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23 - 29 June , 2012

Arsalan's Scandal Attracts Little Attention In Britain
Arsalan's Scandal Attracts Little Attention In Britain
There is perhaps as much to be learnt by what actually takes place as there is by what does not take place. Therefore the fact that the British media has shown no interest whatsoever in the scandal involving the Chief Justice's son, is about as clear an indication as we are likely to get of how subcontinental corruption stories are seen here in the West and what it is about Pakistan that mainly interests the West.
For what in Pakistan is regarded as the mother and father of all corruption stories, there were simply no takers in the British media, print or electronic. One can see only two reasons for this indifference. The first is that corruption in the subcontinent is simply not a story here; it is something that everyone takes for granted, no matter who is involved and to what extent. Perhaps also the Chief Justice of Pakistan is not seen as quite the sort of iconic figure here as he is in Pakistan where ideals about democracy are often very fuzzy, depending largely on political allignment. The fact that democracy has to be an organizational and institutional arrangement and not something dependent on an individual does not always seem to be clear in comments and analyses appearing from Pakistan. More importantly, it has now come to the point where the only two things about Pakistan that interest the West are the role – or the lack of it – that the country can play in the war on terror and the proposed disengagement of the West from Afghanistan, and cricket. Since this scandal has no bearing on either of these two subjects, it is of no interest here.
But it is also worth pointing out how very differently such political corruption scandals are dealt with by the media here compared to the majority of the media in Pakistan. What seems to be consuming Pakistani analysts and TV anchors is the 'conspiracy' element behind all this where as in the UK, which has had its share of corruption scandals affecting politicians of late, it is not how or why the allegations have come about that is of concern to anyone. What is of concern is the degree of truth in the allegations that are made and the entire effort appears to be to establish the facts. If this very case had happened in Britain, what would be of central and prime importance would be whether Malik Riaz actually paid these sums to Arsalan Iftikhar, if so with what purpose, was the Chief Justice aware of these payments, of his son's meteoric rise in the business world and the company he was keeping, and if not, how does this reflect on the ability of the man and his suitability for the very high post he holds. By contrast in Pakistan, the central issue of primary importance seems to be who put Malik Riaz up to this and what were their motives.
In fact, there is a recent case which centred around Pakistanis and in which the 'pre-planned conspiracy theory' could have had a field day but was considered irrelevant. This was the case of the three Pakistani cricketers sentenced for spot fixing in a Test match in England in 2010. To my personal knowledge, this was the fifth such attempt at entrapment of a Pakistani cricketer or cricketers by the British media while I know of no such attempt having been made on a cricketer of any other nationality, even though it should be quite obvious that corruption in cricket, being a multi billion dollar industry, cannot be an exclusively Pakistani affair. There was a lot of 'pre-planning' that went into the operation with a hotel room being booked and wired with a video camera and recording equipment, marked notes being used for which the co-operation of the police would have been sought with a view to future prosecution etc. But none of this was deemed relevant. What was relevant was whether or not money had been paid for three no balls to be balled at specific times in the match and whether the no balls were balled at those pre-arranged times. Nothing else was really relevant from a legal or journalistic point of view, although from a political viewpoint it may be said with considerable justification that the fact that Pakistani cricketers have been targeted to the exclusion of all others has reasons which have nothing to do with cricket.
Parallel to Pakistan, Britain too is going through an investigative procedure in the form of the Leveson inquiry that could have as great an impact on the country's internal power structures as the matter surrounding the Chief Justice's son. The inquiry was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron to examine media ethics following the revelations of phone hacking by The News of the World but it has fast developed into a very critical examination of the close nexus between politicians and the media, Arsalan's Scandal Attracts Little Attention In Britainparticularly media baron Rupert Murdoch and officials of his empire. The connection was exemplified by the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt who, judging by all the evidence that has come up, gave the impression of handling the Murdoch bid to take over all of BskyB – a deal worth some £8 billion – with about as much objectivity as Fox News. But matters did not stop with Mr Hunt. The Prime Minister was himself asked to appear before the inquiry and spent a very difficult seven hours before it, on occasions looking very flustered. He, of course, denied the insinuation raised by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown earlier before the inquiry that the Tories had a deal with Murdoch for support in their 2010 election campaign against 'favourable' examination of the BskyB bid, but some of the evidence led was discomforting, to say the least. One particular message, sent by Rebekka Brooks, a very senior functionary of News Corp, to Mr Cameron, made the comment that "we are in this together" – which is a phrase that has often been used by the Tories when explaining their spending cuts and is supposed to mean that the burden of the cuts will fall on rich and poor alike – a claim which has about as much validity as the story of the tooth fairy. Ms Brooks was not referring to the BskyB bid and it is not clear what exactly she meant. But it did show a chumminess the exact extent of which would be a matter of interest not only to the Leveson inquiry but perhaps Mrs Cameron as well.
The point here is that the present discomfitures of the Tory-led government at the hands of the Leveson inquiry suits the Labour opposition just fine, as does the descent into infamy of the Murdoch news empire which had turned away from Labour to unequivocal support of the Tories. Yet, for all that, the thought that the phone hacking scandal may have been the result of a 'Labour conspiracy', a case easily made on paper, is not something that has suggested itself to anyone.
This difference in focus is not without its consequences. If the shenanigans behind exposure of corruption – and shenanigans there are - become more important than the corruption itself, then corruption does not take the number one place in the public's consciousness that it should if it is to be tackled seriously. The number one place, instead, is taken by political conspiracy theories, never fully substantiated although making for spicy reading and viewing, and the inevitable effect of this is to give the very wrong impression that if the revelation of the corruption is, on the face of it, a result of political machinations, then the corruption itself somehow becomes less serious, or even inconsequential. For a society fighting against corruption almost for its very survival, nothing could be more damaging.

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