When journalists and politicians become friends

Published: January 16, 2012

For the greater good, journalists must indulge in behaviour that would be considered monstrous in any other context.

If you are familiar with the recent work of left-of-centre reporters and columnists, you will know two things about them: that they consider Babar Awan a fake pipliya who distributed sweets after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged and that Husain Haqqani is the only remaining bastion of liberalism.

Why the double standards? After all Haqqani has also taken a slow journey to the PPP, with detours at the Islami Jamiat Talba and PML-N. During his sojourn at the PML-N, Haqqani was also widely believed to have spearheaded a dirty tricks campaign against the sainted Benazir Bhutto and her mother.

The answer is simple. Haqqani gave the right people access; Awan didn’t.

So ready was the former ambassador to the US to give journalists off-the-record quotes, to flatter them for their stories, to add them to his BBM (bet he wishes he had a cheap old Nokia now) that they began to consider Haqqani one of their own. He was no longer someone they looked at skeptically as an adversary. Basically, they all but abdicated their responsibility as journalists to curry favour with someone powerful.

And that, in a nutshell, is one of the biggest problems in Pakistani journalism today. A source should be someone who gives you information about important matters. Instead, and this is especially the case with journalists in Islamabad, he becomes someone who exists so you can tell others that you are on a first-name basis with a person who holds some measure of authority.

This leads to two crimes against journalism. First, once a person in power becomes a friend, it becomes impossible to judge if he or she is lying to you. Second, a politician can get away with a lot for a long time if he has cultivated enough journalists.

This sense of comity exists not just among journalists and politicians, but within the journalism community too. Say, for example, that a journalist has a glaring conflict of interest, like being on the payroll of domestic or foreign governmental entities. It should be in the interest of a self-policing media to point it out and banish that person from the profession. Instead, it is the rare soul who dares expose unethical behaviour that has to face the wrath of the journalistic mob.

The thing is, in ordinary life it might be morally right to protect your patrons, friends and social life but the cause journalists are supposed to serve means that they need to practice a different standard. For the greater good, they must indulge in behaviour, like betraying the trust of those who are close to them or convincing people to reveal secrets about their bosses, that would be considered monstrous in any other context.

And for the love of all that is decent, journalists should stop worrying about whether they will be invited for drinks by politicians if they do their jobs well.


Nadir Hassan

An Islamabad based journalist who tweets at @Nadir_Hassan.

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

  • Justice

    Amazing piece. I am in disbelief that someone in Media can speak truth which his fellows will not like at all. These great friends of HH are also a big part of his trouble. Each of them considered themselves to had direct access to president Obama. But now slowly switching sides. These days, if some one mentions of Haqqani, they prefer to talk about Lahore delicacies.But still hope that one day Haqqani’s wife will open door of US treasury for them and tell them to write about some enemy of humanity which is set to destroy the world. Recommend

  • EyeRoll

    Great article Nadir! Now be prepared for a verbal lashing on twitter. The hypocrisy of these so called liberal human rights champions of democracy is nauseating and no wonder these liberals are intensely disliked and in a minority in Pakistan. Real liberalism and left-wing journalism would resemble what the guardian is doing right now – exposing media ethics , questioning drone attacks and british government role in interrogation torture, not these NGO/development consultancy types who write cliche democracy op-eds, backslap each other on twitter, ‘direct’ westernised fashion shows as an exercise in promoting tolerance (seriously maxing my credit card on a skimpy designer outfit is going to deal a blow to extremism?) and then they make themselves feel better by wearing their best designer lawn to the latest token placard protest at liberty chowk, because its their idea of political participation and contribution to the civil society in Pakistan.
    I feel sorry for the journalists who are so caught up in this nauseating hypocrisy, its extremely difficult to survive as an honest journalist in Pakistan. Recommend

  • http://weareourdesires.wordpress.com Amna

    Great writing. This line – he becomes someone who exists so you can tell others that you are on a first-name basis with a person who holds some measure of authority is true not just for journalists, but for most of the Pakistani qaum. Even the most corrupt politicians are praised because “my family was friends with her – I LOVE her” or “my nana knew him.” Who gives a —- if she embezzled billions or if he’s a stereotypical feudal/pir who takes advantage of the poor or if he declared Ahmadis non-Muslims or is a murderer (that’s such a mundane word now.) “I know famous people and it’s going to stay that way, because that is my greatest accomplishment,” is probably what they’re thinking. Who knows. Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/#!/FatimaSlm Fatima


  • http://NewYork Falcon

    Good article on a rarely talked about issue.Recommend

  • anna Khan

    I think this a well writen piece on the duplicity and quite frankly the hypocracy of the Pakistani Media. My observations are that the majority of journalists on various channels and talk shows do not possess an iota of media ethics and instead of being impartial became partial to ‘particular’ politicians which is evident on a daily basis. The role of a journalist is to impart ‘information’ which is unbiased and factual. Not lies, lies and more lies!Recommend

  • daanish

    uff, you expose your insularity (while trying to make the right point). ‘the right people’ haqqani gave access to were part of the miniscule liberal english language media (probably those he did bait-baazi with on twitter). you really think, babar awan, way more grounded and grassroots than haqqani cares about these english language hacks or their florid turn-of-phrases about him. he’ll give access to those that he thinks are the ‘right people’ and does. the english language press can revel in its irrelevance and pave the road to hell with their good intentionsRecommend

  • Talha

    Excellent, HH is a very cunning man.

    Mansoor Ijaz even more so.Recommend

  • http://baithak.blogspot.com/ temporal

    good observations nadir:)Recommend

  • zehra

    great artcile, my opion is a lot of power is now with media, media can create any issue, change any issue and present it in a way of thier choice!! the result is funding and trps!Recommend

  • Parvez

    Very true.Recommend

  • I am Pakistani.

    100% agreed.
    Majority of journilist are trying to send the message to masses as per their assumptions. No one is trying to go into field and get the evedience. And this sentence no one can deny.

    “Say, for example, that a journalist has a glaring conflict of interest, like being on the payroll of domestic or foreign governmental entities”.

    The majority of the journilist on the paroll of PML-N. Mian Sahab is one of the big bidder of journilist. I dont understand when these journilist will understand when Mian sahab form the government and kick them off from the payroll.Recommend