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SHAHEEN SEHBAI RESIGNS AS EDITOR OF 'THE NEWS'

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    SHAHEEN SEHBAI RESIGNS AS EDITOR OF 'THE NEWS'

    Govt's pressure on NEWS publishers to sack the Editor, on Danile Pearl's reporting. Here is his resignation letter:


    Dear Colleagues and Friends: It is with great sorrow that I have to
    convey this bad news to you all today. I have resigned today as the
    Editor.
    I am enclosing enclosing the correspondence with MSR which is self
    explanatory. I wish to thank you all for all the cooperation and
    respect
    that you extended to me during these 14 months as Editor. I will be
    available to each one of you as a friend at all times.

    Wishing you the best of luck and a great future.
    Shaheen Sehbai

    Pl read on:

    Memorandum

    To: Mir Shakil ur Rehman, Editor-in-Chief, The News
    From: Shaheen Sehbai, Editor, The News
    Date: March 1, 2002
    Subject: Reply to Memo dated Feb 28, 2002

    With reference to your Memo dated Feb 28, I have
    been accused of policy violations starting from March 2001 until the
    publication on Feb 17 this year of the Kamran Khan story on Daniel
    Pearl
    case. I can obviously understand that these so-called ģpolicy
    violations?are nothing but an excuse to comply with the Government
    demand
    to sack me, and three other senior journalists, as you told me in our
    meeting in your office on Feb 22. I feel sorry that you have to make
    such
    excuses. You could have given one hint that you wanted me to go and I
    would
    have quit immediately.

    I understand that you, as owner of the Jang
    Group of Newspapers have been so intensely pressurized in the last
    about
    two weeks that you are no longer ready, or able, to withstand it. All
    government advertising of the Group has been unjustifiably suspended by
    the
    Government starting Monday, February 18, 2002, following the
    investigative
    story done in ėThe News?by our reporter, Kamran Khan. This story, as it
    appears now, was just an excuse to twist the neck of the Group because
    the
    same story appeared simultaneously in the ģWashington Post?and the
    ģInternational Herald Tribune?and not one point contained in it was
    denied
    or clarified by the Government. Instead they tightened the screw on the
    Jang Group, as it appeared to be the most vulnerable and within their
    reach. This has a very obvious, and sinister message, for the free
    Press in
    Pakistan: ģGet in line, or be ready for the stick.?I feel sorry that
    you
    have decided to get in line, but I cannot be a party to this decision.

    You had informed me officially at a meeting in your office on Feb 22,
    2002, at 10.15 p.m. that you have been given names of four journalists
    of
    ėThe News? myself, Kamran Khan, Amir Mateen and a staffer in our
    Islamabad
    Bureau (probably Rauf Klasra as you did not name the 4th person), to be
    immediately sacked before the government advertisements could be
    restored.
    You also informed me that officials of the Information Ministry wanted
    me
    to improve my ģPR?with them as they had been complaining that I was not
    available to them, which is basically not true. You told me to directly
    contact these officials and talk to them about restoring the
    advertisements
    of the Group. Mr Mahmud Sham, who later joined our meeting, had
    informed us
    that the Secretary Information had clearly stated that matters were
    beyond
    his capacity to resolve and that we have now to meet the ISI high ups.

    As a matter of principle I refused to call, or meet, any of these
    government officials in a situation when the entire Group was being
    held
    hostage with a gun pointed at its head. I, however, conveyed to the
    Government, through Mr Sham, all the evidence that the policy of ėThe
    News?was very balanced, in fact tilted, in favour of General Pervez
    Musharrafķs government, not under any government pressure, but because
    some
    of the things he was doing were right and ėThe News?never hesitated to
    support any right step taken by the Government. At least 50 editorials
    and
    over 100 Op-Ed articles published in about 6 weeks were cited to show
    that
    ėThe News?had no bias against the government. Proof was also provided
    of
    how ėThe News? at times, went out of its way to accommodate government
    requests.

    Apparently these argument have not satisfied the government
    and the pressure is continuing on you, as your Memo indicates. Whatever
    other issues you have raised are childish and frivolous and I would not
    waste my time discussing them. But one message that emerges is very
    clear
    --- I ran the newspaper as a very independent Editor, according to
    whatever
    I thought was objective, true and professionally sound journalism. I
    made
    the best use of the latest available computer technology to create a
    working environment in which the entire editorial staff was integrated
    in
    such a network that almost everyone was available to each other at all
    times. I interacted with all my staff on a personal, round the clock
    basis,
    no matter where I was located or traveling, even outside Pakistan. So
    the
    charge that I was not available to my staff is laughable as it shows
    how
    far removed you are from the ground situation.

    Your complaint of lack of ģgeneral improvement in The News?is also
    obviously an excuse to build
    some case against me under Government pressure. You never once
    complained
    of that before. In fact the ground reality is just the opposite. I
    successfully built a great team of reporters, editors and writers
    during
    the 14 months I have been the Editor. We achieved a lot in breaking
    major
    stories, including assumption of the office of the President by General
    Musharraf and corruption in various government departments including
    Social
    Action Programme (SAP) and Employees Old-age Benefit Institution
    (EOBI).
    The overwhelming impression that any newspaper of the Jang Group could
    not
    publish anything against its advertisers and commercial sponsors was
    removed by the investigative stories we did on PIA and other corporate
    organizations. ėThe News?became the most quoted newspaper abroad, not
    only
    for its stories but its editorial comments and opinions. The latest
    such
    quote was in the prestigious ģNew York Times?just three days ago. The
    Washington Post interviewed me last week as Editor of The News.

    The real reasons for failure to bring about a real visible change in
    Karachi
    are known to you. For over a year now you have been sitting on all the
    plans, proposals and schemes, including a Vision Document prepared
    after
    months of hard work. The scheme to revamp all the magazines has been
    lying
    on your table for months. The designs and site plans to renovate the
    entire
    newspaper office on 4th and 5th floors has been gaining dust for months
    and
    the staff is forced to work with hundreds of cockroaches creeping on
    papers, computers, inside telephone sets and fax machines. In fact I
    have
    been bogged down in these totally useless exercises for most of my
    time,
    hoping that you would find time and money to start implementing any of
    these detailed proposals for change and improvement. You have always
    been
    promising to launch these scheme within weeks, but that time never
    came. I
    am appalled at your audacity to accuse me of being responsible for not
    bringing any change while the fact is that you have always been
    complaining
    of ģthe financial crunch?in the newspaper. You have stopped increments
    of
    all the staff and played legal jugglery with all the contract employees
    by
    refusing to renew their contracts or giving them salary increases.

    Even despite that I continued to work 20 hours a day to improve the
    editorial content of the newspaper which has been appreciated and
    recognized by every one, including your senior Directors and Editors of
    sister publications in letters written to me. The readers, however, are
    the
    best judge.

    Why you never raised any objection before, and why you are
    doing it now, is obvious --- the Government pressure is unbearable.
    This is
    not a happy omen.

    Therefore, I have to convey this sad message to you,
    though I feel very content and satisfied that I have taken the right
    decision on the basis of principles. I have decided to resign from the
    Editorship of ģThe News? with immediate effect, rather than to submit
    to
    Government pressure and change the policy of the newspaper. Under my
    editorship, I will not allow the newspaper to become the voice of any
    government for monetary considerations. I had given my name,
    credibility
    and reputation to ėThe News?and I prefer to protect these precious
    assets,
    rather than my job. But I will earnestly request you not to take any
    action
    against the other colleagues you have been asked to sack, as the
    ultimate
    responsibility of whatever appeared in the newspaper was mine, as
    Editor,
    and not theirs. They should be allowed to continue with their jobs. I
    wish,
    you, the newspaper and all of my colleagues a great future.

    I hereby, resign from the editorship. Please accept my resignation
    today
    and remove
    my name from the print line of the newspaper as of tomorrow, Saturday,
    March 2, 2002. I would not be responsible for the contents of the
    newspaper
    as of tomorrow.

    Best Regards
    Shaheen Sehbai

    Memorandum
    >To: Shaheen Sehbai, Editor, The News > >From: MSR, Editor-in-Chief
    >Date: 2/28/02 >Re: Violation of policy

    I am constrained to bring to
    your notice several, and repeated, violation of editorial policies
    clearly
    understood between us. Infact, these policies have also been agreed in
    writing.

    On 26th March, 2001, you had published a one sided, incorrect
    and libelous article against Mr. Aittiazaz ģBob?Din, a well known
    businessman residing in the United States. Although Mr. Bob Din had
    cited
    person differences between the two of you, dating back to your stay in
    the
    United States, as the motive behind the unfounded allegations against
    him,
    I had disregarded this suggestion at that time and had judged the
    matter
    purely on merit. As you will recall, you were unable to substantiate
    the
    serious charges you had leveled against him. It was only through my
    personal apologies and the intervention of mutual acquaintances that we
    were able to dissuade Mr. Din from suing the News for defamation and
    libel.

    On two different occasions, you published unfavourable articles about
    PIA, which were of uncertain veracity and did not contain their point
    of
    view, as a result of which they denounced these articles in a press
    conference, threatened to take legal action, suspended our
    advertisements
    and also stopped putting our papers on PIA flights. Needless to say,
    these
    measures hurt us financially, damaged our reputation and took a great
    deal
    of pacification to undo.

    I would also refer to the written terms of
    our agreement at the time of your appointment under which you are
    required
    to ģdiscuss the top stories of the day and other important editorial
    matters?with me and ģseek the Editor-in-chiefķs point of view and
    verdict
    on contentious issues? To my recollection, you have never deemed it fit
    to
    consult me on any matter. In this connection, I would further like to
    refer
    to our meeting on the eve of Eid in which group Editor Daily Jang was
    also
    present and we discussed the fallout of the story printed a few days
    earlier in the News ( again without consulting me, I might add ) which
    was
    perceived to be damaging to our national interest and elicited severe
    reaction by the Government. It had been agreed that we would contact
    relevant Government functionaries and arrange to meet with them to
    discuss
    the issue and also convey our point of view. Regrettably, you chose not
    to
    go to Islamabad and attend the meeting even though this had been
    clearly
    agreed. You even rebuffed senior Government officials who contacted you
    on
    the phone by hanging up on them. Sham Sahib and I left several messages
    with your assistant but again, you chose not to take or return our
    calls.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to point out again, that it
    is a frequent complaint that you do not interact with people. Not only
    have
    senior Government officials protested that you are inaccessible to
    them,
    but even your own staff complains that you are hardly available for
    meetings, guidance and discussions.

    I must convey my disappointment to
    you at all these issues, as I must convey my disappointment with the
    lack
    of general progress in the improvement of the News. The number of
    mistakes
    and blunders being committed, failure to follow agreed journalistic
    ethics
    - as pointed out to you from time to time by EMD ?have all resulted in
    financial set backs as well as loss of credibility for the News. I have
    only recounted some of the problems besetting the Jang group. It is
    quite
    evident that matters are not proceeding as we had agreed. However,
    before I
    make up my mind, I would like to hear your point of view.

    I look forward to hearing from you about the serious issues that I have
    raised above and any solutions that you may propose.

    Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman > > > > > >



    [This message has been edited by FreeMind (edited March 03, 2002).]

    #2
    Shame...I've always liked Shaheen Sehbai...an excellent journalist, highly opinionated and never pulled his punches.

    It just porves theres something of a self censorship going on with the army in power.
    How can a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the Temple of his Gods?

    Comment


      #3
      Terrible news. I hope the army does not go down this road of censorship. It will be an unmitigated disaster!! Best of luck to Shaheen. I hope his courage is rewarded.

      Comment


        #4
        yeah, the press is free as long as they praise the generals, and their 'GHQ first' policy.

        Comment

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