No Asha, Lots Of Tamasha

Is the Indo-Pak Aman Ki Asha campaign actually funded by Doordarshan? Pak’s media regulatory body thinks so.

WrittenBy:Somi Das
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“Nazar mein rehte ho jab nazar nahi aatein”. These famous words sung by music composer Shankar Mahadevan and Pakistani singing sensation Rahat Fateh Ali Khan for the Indo-Pak peace campaign Aman ki Asha has had a profound impact on the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority(PEMRA). They see India even when India is nowhere in sight. Before moving any further, here’s a brief background of the Aman Ki Asha campaign. The campaign is a peace initiative by two of the biggest media groups in India and Pakistan – The Times Group and the Jang Group. While The Times of India is part of the Times Group, Jang Group owns several newspapers and Pakistani news channel Geo News is part of it.

What a wonderful demonstration of neighbourly love, you’d think. Yet, the Aman Ki Asha campaign has always been viewed with suspicion by certain sections in Pakistan. And on our side of the border, our favourite peace-monger Arnab Goswami of Times Now has single handedly ensured that neither aman nor asha prevails in the subcontinent. Arnab has done everything from declaring war on national television to rebuking commentators from Pakistan to ensure his Group’s initiative is nullified.

Earlier this month, Aman ki Asha became a hot topic of discussion in Pakistani media circles after portions of a Pakistani media commission report  which apparently exposed the campaign’s motives were released.  The commission appointed by the Pakistan Supreme Court was meant to pen down the do’s and don’ts for journalists and reporters. The findings and the recommendations of the 1500 page report doesn’t differ much from the views of our venerable Justice Katju. The two-member commission, comprising Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Javed Jabbar, in their report said that those who control and report news in Pakistan did not have the adequate qualification and training to do so. India-Pakistan, same same, but different.

However, it was not for these Katju-ish nuggets that the report created ripples in media circles in Pakistan. On Page 204 of the report, India finds a tiny mention. And along with India, India’s national broadcaster Doordarshan finds a mention as well.

And for what? Hold your breath. For channeling money into the Pakistani media industry through the Aman Ki Asha campaign. Say what? Doordarshan? Is that why the sets look so shoddy and the news anchors look like they’ve stepped off the sets of Hum Log? This is what the report said: “Going into the background of the funding to this programme (Aman Ki Asha), it was found that the footprints lead to Indian sponsors including the Indian state television, the Doordarshan”.

And who’s’ making these bizarre allegations? PEMRA.  Even if the Pakistan media regulator wanted to show its love for India by making unfounded allegations, it should have done it after adequate research. PEMRA should know that DD’s doordarshita or foresight doesn’t extend till Pakistan as it is not in a position to even fund its own programmes- surviving as it is on the charity of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. To say that DD is pumping money into Pakistan media is a direct allegation against the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As if the I&B industry didn’t already have enough brickbats to deal with in India.

As soon as the report was leaked, a smear campaign was launched against the Jang Group. Blogs about India spreading propaganda through Pakistani media started doing the rounds and facebook pages like “Aman Ka Tamasha” got the fodder they needed to increase for vitriolic attacks against the Indo-Pak peace initiative. Pakistan’s answer to Arundhati Roy, journalist Beena Sarwar who has been at the forefront of this campaign received endless abuse on social networking sites.

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PEMRA’s allegations have managed to put quite a dent in the credibility of the campaign. Another allegation that was made by PEMRA against Jang Group was “lots of funds were pouring into media outlets from abroad in the form of sponsorship and the programme ‘Zara Sochiye’ (A programmed aired on Geo TV) had received sponsorship to the extent of 20 million pounds”.

However, Jang Group denied all allegations leveled against it and threatened to take legal action against PEMRA. As reported by Pakistan media, “Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, the owner of Jang/Geo Group, flew in especially from Dubai to appear before the Commission and narrated how the group had been victimised by successive governments from Zia-ul-Haq to the present time. ‘The Group had suffered a loss of Rs140 Billion during Musharraf regime when GEO was put off air for such a long stretch of time’, Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman told the Commission, adding, the figure could be verified from the documents about the quantum of advertisements just it was put off air and the quantum of advertisements after being allowed to go back on air.” As it turned out,the allegations against Geo TV actually had its roots in an old enmity between Executive Editor of Geo Television Pakistan, Hamid Mir and the PEMRA chairperson.

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Finally, under severe pressure to produce evidence to prove the allegations, PEMRA retracted the statement it supposedly gave to the commission. It completely denied making any such allegation. According to a report in Dawn, Zulfikar Maluka, the counsel for  PEMRA said, “We categorically deny this and have even contacted top bosses of the media house to satisfy them.” In fact, while hearing constitutional petitions on Media Commission Report, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in his remarks said that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is ‘good for nothing’.

While Jang group was fighting this battle of credibility, its Indian partner TOI seemed to be oblivious to the slander campaign against its initiative. When we contacted them, they had no idea about the fact that PEMRA had made and then retracted serious allegations against the Aman Ki Asha campaign. Ditto for Doordarshan. When Newslaundry contacted DD’s CEO, Jawahar Sircar, he was first taken aback and then asked for the background of our questions. Like every good conspiracy theorist we asked Sircar if he saw any mischief or larger conspiracy behind DD being named as the source of dubious funds in Pakistan media. It took DD 24 hours to understand the issue and even after that they couldn’t seem to decide who was the right person to comment on the matter. While both TOI and Doordarshan have promised to get back to us, we are simply happy to spread good cheer.

Not only does Aman seem to have not much Asha, TOI and Doordarshan have also shown we should not have much asha in them to stay abreast of news from across the border.

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