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Accepting a position of political power by a journalist is a direct clash of interest: Mazhar Abbas’s column on Najam Sethi

Najam Sethi will certainly go down in history as the first journalist to get the top slot in Punjab, even if it is for only 40 or 50 days. But would he prefer to be remembered for his journalistic credentials or for his political posts?

Sethi reportedly defended his decision, saying that journalists often criticise wrongdoings in the system but shy away when actually offered the opportunity to run that system. A few years back senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, declined an offer to become a Minister in the NWFP cabinet, saying: “my job is journalism and not politics. I am happy where I am.” Should Sethi have done the same?

There is no doubt that a good journalist should have an intimate understanding of politics, along with good contacts. However, a good journalist should never use his/her contacts or profession as a convenient ladder that can be climbed for political gain.

Having said that, there is no bar on any journalist to quit his profession and join politics. In fact, a good journalist can become a good politician, so long as they quit journalism first.


It is part of our job to keep close contacts with politicians, bureaucrats, military, police, intelligence agencies and a cross section of society, but only for professional reasons. Problems arise when good contacts turn into good friends and we cross the “red line” between professional relations and personal favours. Unfortunately, we often cross that line.  In the past, journalists who reached the position of editor often even avoided attending official dinners held by governors or chief ministers and rarely attended functions held by presidents and prime ministers.

A journalist should not accept any positions of political power because to do so is in fact a direct clash of interest. Secondly, a journalist must look for the story but not become part of the story. Thirdly, it is among the basic norms of journalism, that we should not accept any favours, political or otherwise. Fourthly, if we considered the Media as a watchdog or, as is often said, the fourth pillar of the State, then how can we journalists become a part of any other organ of the State?

But Pakistani journalists have been joining politics and serving in government ever since Pakistan emerged on the map of the world. The Ministry of Information played a pivotal role in it, by corrupting the journalists through different kinds of ‘favours’, starting from plots and tours and also by offering money both directly and indirectly.

Over the years, top journalists and columnists have been approached by, and have themselves approached, top politicians in order to get their support and vice versa.

It all started when the late Altaf Hussain quit his post as editor of Dawn and joined Ayub Khan’s cabinet. Since then, many top former editors and journalists have also joined this elite club, such as Mushahid Hussain Syed, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Sherry Rehman, Hussain Haqqani, and others. There are also a number of columnists who work as “advisers” for different political parties.

The names of some of senior journalists also popped up in the Mehran Bank scam for allegedly accepting money in the 1990 elections. None of them have challenged these allegations.

Sethi is an anchor par excellence and a very powerful writer indeed. He will certainly want to be remembered for his 40 years of journalistic work and not for his 40-odd days as caretaker CM, no matter how good an administrator he turns out to be.

Source: Express Tribune, 29 March 2013

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  • Najam Sethi’s decision to accept his nomination as the interim chief minister to oversee elections in Pakistan’s political heartland and most populous province of Punjab has raised some eyebrows.

    “Journalists often criticize wrongdoings in the system, but shy away when actually offered the opportunity to run that system,” said Sethi after a bipartisan committee of legislators nominated him for the post on Tuesday.

    But his nomination has not gone down well with many in his fraternity. “…good journalists can become good politicians, so long as they quit journalism first,” wrote journalist Mazhar Abbas in Express Tribune newspaper in reference to Sethi’s nomination. “A journalist should not accept any positions of political power because to do so is in fact a direct clash of interest.”

    There have been other murmurs of protest against his nomination with some suggesting his alleged pro-American leaning. Sethi has brushed these suggestions aside, saying he has been advocating an independent foreign policy for 40 years and was even against Pakistan’s involvement in the US-backed Jihad against USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

    Pakistan has a long history of journalists accepting political and ambassadorial posts. Sethi was a minister in an interim federal cabinet in the 1990s.

    An unfazed Sethi said his caretaker setup’s agenda would be to implement orders of the Election Commission and the judiciary to ensure transparent elections. “I will take decisions with courage and quit if anyone asks for privileges,” said Sethi after taking oath on Wednesday.


  • omar r quraishi @omar_quraishi
    Exactly how is this NOT a conflict of interest? Will the Election Commission and Fakhru Bhai take note of this?

    Karachi_Post ‏@Karachi_Post 2h
    Fact-Najam Sethi and his wife were supportive of the Musharraf regime.Jugnu also wrote flattering articles in favour of Mush #history #CM

    Tehreek-e-Insaf FATA ‏@PTI_FATA 2h
    Geo/Jang guys say that 🙂 MT @omar_quraishi So if you say Najam Sethi shouldn’t have taken caretaker CM’s job that means you are jealous?

    omar r quraishi ‏@omar_quraishi 2h
    So wait — Najam Sethi will still be doing Aapas ki Baat except it’s now called ‘Aapas ki Baat’ http://twitpic.com/cfiseg

    Yousuf Nazar ‏@YousufNazar 9h
    Appointment of Najam Sethi as Punjab CM shows that media is not independent but has questionable connections w political establishment

    Syed Munawar Hasan ‏@SMunawarHasan 28 Mar
    Had a nice meeting with Caretaker CM Punjab @najamsethi in Mansoora. He ensured me for free and fair elections pic.twitter.com/6psm7ikiBo

    Adnan Siddiqi ‏@kadnan 20m
    What I guess, Zardari’s taking revenge from Najam Sethi by giving him CMShip and making his life further difficult.

  • This explains why Marvi Sirmed (paid by Malik Riaz, just like Najam Sethi) and Raza Rumi (paid by Sethi and Sherry Rehman) are so vehemently defending Najam Sethi on Twitter.

    Marvi Sirmed ‏@marvisirmed 21h
    I want to know who offered Mr. Talat Hussain to be part of Care Taker Cabinet? He is surely not an objective person.
    Expand Reply Retweet Favorite More
    Nazarkhan ‏@nazarkhan70 21h
    @marvisirmed hahahaha feeling jealuse @TalatHussain12
    Marvi Sirmed ‏@marvisirmed 21h
    @nazarkhan70 Hardly. On the contrary, there are so many who are undergoing this sentiment on @NajamSethi appointment. @TalatHussain12

    Ayesha Siddiqa ‏@iamthedrifter Protected account 4h
    This is a decision worth appreciating – Talat Hussain turns down information ministry http://tribune.com.pk/story/528619/thanks-but-no-thanks-talat-hussain-turns-down-information-ministry/
    Expand Reply Favorite
    Marvi Sirmed ‏@marvisirmed 4h
    @iamthedrifter The question is, who are the people in supposedly neutral caretaker set up, who are “considering” stinky people like Talat?


    AAD ‏@aliarqam 28 Mar
    “@praveenswami: Ok. Can’t see how a CM, caretaker or otherwise, is not holding political office. “@marvisirmed: its not “political” office”
    Expand Reply Retweeted Favorite More
    Wajahat S. Khan ‏@WajSKhan 28 Mar
    Jesus. Seriously? Conflict, much? “@marvisirmed: @omar_quraishi Doesn’t edit it. Owning a media house is NOT journalism @MinallahAthar”
    Wajahat S. Khan ‏@WajSKhan 28 Mar
    @omar_quraishi Forget what he does after oath yar. Or even TFT. He allowed his journa


    Praveen Swami ‏@praveenswami 28 Mar
    So, the next time a hack’s rewarded with a public-funded gig, you’ll be cool? Let’s not put personalities before principles. @marvisirmed
    Marvi Sirmed ‏@marvisirmed 28 Mar
    @praveenswami The problem is, your ill-defined “principle” doesnt apply here.
    Praveen Swami ‏@praveenswami 28 Mar
    @marvisirmed what’s ill defined about journalists not accepting political office? It’s quite simple and clear, IMHO.
    Expand Reply Retweet Favorite More
    Marvi Sirmed ‏@marvisirmed 28 Mar
    @praveenswami its not “political” office. He is there because he is not political.
    Praveen Swami ‏@praveenswami 28 Mar
    Ok. Can’t see how a CM, caretaker or otherwise, is not holding political office. “@marvisirmed: its not “political” office”

  • Najam accepts, Talat declines
    By M ZiauddinPublished: April 2, 2013
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    The writer is Executive Editor of The Express Tribune
    There is a lesson for all budding media persons in the way two of our senior colleagues responded to offers of temporary political jobs from across the fence. Najam Sethi of Aapas Ki Baat accepted the offer seemingly readily, while Talat Hussain of Live with Talat declined it seemingly as readily. Many of the new entrants must have felt elated at being members of a profession held in such high esteem by politicians in and out of power. Others must have wondered if the offers were a genuine acknowledgement of the two media persons’ ability to be politically impartial administrators during the brief election season or if it was just another way of attempting to buy off a couple of influential anchorpersons.
    Many of the new entrants, on the other hand, must have also been intrigued by the two different — nay, opposite responses by the recipients of the offer. I, for one, was not surprised by either of the two responses. The two did exactly what I thought they would do. Najam is perhaps, a couple of years senior to Talat but both entered the profession after about a decade-and-a-half of my entry. So, I followed their careers in the media almost from the very beginning, at times from very close quarters. In fact, at one point in time, Talat and I worked in the same newspaper. I found both to be highly talented, academically sound and professionally exceptional. Both had more than a decade-long print media experience before they entered the electronic version. Talat soon matured into an excellent columnist and then blossomed into a high-grade anchorperson. On occasions, I have also seen him conducting high-quality media workshops for young journalists.
    I came to know of the multidimensional qualities of Najam gradually as we developed a fraternal affinity for each other. Being the owner of a highly successful publishing house (Vanguard) and the owner-editor of an English-language weekly, The Friday Times, he was more of an entrepreneur when I first met him. In those days, he was a rarity as until then, perhaps, no foreign-educated person with a degree in economics had entered the media business. In part, he was a converted rebel with a cause as just after completing studies, he had joined the Baloch guerrilla warriors. He was, perhaps, at that impressionable age, a true disciple of Che Guevara. But then, this also reflected his political aspirations.
    That he would accept the offer made jointly by the PPP, the PML-N, the PML-Q and the ANP is a matter seemingly inherent in the career goal in-built in the very route that Najam traversed to enter the media world. And his decision to be a caretaker once again, after having admitted that the first time (accountability minister in Mairaj Khalid’s interim cabinet of three months — 1996-97) was a mistake, underscores, like nothing else, his longings. On the other hand, Talat, I believe, knows that his forte is media and media alone, and also perhaps, knows that the level of integrity and credibility he has attained is the result of years of hard work, which, as I understand, he does not want to put on the line for a temporary job of no more than a month. And by the way, the constitution of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists defines a journalist as a person whose main source of income is journalism.
    A media person without sources inside the decision-making community or among those who witness the process from very close quarters is like a man on the war front without weapons. It is the demand of the calling that one needs to cultivate people in high and low places in politics and power and also be exposed, knowingly or unknowingly, to manipulation by powers that be. Nevertheless, with sources in such high places, one can even turn into an influence-peddler, promoting his/her own interests. That is the reason why most successful media persons become highly vulnerable to attacks from detractors and are often, rightly or wrongly, accused of being on the take in kind or cash or even in terms of office.
    Published in The Express Tribune, April 3rd, 2013.