Original Articles

A Lesson in media manipulation – by Eqbal Alavi

Today’s US diplomatic cables leak by Wikileaks, called Cablegate has set off a global diplomatic crises with various countries feeling the heat for remarks and allegations in the leaked messages. While none of the 2, 200 emerging from the US Embassy in Islamabad have been released yet, others from around the region have already sparked debate on various issues. The case of the US wanting access to highly enriched uranium has been somewhat overshadowed in the local media by one alleged quotation of the King of Saudi Arabia terming the President “the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress”.

Let us examine the original quote from transcript, available on the Cablegate website:-

King Abdullah firmly believes that Asif Zardari is the primary obstacle to the government’s ability to move unequivocally to end terrorist safe havens there (“when the head is rotten, it affects the whole body”).

Source : http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10RIYADH178.html

The New York Times, which mentioned the alleged quote in its coverage mentions this conversation as:-

“King Abdullah “called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body.”

The News mentions this as:-

“King Abdullah calling President Asif Ali Zardari as “the greatest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress””.

This quote has then been pasted across all newspaper, websites and blogs across the globe., on

Daily Times
Aaj TV
Telegraph (India)

And hundreds of other places.

While the real quote itself is not flattering, although completely laughable since Asif Ali Zardari was being lambasted for being insensitive about collateral damage (“Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me” in Bob Woodward’s unprovable “Obama’s Wars”) just weeks ago, it shows how a single word can change entire narratives. A manipulation to “progress” has allowed the media to portray the remarks from the Saudi monarch as representative of Asif Ali Zardaris’ views as a corrupt leader. There is no doubt that the man’s character has been called into question many times, and many countries see his tarnished image of the yesteryears as problematic but the way manipulation has been done to align it with the media narrative of the President being corrupt is highly deplorable, criminal and shameful. Urdu media of course has used the same quote and the media is now talking about the said quote as proof that Saudi Arabia, a country that is represented as our true friend regardless of their historical role and yet again proven private financing of Al-Qaeda and other terrorists, views the present government as a corrupt regime.

The misquote, nay manipulation, has been used already by Dawn, The News, Express and Daily Times and most likely will be used by all leading newspapers. In this they choose not to dig deep and check sources and rely on the New York Times, a globally credited news source, and therefore can be assessed as having not been merely jumping on the anti-PPP bandwagon. However, the effect that this quote will have cannot be ignored. It shows us that a simple change of word, deliberate or mere mistake, can lead to a lot of damage. The global media now shows that Saudi Arabia, which is seen as Pakistan’s ally, does not trust the leadership of the country, see them as a problem to the country’s progress and view them as corrupt rulers. The local media will most definitely utilize this alleged quote of the “Khadim e Harmain Shareefain” to state that the stories corruption of the government have crossed international boundaries and the justified criticism of the media’s sensationalism and mis-representations on the issue of corruption were therefore not valid. The narrative of “corrupt government” will be further strengthened and the President’s image further tarnished, yet again without any proof and this time through manipulated quotes.

Concerning the real quote from King Abdullah, it is ironic that the President of a government that launched military action in Swat, Orakzai, South Waziristan and openly engaged terrorists across the country is being called as being an obstacle to removing terrorism. The previous regime stonewalled international pressure to tackle terrorists in FATA and let the monsters of Swat grow, while the current government tackled the issue head on and it’s coalition partners in the KP have suffered immensely due to their stand on the issue of terrorism as well. No one can rightly accuse the current regime of having avoided tackling the terrorists. Times are difficult and the terrorists have increased their attacks, but nobody in his right mind can accuse the PPP and Asif Ali Zardari of having been soft on terrorists. Benazir Bhutto was killed by the establishment using Baitullah Mehsud and the PPP has never been accused of having a soft spot for militants. For the monarch of a country that has again been shown to be playing a double game and financing Al-Qaeda and other militants behind the world’s back, asking the US to bomb Iran and posturing itself in such a way that it rips apart the whole concept of Muslim brotherhood, to accuse Pakistan – the biggest victim of terrorism and Wahabi financed monsters is laughable.

Shame on the New York Times for having manipulated the quote for whatever reasons. Shame on the local media for jumping on the NYT’s gun and ignoring to check the source for themselves. Let us see how a manipulated quote can have damaging consequences.

What has further been ignored is the Saudi support for dictatorship in the country. The very next sentence after the manipulated quote says:

The King told General Jones that U.S. development assistance would rebuild trust with the Army, which he asserted was staying out of politics in deference to U.S. wishes, rather than doing what it “should.”

The international and local media have conveniently ignored that Saudi Arabia support anti-democracy moves in the country. The country that supported the dictator Zia ul Haq and during his regime solidified the network of Wahabi madrassas that it funds till today, is yet again supporting unconstitutional moves from the military of Pakistan. It is worthwhile to note that Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has met the King of Saudi Arabia twice in the last eighteen months. It seems perhaps that the Saudi monarch is upset with the steadfast stance of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani on the issue of terrorism and would like to see the military and the establishment ruling the roost directly and protecting their combined child, the Taliban.

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Laila Ebadi


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  • The only notion behind the statement of idiot Khadmain Sharifain or what ever that stupid log wants himself wto be called is that PPP is dead against terrorism and its agents TALIBAN and media fails to put two & two together that Saudis are financing taliban which are being ass whopped by Pakistan.
    The shia credentials of Zardari are also making these buffons make such statements. Same idiot king wants US to attack Iran. Now you have to be stupid like Ansar Abbassi to see why stupid saudis are talking like this about Zardari.

  • This is NFP’s latest tweet:

    “How bad can it be for Zardari to be criticized by a Saudi monarch who asked US to bomb Iran and whose country is a leading Al-Qaeda donor?”

    Totally agree. Wikileak zindabad.

  • That’s an endorsement Asif Zardari is moving in the right direction indeed. And i can understand King Abdullah’s agony. The statement comes out primarily for four very obvious reasons.

    1. Asif Ali Zardari belongs to the Shia Sect of Islam an…d most importantly, his Prime Minister too.

    2. Asif Ali Zardari categorically requested the UN Commission to investigate the Saudi and Afghan Officials who warned Benazir Bhutto of a ‘Possible’ assassination attempt. (As if it needed an Einstein to predict an assassination attempt on her once she returned). So basically, it was not a warning but a threat. I do not want to go into the details, but I too personally believe Saudis had a major part to play in Hanging Bhutto as well as Assassinating Benazir.

    3. The third reason is very obvious: A resolute policy of confronting terrorism by full Military force, which of course hits the Saudi interests in this region. Saudi Arabia has been funding terrorist Organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan and it is well documented that Petro-Money runs several religious groups and organizations in Pakistan such as the Lashkar, Jaamt-ud-Da’wa, Sipah-e-Sahaba and the famous Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. These pressure groups have been involved in killing of Shias, Ahmadis and other minority groups in Pakistan. Their international misadventures such as the attack on Indian Parliament in 2003 and the recent Mumbai attacks in 2008 almost brought Pakistan and India at the brink of a nuclear conflict. Saudis are always comfortable with the Military and their ‘Sharifs’ who belong to the right Wing and can run a Theocratic State as ‘Ameer-ul-Momineen’.

    4. Lately, Saudis have been urging US attack on Iran to stop the nuclear program. The current government has drastically improved relations with the immediate neighbor Iran. Diplomatic ties have reached a high level, and despite strong opposition form Saudis as well as the US, Asif Ali Zardari has moved on with the Iran Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project. Economic ties weld countries together in a bond of peace and co-operation.

    Recently the US has been denied Military presence in Balochistan by Asif Zardari’s Government. US needs inroads into Iran via the Iran-Balochistan border, and the Pakistani Government has been smart to pre-empt their sinister intentions.

    Now Theocracies will dictate how democracies are run !

  • رواں سال گیارہ فروری کی ایک دستاویز کے مطابق سعودی شاہ عبداللہ کا ماننا ہے کہ پاکستانی صدر آصف علی زرداری پاکستان میں دہشتگردوں کے محفوظ ٹھکانوں کے خاتمے کے لیے کارروائی میں بنیادی رکاوٹ ہیں۔ دستاویز کے مطابق سعودی فرمانروا نے صدر زرداری کا حوالہ دیتے ہوئے کہا کہ ’اگر سر ہی گلا سڑا ہو تو اس کا اثر سارے جسم پر پڑتا ہے‘۔

    : پير 29 نومبر 2010 , 12:31
    GMT 17:31 PST