High: 25°C
Low: 10°C
< >

WikiLeaks, the spin and the lies

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

A few weeks ago, at the Frontline Club in London, Julian Assange noted how different newspapers that he had worked with in releasing leaks to the public, focused on different stories, although he had provided exactly the same information to all. In particular, he noted how The New York Times honed in on Pakistan. This is media selectivity. It happens everywhere. For example, newspapers in Paksitan will readily note that Prime Minister Gilani told the Americans that he will protest drones in parliament and then turn the other way. But few, if any, will note that in a separate cable, the Turkish ambassador reportedly praises Gilani, and particularly Shah Mahmood Qureshi, for improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan — relations that had soured considerably due to a virtual personality clash between Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai. Similarly, the western press has run headlines on Arab leaders colluding on an attack on Iran, but omitted the fact that Sheikh Makhdoom of Dubai and Sheikh Hamad of Qatar cautioned against the attack. But this selectivity is not as troubling as spin or, worse yet, lies.

On December 6, The Guardian reported, with a sensational headline, that the Arabic channel al Jazeera is used by Qatar “as a bargaining chip in foreign policy negotiations”, offering various examples in support of its claim that al Jazeera is not editorially independent. As a regular watcher of al Jazeera and having read the cable in question, I found the story embellished, perhaps to undermine a powerful alternative voice in international media. This is called spin. Yet, to be fair to The Guardian, it also published an opinion piece by a former al Jazeera employee challenging the story.

There is plenty to spin in the cables for media in the Muslim world, if they were so inclined. There are reports, for instance, on how Frances Townsend asked Prince Saud al Faisal to use his “influence with Arabsat to block al Manar broadcasting,” but Saud al Faisal did not agree. In another cable, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack, the UK is said to have expressed fears that India may “at a minimum, increase its covert activities in Balochistan”. Other despatches point to lacking Israeli intelligence in respect of Iran’s nuclear programme and Israeli fears over Russian reaction to a potential attack on Bushehr. American diplomats have reported that Israel has consistently been exaggerating the nuclear threat from Iran. Now how is that for a headline? But no, rather than doing the research and attempting sophisticated analysis, there is a tendency to discredit the work that has gone into bringing this information to us free of charge by discounting it as just another conspiracy. In the worst case, a fabricated story, such as the one on Indian generals, was run in sections of the Pakistani press.

In a December 8 guest appearance on “Dunya Today”, I urged fellow Pakistanis to read the cables for themselves and to not rely on the media (whether Pakistani or foreign) for interpretation. Then, I was thinking more along the lines of spin, but the lies recently fed to the Pakistani public in the name of WikiLeaks further underscores the importance of reading the cables for ourselves and going directly to the source. It is rare to be able to read a media report and have access to the source on which it is based, thereby enabling us to verify the story. We should not let this opportunity go. Not only are the cables an entertaining read, they are also highly instructive on subjects of international relations and realpolitik.

Reading classified diplomatic cables from capitals other than Islamabad provides a perspective that is entirely lacking domestically within Pakistan, and would enhance international awareness, thus enabling us to defend our positions based on truth, rather than resorting to lies.

Published in The Express Tribnune, December 13th, 2010.

Ayesha Ijaz Khan December 13, 2010

Reader Comments (10)

  • sensible and balanced

    Ashwin Dec 13, 2010 - 10:09AM
  • Yes, you are right. The shortcomings and faults of media become manifold in a society like ours. I was actually waiting for something on these lines regarding Wikileaks saga. I think the write-up is balanced and mature analysis of media’s response to Wikileaks. Keep it up, Ayesha.

    Nadeem Zafar Dec 13, 2010 - 5:02PM
  • can you tell me how to access all of these? clicking on links on wikileaks website leads to websites with only ads on them

    ali Dec 13, 2010 - 5:26PM
  • I agree with writer that one should not believe on Pakistani or Indian media but one should read cables because both spin the fact and distort the information, many Pakistani channels personalizing our politicians and Govt, while there were so many good things in cables like to exert pressure on USA for ousting Dictator Musharraf and to seek assistance for reaching the true assassin of Benazir Bhutto who financed and backed the perpetrators. Media has not discussed any thing about U turn of mqm on NRO but partially and selectively things are being discussed and malign the character of our certain Politicians.

    majid maqsood Dec 13, 2010 - 6:58PM
  • The media may have been selective in focusing on news that in their opinion will sell and is more outrageous, but the WQIKILEEAKS are based on facts. Ayesha have the courage to accept facts, only than can we hope as a nation to improve.

    Abrar Dec 13, 2010 - 7:22PM
  • Ver nicely writtern!

    Shahid Shah Dec 13, 2010 - 8:02PM
  • @ ali—go to and click on “Cablegate: 250,000 US Embassy Diplomatic Cables”. On the left hand side, you will have the option to browse by origin of embassy, date created, date released and so on. Hope this helps.

    @ Abrar—Actually, the cables are not necessarily based on facts but based on assessments by US diplomats, which may or may not be factual. Nevertheless, can you pls tell me where in the article I am not accepting the fact that these cables need to be looked at—I am in fact encouraging people to look at them directly at source.

    Ayesha Ijaz Khan Dec 13, 2010 - 8:10PM
  • There is this great misconception about Wikileaks. People tend to take it as a fact where as in reality its just a perception of different American diplomats, now these perceptions can be right or they can be wrong. Unfortunately the headlines in media make it look like a fact. For example there was this headline that “Mr Nawaz is dangerous but not corrupt”, however in reality, the case may be other way round. It was just a perception of Abu Dhabi Prince. Having said that, yes every thing in Wikileaks is not based on perception, for instance when some of our leaders openly requested favors’ from US ambassador. So yes, the important thing is to read it yourself.
    @Ayesha, I watched that “duniya today” show, in which you were a guest. Your logical points made a lot of sense.

    Nauman S Dec 13, 2010 - 9:48PM
  • Totally agreed.

    No doubt the cables are not necessarily based on facts but based on assessments by US diplomats, which may or may not be factual but it has signelled an important caution sign that to extract facts out of the available informations has become more cumbersome and difficult for the readers than before which should have otherwise been an easy task in this age of media freedom , as these might be dis-informations as well due to the reasons mentioned above.

    Dr. Altaf ul Hassan Dec 13, 2010 - 10:50PM
  • Nice article! Feel proud when I read these articles from intelligent young ladies who are the future of the country & I see a ray of hope that we might come out from this dark tunnel.

    Riaz Khan Dec 14, 2010 - 4:25PM

Leave Your Reply Below

Your comments may appear in The Express Tribune paper. For this reason we encourage you to provide your city. The Express Tribune does not bear any responsibility for user comments.

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments FAQ.