Last week Hameed Haroon the CEO of Dawn Group of publications sent out an SOS email which was published in full by fellow blogger Adil Najam of All Things Pakistan.
Your Blogger has attempted to piece together a story largely based upon Haroon’s email and the documentation that came attached with it.
Historically the widely circulated Dawn has always toed the government line. Perhaps to assuage their conscience its owners have traditionally allowed the newspaper group’s less-read but highly-regarded Herald newsmagazine much more leeway. The same applied to The Star, which followed a policy of sensationalism common to all Karachi’s afternoon newspapers.
So it comes as no surprise to learn that the Sind Government attempted to crack down on The Star as early as 2004. One of its reporters Rasheed Channa was arrested and the CEO Hameed Haroon was facing a fabricated charge accusing him of ‘terrorism and illegal weapons possession’. Apparently the angry Arbab Rahim was calmed down by Musharraf’s direct intervention.
In 2005 it was the turn of the Islamabad regime. It appears that Musharraf was not pleased by Herald’s gutsy coverage of:
- The war in Waziristan,
- Religious extremism in the NWFP
- The possible resurgence of covert regime support to Kashmiri militants
At a well attended meeting of officials an angry Musharraf brandished a copy of the Herald and protested that: “This kind of journalism must be stopped.”
According to Haroon, this mounting frustration turned into fury when the newspaper further refused to comply with instructions for a news blackout on events unfolding in Baluchistan and in Waziristan and the exercising of almost total restraint in reporting the Taliban.
It now seems apparent that in late 2006, with a change in its editorial team, the group’s flagship Dawn finally opted to follow the Herald and The Star and embark on an independent course of its own.
Accoring to Hameed Haroon, in September 2006 ‘a senior government functionary’ phoned Dawn’s Editor and politely conveyed a demand ‘from the highest in the land.’
His exact words: “We are planning a clean-up operation in Baluchistan. Please don’t publish anything on it.” The official is informed that outright blackouts or censorships are wholly unacceptable. All that is offered by Dawn is an assurance that wherever a story warrants a government version, it will be sought and included in the story. The official is adamant and Dawn is again asked to forget that Baluchistan existed. A few days later, the official calls again saying that Dawn’s attitude “is encouraging other media’ to report on the province.” For several days after the government ‘request’ Dawn has been the only paper to cover political events regularly in Baluchistan. But now, says the official, every newspaper and TV channel is citing Dawn as the reason for the blackout being unacceptable.
However when the editor and the Directors of the Board of the Dawn decided that ‘the government’s ‘request’ was unreasonable and needed to be firmly turned down’, the regime unsurprisingly turned nasty.
Earlier in December 2005, according to Hameed Haroon, Shaukat Aziz had urged him (at a meeting Sindh Governor House) to apply for a Television Broadcast Licence. And when Haroon remarked that it required an investment of US$ 40 million, Shaukat Aziz indicated that A “permanent licence it would be granted”.
A year later, in December 2006, after Dawn had expended over a billion rupees Shaukat Aziz had the effrontery now to inform Haroon that as Musharraf “is extremely displeased with Dawn’s refusal to impose a “blackout” on Baluchistan, and consequently there is nothing more he can do to help Dawn obtain a license as “the orders had come from the top” not to issue a license to Dawn.
Furthermore, according to the Editor of the Nation, the Prime Minister has advised him that his group “must refrain from clubbing with the Dawn Group, if it intended acquiring a television license, as Dawn would not be issued with a broadcast license in any case.”
At this meeting, the Prime Minister also remarks that the government is free to place its advertising wherever it chooses to. This is seen as a threat that the Federal Government is considering a ban on advertising in Dawn. At the end of December 2006, the quantum of Federal Government advertising in Dawn begins to plummet.
Obviously to Musharraf’s satisfaction the Dawn Group is hemorrhaging financially. Having setup a fully staffed TV News Channel, which it is prevented from launching, the newspaper group is now paying a price for its sudden surge in freedom.
Following the travails of Dawn one cannot help but come to the following conclusion:
- The General is a vengeful character
- Shaukat Aziz comes across as a powerless wimp
- And that we must all support Dawn to the best of our abilities!
The Geo/Jang Group appears to have thrown in the towel; I wonder how long Hameed Haroon and his team last out before doing the same?