The biggest-ever media con
Is this funny, sad or simply stupid. The clarification by Abu Dhabi Group about their alleged $45 billion investment in Pakistan may have exposed lots of things — and lots of people. One Malik Riaz of Bahria Town for sure.
He virtually conned the Abu Dhabi Group, Pakistani media and the public. We already knew about his hold on the Pakistani media. And it is not just about that one incident where he was caught red-handed with two TV anchors engineering news. The Bahria advertisements worth billions of rupees have simply blinded media owners who ensure that nothing is published against Bahria Town. News against Malik Riaz comes out only when he is summoned in the courts for the cases of murder, fraud, forgery, assassination attempts, blackmailing, to name some of the ‘virtues’ that he is regularly accused of.
But a more classic example of Pakistani media’s incompetence-actually capitulation-could not be given. Here is why.
The announcement of a whopping $45 billion investment in Pakistan was a dream-come-true story. This too at a time when nobody wants to invest a penny in Pakistan, and half of my foreign friends want to send their mothers-in-law for ‘sight-seeing’ in FATA.
It was simply mind-blowing. The UAE sacrificed its pride for having the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa. And because Malik charmed them so well, they let Karachi have the honour. Apart from building the world's tallest building in Karachi, the other attractions included a financial hub, sports city, international city, media city, educational and medical City, miniatures of the world’s seven wonders. It was amply flashed that “these projects would employ more than 2.5 million people and boost more than 55 industries like cement, bricks, iron, steel and glass.”
Malik Riaz came across as the Messiah who had bailed out Pakistan from its financial mess. Abu Dhabi Group Chairman Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan was quoted as describing Malik as a “visionary,” adding that this guaranteed that “we will Inshallah be welcoming first residents in next 3-4 years.” As if he was not a ruler but a real estate agent.
Media outlets competed with each other in flashing the news amidst incessant advertisements from Bahria Town. Newspapers were also found outdoing each other. Most newspapers, English and vernacular, presented what was basically a press statement by Bahria Town as “independent news.” Nobody checked whether the Abu Dhabi Group, the UAE government or even the international wire services issued any news about an investment that was worth, no less, than $ 45 billion. Not a single journalist bothered to even check if there was any news of this sort on any website of the UAE companies or whether Sheikh Nahayan had actually said those words. The half-page advertisement on newspapers' front pages, showing Malik shaking hands with the Sheikh seem to have blinded everything. Or perhaps they were told not to test their editorial discretion.
The so-called most credible English newspaper went a step ahead by giving a joint dateline of Karachi and Islamabad instead of Dubai. It added colour to the story by quoting a Karachi magnate, of course on the condition of anonymity, that the construction site would be “Kutta Island,” which is 3 to 4-km off the coast of Karachi. It went a step further than what Malik Riaz had claimed, informing readers that “the Abu Dhabi Group-Malik Riaz would, apart from the above mentioned projects, also launch into building of 125,000 houses on the island.” (sic)
The reporters also made sure to confirm it from the source of the press release, Malik’s son Ali Riaz, instead of checking from the Abu Dhabi Group or even their local counterparts here in Warid, Wateen or Bank Alfalah.
Imagine an investment of $ 45 billion takes place in a place as Pakistan and the news is not on CNN, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or even Reuters and AFP. Fellows — where was the common sense.
Last time, the UAE committed half the amount for construction on the same Kutta island (known as such because people dump stray dogs there) but the Monarch, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself arrived for such a big announcement. However, not a penny came as the UAE was eyeing for Gwadar Port as compensation.
It is actually funny how the media got duped. And that is exactly how they took it in Dubai. A friend who works for The Gulf News shared that journalists there could not believe it in their morning meeting. Everybody laughed as the entire Pakistani media was conned so easily. The Gulf News did not carry the story as there had been no announcement from anywhere. Internationalist journalists saw this “stupid news” on the web and just ignored it.
My Dubai friend, knowing Bahria’s leverage on Pakistani media, could understand that the news got carried on the first day. “But how about the five days after that,” he asked, confused. “Why nobody followed-up on the story that was supposed to be the biggest investment in the country’s history.”
It turns out that the Abu Dhabi Group and the UAE government was aghast at the development. But since they have lots of investment here they did not want to embarrass Pakistanis. A small news was leaked through Reuters wherein Sheikh Nahayan, while talking to a reporter in a Dubai exhibition, clarified that the investment might materialize in 15 years. He also dispelled the impression about building the tallest building in Karachi, saying that the business plans were “at a very early stage.”
No paper except The Spokesman carried the story. Sheikh Nahayan also explained that the MOU was signed in his capacity as the owner of his private company, Dhabi Contracting and not as the chairman of the conglomerate, Abu Dhabi Group. He could not have been more specific when he said that it would materialize in phases, adding, “every phase will be studied by itself... It depends on the situation when we decide to go ahead with the projects."
This was to clarify the wrong impression given here by Bahria Town that it was Abu Dhabi Group and not Dhabi Contracting that signed an MOU that only showed minor interest in business here. Still, nobody took the hint here as advertisements kept coming. Nobody questioned that how could a private company in Pakistan commit a $45 billion investment without the government being in the loop. Imagine the world’s biggest building and residential quarters for millions being constructed without any representative from the provincial and federal governments. In Sheikh Nahayan’s case, the assumption of the UAE government could be forgiven as he is a minister and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Group.
A whole bandwagon of Urdu columnists and TV anchors was found eulogizing Malik Riaz as the savior of the country. After five days, it just became too much for the UAE rulers and they had to issue the clarification that everybody read in newspapers on Friday.
Obviously, the Dubai rulers knew they were duped into that photo-up and their reputation was being used for petty benefits. It is easy to understand the benefits. This kind of news changed the scenario for Malik Riaz. He was being hounded by the courts in numerous cases, some of them seriously heinous. He was in conflict with LDA over opening new housing schemes in Lahore without permission. He was also in conflict with the army for land dispute with DHA that affects thousands of former army officers and jawans. All of this may have shaken the public confidence in his housing projects. In monetary terms this could mean a loss of billions of rupees for him. Such news about building the tallest building in Karachi is worth a lot though. Even if it had not materialized, the impression of a partnership with the Dubai rulers would have rewarded him billions of rupees in terms of public confidence. Elementary, isn’t it.
But the question remains: Was our media (of which I am a part by the way) stupid, incompetent or simply capitulated before the owners. A little bit of everything I think. I was dared by a colleague on twitter that we shall see some expose` when I get up on Saturday. I hope so but am not sure about it.