tower behind him as a screen belonging to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) – despite the fact that the screen visibly flashed the word “Nasdaq”. In fact, the NYSE and Nasdaq are two separate and competing stock exchanges.

The correspondent also made the assertion that the Pakistani Consulate had been given an entire hour to air a video about the floods, and claimed that an unnamed executive at the NYSE expressed dismay that Pakistan was unable to take advantage of their offer. This official allegedly stated, “I think we are stupid that we made this offer to Pakistan.” If the quote is indeed genuine, it is unclear what the executive was referring to, given that the Tower belongs to Nasdaq, and not the NYSE.

Information flow

It appears that this story was then ad-libbed by a number of other media houses with minor changes and without any meaningful corroboration. Some later accounts have even stood in blatant contrast to the select images that were shown in the Pakistani media. For example, one news cast showed that the Tower displayed the message, “Nasdaq welcomes Consul General of Pakistan in New York Mr AS Babar Hashmi,” a variation of a standard greeting that is displayed for most guests invited to the Closing Bell. This message has been contorted in a number of stories to instead say, “Welcome to New York from the Consul General of Pakistan Mr AS Babar Hashmi.”

Speaking out against this, Aamer, expressed frustration at the circulating story, stating:

Consulate officials do their work professionally and it is hoped that they will be allowed to do so particularly at this difficult time in the history of Pakistan.

Another official at the Foreign Office speaking on condition of anonymity stated the matter was being “looked into by higher ups”. However, the official expressed disappointment at the story circulating in the media, saying:

The misperception will make it hard for big people and companies [like Nasdaq] to support Pakistan in the future. It’s too much of a headache. It makes us look unappreciative and ungrateful.

Political Manipulation?

The consul general’s story has also acquired political hues, with repeated calls for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to conduct an inquiry. Further, an article in a local daily claimed that it was not only the Hashmi’s images that appeared on the screens but also those of the late Benazir Bhutto. This account is contradicted by the official Nasdaq footage of the event. The story has also been repeated in a popular op-ed in the same daily where PML Q MNA Nosheen Saeed has turned it into a searing criticism of the government.

It is unclear whether political partisanship played a role in distorting the story. It is equally unclear how such disinformation entered the mainstream news-cycle, and why a number of reputable media groups across the country accepted, and perhaps even embellished, it without adequate checking.

Special thanks to Mr Siddiq Mohammed for generously sharing his expertise on the workings of Nasdaq and the NYSE

shibil.siddiqi

Shibil Siddiqi

A Journalist and Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Global Power and Politics at Trent University. He tweets as @ShibilSiddiqi

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Isfand

    Nice article,this really how easly some Pakistani media can distort informations,no wonder if we are the worldwide leaders in conspirancy theories……..Recommend

  • nurulamin

    I am totally dependent on internet to update myself about Pakistan.sitting 8626km away from my motherland really means something as no Pakistani channels air their broadcasting here in this part of the world.Last week i read about the incident which happened there in Newyork in which the incompetency of our officials was highlighted in a ridiculous way and we as viewers were focefully made to belive that this is what it seems to be.I dont think that every Pakistani think the same way i think and hence after 13 days the reality came to the surface in the form of this article.though people challenge the authenticity of this article but i am sure the we as a nation are being cursed for what we have not done at all and electronic media is at the top of the list working for this cause.Recommend

  • saad

    Wow. I believed the original story when I heard it. As if the truth doesn’t make us look bad enough, now we have to make stuff up to? Sad,it kind of shakes my faith in our media. Good work digging this up. I wonder if there will be any retractions or apologies. I doubt it. Recommend

  • E. U. Khan

    The Express Tribune has shown with this article what investigative journalism is. I can not say if the gutter press, TV loudmouths, and inside intriguers are going to like you. You deserve a prize for showing how it can be done in Pakistan. The two Pakistani diplomats named should be honored by the people and the government of that country for making great efforts for their country in spite of such heavy odds and the abuse they have suffered. Recommend

  • Rudaina

    I think a lot of people will read this and won’t be surprised at how the media completely twisted the truth given the recent criticisms of media coverage on various issues. Well done for finding out facts on your own. Great article.Recommend

  • IZ

    What you expect me to believe the truth? What rubbish! Here in Pakistan we believe what ever we want to believe!Recommend

  • akram

    Reading ur article show a somewhat different picture but u have also left many ambiguity
    Is media so naive and journalist so ignorant that they will circling something false. Watching video do show what is in the news not what u r saying. That raise serious integrity question of all media. Recommend

  • Gasherbrummistani

    Aww man, the truth can be so boring! It made for much more interesting dinner party conversation when the story was about yet another egocentric Pakistani technocrat. But I guess we can always use this one for the post-dessert, pre-chai round, that of Media Bashing.
    Oh and dude, can the next collaboration between Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Siddiqi have a groovier bass-line?Recommend

  • saher

    @akram.. yes the media is this naive.. they would do anything to raise their trps :P… from saying the session f\was from 5 hours to saying that the shoe hit the president and he left the stage in middle of the speech…. how many ppl have access to the real story later? how many actually wuld read this blog for that matter.. yes those who have access to net might.. but rest?? and trps are good to have :D pays them!Recommend

  • saher

    *the electronic media”.. print still has time to verify v4 they publish but tv media has comparatively seconds to get all the info.Recommend

  • parvez

    Never believe what you hear and believe only half of what you see – this old saying still holds good.Recommend

  • Ali Wahab

    Excellent work, Shibil Siddiqi. By bringing the facts out, you are doing a great service to this nation, whose people are extremely gullible to believe anything which is negative about the country. I also thank Express Tribune for helping uncover the propaganda against Pakistan whose roots are unfortunately found in our own country.Recommend

  • lol

    “Archival footage of the entire ceremony is freely available on Nasdaq’s website.”

    it is NOT available on the link given. only a few pictures and a few short paragraphs of text. THIS LINE IS A LIE. I WONDER WHY?Recommend

  • Factchckr

    @lol: You will find the video if you look to the right of the page, under the heading EVENT PROFILE and click the link that says “Watch the event video”. Its not hard to find unless (a) you are semi-illiterate or (b) trying to malign this article for no good reason. I wonder why. Recommend

  • Harris

    I confess I did believe the original story and told many people about it and now I feel completely stupid to believe what our news channels portray as legitimate news. Remind me never to watch television news again.

    Great work on the article by bringing the true picture into light. Now the real question is should I believe this article :)Recommend

  • Gasherbrummistani

    @Mr.Harris – Sir, with all due Respect – if anything, being a Pakistani means trusting everything a person with a beard has to say. That, above everything, is all you need to repose your faith in the words of Mr. Siddiqi.Recommend

  • A.S.Sorabjee

    Quite disappointed to have read your article, Mr Siddiqi. The basis of your argument and the facts presented are both misleading and in accurate, if i may say. Im an enterpreneaur based in Karachi and in the 39 years of my practical life, ive only seen the gradual decline in the service standards, professionalism, integrity and commitment of our Commercial Attache’s and diplomats abroad. The gentleman, Hashmi, is a prime example. This is largely because such diplomats manage to get plum postings with “parchi’s” and “sifarish” rather than merit. Another important factor is that “khan daani” gentlemen officers are a thing of the past.

    Now i know all to well that the NASDAQ authorities had given the consulate a full hour and i repeat a full hour to the Consulate to present Pakistan’s case. Even if the event was for 15 minutes as you claim to have written, wouldnt 15 minutes make a difference in our efforts to help our countrymen who were dying back home but sorry, what difference do 15 minutes make to a nation and men like Aamir and Hashmi who would waste time in sipping cups of tea and enjoying their posting! Shame!

    On to the inquiry, as they say, “apni maa ko koi chor thori bolta” The Foreign Office is bound to reply to your written emails and say what it said. I’ve learnt that this is the “SECOND” inquiry against Hashmi in less than 8 months, i stress, a second inquiry against an officer in less than 8 months! Need i say more? He is a corrupt man and is deeply unpopular within the Pakistani community, a proof of which is the youtube video which i attach below

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ac4ZIbxIBf0

    It is painful to see Mr Jinnah’s Pakistan being represented by negligible men like Aamir and Hashmi. Not only should these two should be recalled but sent into compulsory retirement. What they have done is criminal, at a time when floods were ravaging the poorest of the poor and when the whole world was in tears, two officers make fun of the plight of our countrymen, how can they have the cheek to do so? But im sure once the dust settles in, they will be “taken care of” as is done in this unfortunate country. I wish someone in the Foreign Office or your sources would like to tell you this too, Disgusting! Shame and nothing but shame on you both! Recommend

  • Ahmad Fareedi

    @A.S.Sorabjee: The problem with this country is too many people have a direct line to divine knowledge, making factchecking or even actually reading the article redundant. That can be the only explanation for the fact that you know Nasdaq’s actions better than Nasdaq itself. Or that most of your comments seems more to do with your own delusions than anything this article says. And even if consul general is corrupt, facts are facts and credit to Express Tribune for having the courage to report them objectively. More real reporting like this and less crystal ball gazing is very required in Pakistan right now. Recommend

  • E. U. Khan

    Mr. Sorabjee is ranting hoarse without cause except perhaps for a personal grouse against diplomats pictured in his chaikhana worldview– with diplomats “sipping cups to tea and enjoying their posting”. He has not read Mr. Siddiqi’s article, or he does not have the capacity to understand it. Yet he dares to comment on everything, including topics that are outside the present discussion. He also alleges the existence of Foreign Office inquiries against its officers and tries to show himself off as better informed about the Ministry’s affairs than the Foreign Office itself. He also incriminates himself by leveling personal allegations against some officers by name. He should know that this forum is not for settling personal scores, and that his ill-founded statements my have serious legal consequences for him. This forum understands, certainly, that such people do not have any regard for facts, and they do not help civilised, logical dialogue in Mr. Jinnah’s Pakistan today. Anyway, this person is probably beyond help: he might not know that he has spoken foul words about a “khandani” officer still left in the service of Pakistan. He should know, if he can still understand anything at all, that Mr. Babar Hashmi is one of the most upright, brilliant, correct, and highly professional senior career officers of the Foreign Service of Pakistan. If men of Mr. Sorabjee’s trade have been dealing with the “parchiwallah” and “sifarishis“, it is their problem and their shame. Mr. A. S. Babar Hashmi is an honorable gentleman, and an officer who has served the Pakistani community well, upholding state laws and curbing underhand deals of all kinds in which many so-called entrepreneurs are known to indulge, and he has brought much honor to Pakistan. At NASDAQ as well, as Mr. Siddiqi makes plain through his thorough research, Mr. Babar Hashmi launched the first major flood assistance appeal to the international community in the business sector, and caused for substantial donations to follow his short visit there, The video clip posted by Sorabjee is put together by some photoshop hack, and may be of bazari gossip use. Anyone interested in the facts of the occasion should watch the official NASDAQ archive record video, from the NASDAQ website: http://mktvideo.nasdaq.com/MarketSiteOpenCloseVideos/201008/mc_082510.wmvRecommend

  • E. U. Khan

    A few other links that may be useful to understand both the actual and broad nature of the occasion are at (1) Cast TV “Babar Hashmi at NASDAQ Closing Bell” http://www.casttv.com/video/72dkw45/babar-hashmi-at-nasdaq-closing-bell-video, at (2) Twitter http://twitter.com/NASDAQOMX/status/22113502938, at (3) The Fletcher School http://friendfeed.com/tufts/d22fd12d/fletcher-alum-babar-hashmi-f91-consul-general, and at (4) The Wall Street Journal Market Watch http://www.marketwatch.com/story/consul-general-of-pakistan-to-ring-the-nasdaq-stock-market-closing-bell-2010-08-24?reflink=MWnewsstmp Recommend