08 December, 2012

27 May, 2009

OP-ED: Journalism in Pakistan

—Ejaz Haider
Not just the delicate thing called honour but nothing that is worth doing at all and therefore worth doing well can be the function of stupidityShakespeare could have been talking about Pakistani newspapers when he wrote these lines in Julius Caesar: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen/ The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”।If you don’t believe me, take a look at our newspapers. A big fish can say the most absurd thing and that idiocy will be treated as a gem and find a place on the front pages of our newspapers. On the other hand, news of a seminar on language, for example, will begin with the statement by the chief guest (often, neither the chief guest nor the statement will have anything to do with the topic) and end with the line “journalist Khaled Ahmed also spoke” even if it’s Mr Ahmed who has held forth on the etymological and philological complexities of the issue. Why and how does this happen? Here’s why.Say the prime minister comes to inaugurate a health conference. At the first opportunity, reporters will try to extract from him something political: some question about the LFO or Pak-India peace process or some such thing. The focus will shift from health to politics. The doctors and other specialists at the conference will be sidelined. A couple of reporters will be assigned to cover the conference itself, but while the prime minister’s political statements will make it to the front page, with the appendage that he spoke at a conference, the news of the conference itself, the real issues discussed therein, will get thrown on the inside pages.Of course, it helps if you happen to be the information minister or the DG-ISPR, in which case you (if you are either one or the other, God bless you) can get away with murder; gaffes don’t even count. In any case, it is our national pastime to shoot ourselves in the foot and then put that injured foot in our mouth.Newspapers across the country are stuffed with people to whom, if I had enough money, I’d present a copy each of H L Mencken’s essay on “Journalism in America”. It is amazing, if you shear that great essay of references to America, how accurately it depicts the state of journalism in Pakistan. I cannot do better than to reproduce some of its memorable lines:“Most of the evils that continue to beset American journalism today [are owed] simply and solely to the stupidity, cowardice and Philistinism of working newspaper men. The majority of them, in almost every American city, are still ignoramuses, and proud of it... All the knowledge that they pack into their brains is... a mass of trivialities and puerilities; to recite it would be to make even a barber beg for mercy. What is missing from it, in brief, is everything worth knowing — everything that enters into the common knowledge of educated men...A man with so little intellectual enterprise that, dealing with news daily, he can go through life without taking in any news that is worth knowing — such a man, you may be sure, is lacking in professional dignity quite as much as he is lacking in curiosity. The delicate thing called honor can never be a function of stupidity.”It is these people, dear readers, who provide you information and act on Shakespeare’s ‘advice’ without most of them having ever read Shakespeare. Like old hands in low professions, they learn on the job. This knowledge is, invariably, denuded of all the finer things in life and even common decencies and courtesies. Predictably, when you learn that way, you are conditioned to reflect the practices, prejudices and predilections of the older generation. This is why reporters here have never learnt to write a well-structured report (most can’t write to save their lives) and sub-editors go through the diurnal grind giving more importance to inane statements than real news.Let me give you a very recent example. Two days ago our Under-19 team won the Junior World Cup; yes, they won it, and it’s a first for Pakistan. Not a single newspaper (except The News which had a puny item tucked in the lower half of the front page) put it on the front page (in this newspaper, it couldn’t even make it as the top story on the Sports page!) Why? The conventional (and I dare say, collective) wisdom of the newsroom says Jamali and Musharraf making a pledge to fight terrorism or discussing some important matters of state (whatever that means) is more important than the Under-19 team lifting the Junior World Cup trophy! Clearly, not just the delicate thing called honour but nothing that is worth doing at all and therefore worth doing well can be the function of stupidity.

Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Foreign Editor of Daily Times

The Maoists Rise Again in Nepal

When Nepal's Maoist insurgency ended and the militants joined an interim government three years ago, many hoped Nepal could serve as a model of peaceful democratic transformation. Now that the former insurgents are resigning from government, however, the democratic process is in grave jeopardy.
The present political crisis was sparked by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who resigned last week when President Rambaran Yadav blocked his attempt to sack the army chief. The president worried that Mr. Dahal—known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda—was trying to consolidate his personal power over the military.
For good reason: Domestic Nepali television channels broadcast a video on May 6 of Prachanda boasting to his troops last year that he had hoodwinked the United Nations into thinking the Maoists had three times more guerrillas than they had. He admitted that not all of the Maoists' arms were surrendered to the U.N. And he reassured his troops that the party had no intention of deviating from its goal of total state control.
The government is now in disarray—a situation the country can ill-afford. The elected constituent assembly must write a new federal republican constitution by next April, and it is already behind schedule. The government and the U.N. are also in the middle of demobilizing and rehabilitating nearly 20,000 Maoist guerrillas interred in U.N.-supervised camps. The parties in parliament have been trying for ten days to cobble together a majority coalition without the Maoists, with no success.
The situation may get worse before it gets better. Prachanda is challenging the president's decision in the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, his supporters have mobilized militant cadres and sympathetic civil society members for daily street protests in Katmandu against the president. The harshest slogans are directed at India, which pressured Prachanda not to meddle with the army.
These developments may have regional security implications. India has a vital stake in keeping the Nepal Army out of the hands of the Maoists. The Indian army has more than 60,000 Nepali Gurkha soldiers, and the two countries have strong historical ties. India's own Maoist insurgents have recently scaled up attacks on police and government in six eastern states, including one bordering Nepal. India is also concerned about Nepal's ever-closer relationship with China.
The irony here is that the Maoists came to power by the ballot, eliminating the need for bullets. Yet after taking control of government, the Maoists have become even more insecure. They have used thugs from their Young Communist League to threaten, intimidate and attack supporters of rival parties. They have tried to interfere and undermine the institutions they don't yet control: the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the army and the media.
I have personal experience with these tactics. Last December, I was beaten by a group of thugs who vandalized my newspaper's offices. This week, Maoists were again at Image Channel, the television station that first broadcast Prachanda's video, and threatened "physical action" unless the tape of Prachanda was handed over to them. These actions have only confirmed Prachanda's comments about controlling state institutions and made a mockery of his claims to support "civilian supremacy" over the army and "democratic norms."
This is the dilemma for young democracies like Nepal: What can be done when a party that comes to power through elections and is policed by a free, independent media starts attacking those very institutions of democracy after winning office? How does an elected government deal with an elected demagogue? Nepalis have shown that citizens must defy attempts to control the institutions of democracy.
Mr. Dixit is the editor and publisher of the Nepali Times in Katmandu.

Bomb Kills Two at Nepal Church

KATMANDU, Nepal -- A bomb exploded in a church in the Nepalese capital during Saturday morning mass, killing two people and wounding 15, police said.
The blast at the Church of the Assumption in Katmandu killed a 14-year-old Indian girl and a 30-year-old woman, said police official Prabhakar Pudasini. The girl was identified as a high school student from the Indian town of Betiah.
It was the first such attack on a Christian church in Nepal where most of the population is Hindu or Buddhist. Religious violence is rare.
Officials said an underground Hindu extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack. Home Ministry spokesman Navin Ghimire said the group, the National Defence Army, left a note found at the scene.
Little is known about the National Defense Army, including the identity of its leader, and its capability in carrying out attacks.
The bombing came just hours before the parliament elects a new prime minister. It follows weeks of political instability. The election of a new prime minister is hoped to ease the tension.
An eyewitness who was attending the service said a bag – which appeared to be filled with books – was left on the floor.
"Someone moved the bag to make some space and it just exploded," said Sunamaya Budathoki, adding that the mass was attended by at least 150 people.
Churches in Nepal hold mass on Saturdays because it is public holiday when schools and offices are closed. Sundays are working days.
Copyright © 2009 Associated Press

Nepalese Lawmakers Choose New Prime Minister

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Lawmakers elected a communist party leader as Nepal's new prime minister on Saturday in a move aimed at ending weeks of political turmoil.
Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) was elected unopposed, parliament speaker Subash Nemwang announced.
Mr. Nepal, 56, has the backing of 22 political parties and 350 members in the 601-seat parliament, more than the simple majority required to be elected.
Mr. Nepal has been a prominent figure in Nepalese politics for more than a decade. He was a key figure in 2005 protests against the authoritarian rule of then-King Gyanendra and the weeks of street protests that led to the restoration of democracy a year later.
The previous prime minister, former Maoist rebel chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal, resigned May 4 following a dispute with Nepal's president.
Mr. Dahal's party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), had blocked parliamentary proceedings but ended its protest several days ago, allowing Saturday's election. Maoist lawmakers walked out of parliament on Saturday and did not participate in the process. Mr. Dahal's and Mr. Nepal's parties are both communist but differ in policies and beliefs.
The Maoists ended their decade-long armed struggle just three years ago and entered a peace process। They won general elections in 2008 but did not obtain a majority in parliament. Mr. Nepal's party has long been part of mainstream politics.
Copyright © 2009 Associated Press

08 February, 2009

This Wild Girl’s a Homebody Now
LILY ALLEN is in her bed, under the covers, fully dressed. It’s a temporary pose; Ms. Allen, the British pop star, is known for an exhibitionist streak in her lyrics and her lifestyle. Soon enough she will be up, disrobing and divulging, in preparation for a gossipy, and probably gossiped about, night out.
But first there is the matter of an interview in her modest flat here. Munching chips, she eagerly gives a tour. It’s a three-bedroom, but the smallest serves as a closet; her room is slate blue with a claw-foot tub not far from the bed. Like the rest of the place it is filled with art and mementoes: paintings by Saatchi artists, badges from her concerts, a cartoony cutout of herself (“It’s fatter than me,” she trilled), a mash note from Elton John and David Furnish (“big year for you in 2009”) and a framed blowup of her citation for assaulting a photographer. (“He was taking a picture up my skirt at the time, so I kicked him,” she said.) She slips on beat-up Chanel flats to show off the garden; before she was a singer, she briefly studied to be a florist.
Ms. Allen, 23, bought the apartment, her first, a year and a half ago, after the success of her debut album, “Alright, Still,” released in 2006. A raunchy ska- and reggae-inflected alt-pop hit that sold more than 500,000 copies in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide, it earned her MTV and Grammy nominations and a reputation as a MySpace and blog-era star. In vintage-style dresses, door-knocker earrings and sneakers, she sang bluntly about boyfriends, lousy sex, good drugs and nights out somewhere in between. The hedonism extended offstage as well; Ms. Allen went on a bender of bad behavior, with photographs of her stumbling — or being carried — out of clubs as a paparazzi staple.
Lately, though, she has been taking pains to proclaim her homebody-ness. Inside her apartment, wrapped in a gray blanket and drinking milky tea, she talks quietly, curled up in a blue chair in the living room. “We sit around this table and play Scrabble,” she said of evenings with her friends. On her new album, “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” which will be released on Tuesday by Capitol/EMI, she extols the pleasures of eating takeout Chinese, watching TV and taking her dog — a mutt, Mabel — for a walk. The sound is less Ibiza party girl, and in addition to the usual topics (love, drugs, fornication) she tackles more grown-up subjects: family tension, politics, religion. Mature is the word her label has tacked onto it.
“We really think that there’s an opportunity for her to take a big, big step forward,” said Howard Handler, the executive vice president for marketing at EMI. “There’s a real opportunity to connect her to a much bigger audience here in America. She’s also grown quite a bit as an artist.”
But the album, her first since “Alright, Still” made her an international symbol of girlish rebellion, also cheekily showcases her desire for the trappings of celebrity. “I want to be rich and I want lots of money,” she sings on the new single “The Fear.” “I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless/because everyone knows that’s how you get famous.” Her openness has always served her; Ms. Allen was one of the first artists to mine MySpace successfully for a fan base, posting demos before her debut and gaining attention with frank blog posts that highlighted her average-girl insecurities, about her looks and weight, and her pop star-in-the-making bravado, when she dissed better-known performers.
Now she is dealing with the aftermath of all that accessibility. “I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore,” she sings later in “The Fear,” which is rising on the radio charts. In Britain especially Ms. Allen is, in her view, a target of the tabloids. She no longer prizes the attention, least of all after a tumultuous year when she suffered a miscarriage, lost her grandmother and developed a talk show. Balancing her public persona with her private life, as she says she wants to, could make her a more serious international artist — or it could alienate the fans used to her openness.
Though she Twitters, she has cut down on blogging. “I just can’t be on there, defending myself the whole time,” she said. “Who am I defending myself to anyway?”
Her Wikipedia entry, she complained, is riddled with lies. Like what? She hopped up to her computer. “Claims to have grown up with her mother” — Alison Owen, a film producer; her father, the actor Keith Allen, left when she was 4 — “in a working-class environment,” she read. “That’s true. And attended 13 schools, that’s true.” Embarrassing and alcohol-fueled behavior? “O.K., kind of true, I guess.” She had to drill down nearly to the bottom to find misinformation: she did not have Kawasaki disease as an infant, doesn’t have Damien Hirst paintings in her bedroom and has “never been a size 12.”
Ms. Allen’s reality, it turns out, is largely of her own making. And that is both her appeal and her challenge. “Her voice, it’s very personal, which makes her very different from a lot of pop artists, like Nelly Furtado or Britney,” said Greg Kurstin — of the retro pop duo the Bird and the Bee — co-writer and producer of “It’s Not Me, It’s You.” “People like to know what’s going on with her. But there’s definitely a downside to that.”

02 February, 2009