Pakistani media coverage of the general elections scheduled for July 25, 2018 is dominated by discussion of conspiracy theories about the alleged involvement of Pakistan's "establishment" (euphemism for Pakistani military and intelligence agencies) to "rig" the vote to favor Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Some in the media also accuse the "Deep State" of "worst ever censorship".
In a recent airing of BBC Hardtalk, the host Stephen Sackur challenged Pakistan Dawn Media Group's CEO Hameed Haroon to show evidence of Pakistani "Deep State" interference in the upcoming elections. Haroon responded by saying there's strong perception of it and said "it's all over social media". Sackur then told Haroon about the widely held view that Dawn Media Group is openly taking sides by supporting PMLN for the last two years and its now "convicted" leader Nawaz Sharif.
Mr. Hameed Haroon, Chief Executive of Pakistan's Dawn Media Group, claimed in a recent BBC interview that the Pakistani military and intelligence services were "orchestrating" July 25, 2018 general elections in favor of a particular political party. Here's an except of the interview with BBC's Stephen Sackur as the host:
Sackur: You are defenders of journalistic integrity, independence and impartiality in Pakistan but you are not seen as entirely neutral and impartial because over the last couple of years you are increasingly giving platform to one particular political player Nawaz Sharif who's run into an awful lot of trouble due to allegations of corruption ....you, the self-proclaimed impartial, independent, neutral media group covering Pakistani politics are now seen to be supporting and sympathetic to Nawaz Sharif and his daughter who it has has to be said are convicted criminals...
Haroon: There's an element of orchestration by military of a campaign against us...
Sackur: Where is your evidence of orchestration?
Haroon: If you look at the social media attacks on Dawn by the ISPR trolls....not just going after us but anybody who stands in their way.
Some in the media accuse the "Deep State" of "worst ever censorship". They say that their coverage is being limited and their distribution disrupted.
This claim of "worst ever censorship" is undercut by almost all media outlets widely covering all political speeches by leaders and candidates of all political parties, including Pakistan Muslim League (N) favored by Pakistan's two biggest media giants Jang and Dawn groups. The fact that there is a lot of discussion of "deep state" trying to "fix elections" reinforces the relative media freedom to show all points of view.
Orchestration vs Influence:
Those alleging "orchestration" of elections by Pakistani "establishment" cite documented history of involvement of Pakistani military and intelligence services in previous elections on behalf of one party or another.
For example, they mention the mea culpa by General Ehtisham Zamir, head of ISI political cell during 2002 elections.
It should be noted that the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto issued the executive order creating a political cell within the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with the purpose of influencing political processes in Pakistan, according to Hien Kiessling, author of "Faith, Unity, Discipline: The Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan".
Bhutto's fateful decision in 1975 eventually brought about his own downfall when he used this cell to unnecessarily rig the 1977 elections and was overthrown and executed by General Zia-ul-Haq. It was also this cell that helped Nawaz Sharif , a protege of General Zia-ul-Haq, get elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan after the General's death in a mysterious air crash followed by a brief term in office by Benazir Bhutto. In 1990 the ISI received 140m rupees (US$2.2m at current values) to rig national elections, according to supreme court testimony by the then chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg.
While it is possible that the Pakistani military "establishment" is attempting to influence the outcome of the elections, there is scant evidence of "orchestration" as alleged by Hameed Haroon of Dawn Media Group and others. While the military is a key player and has the ability to tip the scales to some extent, it lacks the capacity to determine the outcome of the elections.
Orchestration, as alleged by Haroon and others, would challenge our credulity to believe all of the following:
2. The "establishment" made sure that Nawaz Sharif's family's undeclared assets were part of the leak.
3. Pakistan Army chief and ISI ordered NAB to investigate Panama leaks and Nawaz Sharif family's assets.
4. Pakistan Army Chief and ISI chief called a meeting of the top Supreme Court judges to hear the case, remove Nawaz Sharif and transfer trial to a NAB court. 5. Pakistan Army Chief and ISI ordered NAB court to render a guilty verdict.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui:
Pakistani media have widely reported the remarks of Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui regarding the attempts to influence his decisions in cases pending in his court relating to Nawaz Sharif's recent conviction.
The broad coverage of Justice Siddiqui's remarks in Pakistani media appears to negate the claims of media censorship made by Dawn's Haroon and others.
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui is a right-wing judge who was a Jamaat e Islami candidate for elections in 2002. He represented Lal Masjid clerics after the Pakistani military cracked down on them in Islamabad. He has become increasingly vocal against the military and his fellow judges since he was charged with misappropriating funds and hiring relatives to fill jobs at the Islamabad High Court. There’s a judicial reference pending against him.
Media coverage of Pakistan's July 25, 2018 elections is dominated by conspiracy theories alleging "orchestration" of the election process by Pakistan's "Deep State". A recent episode of BBC's Hardtalk with Dawn Group's CEO showed that such allegations fail to withstand any serious scrutiny. The "orchestration" conspiracy theory challenges credulity by asking you to believe that everything starting with Panama Papers leak by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was managed by Pakistani intelligence agencies to oust Pakistan's ex prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Wide reporting of open criticism of the military and the judiciary by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui shows that the "worst ever media censorship" charge is not credible.
Here's a short video clip of BBC's Stephen Sackur's Hardtalk interviewing Hameed Haroon of Pakistan's Dawn Media Group: