Naureen Aqueel

Archive for November 2010

Published in The Express Tribune – blog, November 28, 2011.

When the Airblue flight ED 202 crashed into the Margalla hills, there was a barrage of criticism against the media reportage of the incident. Sensationalist, unethical and downright insensitive were the allegations against the Pakistani media, and to be honest, they were not misplaced.

From boasting to be the first ones to have broken the news to showing gory footage of blood and body parts, running after families of the victims for juicy soundbytes depicting their pain and giving false hope by airing incorrect reports of survivors, the media certainly had a chargesheet of complaints against it, and justifiably so.

Bloggers and Twitter users in the Pakistani cyberspace were the first ones to jump up and attack the media for its insensitivity and lack of ethics. Twitter was awash with criticism and so were blogs. There were calls to rein in the media and complaints that the freedom everyone had so passionately fought to get for the media was being misused. But yesterday, when another plane crashed in Karachi, I saw the whole situation in an entirely new light. When I logged on to Twitter to check tweets about the crash while updating the story on the website, I realised that it is not only the media that was unethical and insensitive.

People jump at tragedy, and they jump at conspiracy and spicy bits of information all the more. Amid the chaos of sifting through tweets that carried information and perspective about the crash I also came across numerous tweets like these:

Who cooked up the name CHIPA 😉 its a weird name for an ambulance service #karachi – still cant stomach it

This guy says he heard heavy gun fire just b4 plane crashed in #Karachi / w00t now the fun starts, UFOs?

no it wasn’t a UFO. it was HAARP or probably a missile by militants or blackwater

me likes the Blackwater twist > do you think Blackwater had anything to do with #Karachi 😉 [jking]

I do not blame the entire Twitter community nor would I judge thesebloggers based on a single incident. There were indeed a lot of serious and helpful updates on Twitter that helped spread awareness and possibly assisted reporting and rescue efforts. But, one thing that I did realise after this experience was that media’s sensationalism does not exist in a vacuum. Media barons and decision makers prefer to air gore, tragedy, sex and controversy because the readers and audience like it. Spicy bits of information are highlighted because those are things the readers and viewers jump at. Masala and sensationalism gets the highest number of hits because readers enjoy it. So, can we blame the media for what people want to see and read?

Perhaps all of us need a dose of ethics.

Published in The Express Tribune – city, November 26, 2o10.

For the longest time after Mideast hospital was torn down, drivers emerging from the Schon circle underpass couldn’t help but be mildly startled by the gaping landscape. But then, slowly, the space started to fill up and by now, this part of Clifton’s skyline has been radically changed. The new kid on the block is the 361 feet high Sofitel Tower and Shopping Mall that is set to open in a few months.

Sofitel under construction. PHOTO: EXPRESS TRIBUNE

The structure of the building is 90 per cent complete, said Abdul Rehman Naqi, managing partner in the project. The 27-storey luxury hotel-cum-shopping mall started with a domestic investment of Rs7 billion, according to earlier media reports. The project boasts four floors for parking and four for a shopping mall as well as hotel rooms, a health club, spa, swimming pool and a rooftop garden.

Big brands have already started advertising their future presence with logos and banners emblazoned across the construction site. Names such as Agha’s Supermarket, Pizza Hut, Bonanza, CityGold and Saeed Ghani vie for attention.

According to initial plans for Sofitel, the mall would house Spinneys, an international supermarket chain. However, these plans seem to have changed and now Agha’s, one of Karachi’s oldest supermarkets (that opened in 1977) is shifting to the new location and is likely to be the only supermarket in the mall, said Naqi.

“A dedicated Gold Souk will attract customers planning to shop for weddings,” said a spokesperson for the Siqqisons and Younus Brothers Group, the domestic advisers for the project.

The Sofitel Tower and Shopping Mall is part of the international Sofitel hotel chain that operates around 200 hotels in at least 100 countries. Sofitel is the second hotel in Karachi by the international Accor group that opened their Grand Mercure hotel in 2007. The Accor group is responsible for the architecture of the project. Construction of the tower began in 2008 and since then the company has been announcing different dates for the opening, skipping from 2010 to 2012 and now finally settling on 2011. When approached, a spokesperson for Siqqisons and Younus Brothers Group said, “The shopping mall along with the four-storey basement car parking, which has a capacity for 600 cars, will open by mid-2011 while finalisation of the hotel structure will continue.”

Published in The Express Tribune – blog, November 25, 2010.

A recent report indicated that the US was considering expanding drone operations in Pakistan to now encompass areas surrounding Quetta. Pakistan vociferously rejected the expansion and said the US would not be allowed to expand the areas where drones operate.

Drone attacks have a history stretching back to 2004, when they started as part of George Bush’s war on terror. An independent tally by New America Foundation, shows that there have been 199 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan with approximately 103 in 2010 alone. The records state that till today between 1,276 and 1,955 individuals were killed, of whom around 965 to 1,420 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. The non-militant fatality since 2004 according to this record was 28 per cent, while in 2010 it was approximately 8 per cent.

Statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities indicated that US drones killed 708 people in 44 Predator attacks in 2009, but that only five of these were able to hit their real targets meaning that for each al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists killed, 140 innocent Pakistanis had to die.

US authorities continue to stress that the attacks have successfully helped kill a number of high-profile al Qaeda targets. They point to high profile successes like the killings of most wanted Tehrik-i-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, and other senior al Qaeda leaders.

Yet, a ratio of 140 deaths for one high profile target hardly spells success. Apparently, these strikes are not precision ‘one-bullet’ type of killings that kill only the intended target of the attack. There is always a horrendous ‘collateral damage’ attached.

Interestingly, there is more to this debate then just the measly collateral damage that officials brush off with a wave of their hand.  That the killings are unlawful themselves is often ignored. Most strikes that report the successful killing of ‘militants’ and ‘insurgents’ rarely identify the names of those killed. Who are they? What are the accusations and evidence against them? By what means has the US military obtained information about their ‘militant’ activities? Have they been tried and indicted in court? These are just some of the questions that need answers. Killing ‘alleged’ militants outside any zone of combat without proving charges is an extra-judicial killing and illegal by international law.

Another serious concern is how a state can allow its own citizens to be killed by a foreign power. Drone attacks in the tribal regions are a serious breach of Pakistani sovereignty. The fact that these attacks are carried out with the connivance of the government is another debate altogether.

Does the US not notice this extra-judicial killing considering it had created much uproar about a recent video that showed apparent Pakistani army personnel carrying out extra-judicial executions of militants? There was much concern about fears of illegal executions that are constituted as human rights violations and war crimes. But what happens when it is an unmanned US predator carrying out the executions via drone missiles that kill innocent civilians and also destroy infrastructure?

Drones have a proven record of having killed non-combatants just like any other terror attack kills innocent civilians. Both are worthy of condemnation and neither deserves to be tolerated. Terror attacks in our cities and drone attacks are invariably connected since after almost every terror attack that inhumanely kills innocent civilians, destroys infrastructure and disrupts everyday life, terrorists point to the continued drone operations as the motive. These predator attacks do nothing but make US installations in the country more vulnerable to attack. Because at the end of the day, when the law is flouted, and the state allows the perpetration of extra-judicial killings, a deadly cycle of violence steps in to fill the legal void.

Published in The Express Tribune – blog, November 9, 2010.

The last few days have been busy for people in the news media, with bomb blasts, a plane crash and the tragic final homecoming of a prominent political leader. There was a lot happening and it wasn’t all good news. Yet, paradoxically, the days were what we in the news media have come to term ‘good news days’.

Before you start shooting at me for being another one of those insensitive journalists who cash in on people’s miseries, let me assure you we in no way consider the news to be good.

Covering and reporting such tragic events is no easy feat. We have to keep our personal feelings and emotions aside. We don’t have time to be shocked at the enormity of a disaster or show disbelief at who in the world would target worshippers at a mosque.

No sir, we have to be on our toes and get to work immediately. The reason – because, you, the readers and the viewers expect us to deliver all the information we have as soon as we can and in the best way we can. And it is you who anxiously seek the ‘bad news’.

So, days with a lot of bad news become days that people turn more to the media, and that gives us a chance to deliver – hopefullyresponsibly.

Hence by extension, ‘bad news’ equals a ‘good news day’ for the media. It’s when the flow of the news is fast enough to fill the airwaves, the news space and get more hits on the website.

It’s the day when you do not have to go hunting for new and exciting stories; when your boss isn’t angry at you for not keeping things moving and when you have the maximum number of visitors on the website.

It’s the day when the old maxim ‘bad news sells’ is proven true. But it’s also the day when despite the buzz and excitement of working on a big story, there is a nagging sensation inside, hoping that as you write those stories, you do not lose the human that was once sensitive to the pain and shock that accompany such news events.


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