Makhdoom Babar is the Editor-in-Chief of Islamabad headquartered English language daily newspaper The Daily Mail. He is also the Chairman of Pak-China Media Friendship Association, the only joint media body between Pakistan and China that was formed by Makhdoom Babar in 2005-2006. Apart from these positions, Mr. Makhdoom is worldwide acknowledged as a reputed investigative journalist. Having spent around quarter of a century in journalism, Makhdoom Babar broke a number of spine chilling investigative reports on a variety of issues. He is known as a real Friend in China while Indians term him as Indologist and have never been able to confront any of his investigative reports about India. Having authored four books, based on investigative reports, Makhdoom Babar is also placed amongst the reputed circle of writers as well. His books are titled, Unknotting The Knots, Spyders in Balochistan, They are Terrorists and Despicably Nuclear. He is the only Editor-in-Chief of Pakistan’s media Industry who was selected for high profile defense exercise the National Security Workshop at the country’s and rather region’s most prestigious Defense Institute the National Defense University of Pakistan along with many serving Generals of the Armed Forces. He has been certified by the NDU and the President of Pakistan for his utmost contributions to the National Security as a journalist. He is also a regular commentator on political, current affairs and intelligence related matter at China’s only English language Television Channel, the CCTV ( English), Pakistan’s PTV, Arab world’s leading TV Channel Aljazeera TV, Such TV, Geo TV etc while his comments are often sought by Indian TV Channels like NDTV, Times Now etc. Makhdoom Babar is also very popular on the third medium of the media i.e. the Radio media and his comments are often aired by Radio Free Europe, Radio New Zealand, Radio South Africa, Radio Spain Radio Pakistan, China’s CRI Radio, Radio Pakistan and UK’s Radio Friday Fusion.
For our valued readers, we arranged an exclusive interview with Mr. Makhdoom Babar, which we are producing here.
In reply to our question about his family background and his early education, Makhdoom Babar said that that he belongs to Punjab’s rather religiously known agricultural family of Makhdooms. “My father was an unconventional person from the family as he was the first one to join the Civil Services of the country. He was a Police Officer and never adopted agriculture or politics, while rest of the family was into either of these while his agricultural farms remained looked after and managed by his younger brother,” he said.
“In student life, I studied at different places, as I have told you that my father was a police officer, so he had to travel a lot. He had to go through a lot of transfers; postings to many places so I should say my very basic education was very much disturbed because back in 1970s there were very fewer education facilities available in far-flung areas of the country and my father used to be posted at very far-flung areas. The network of schools that we have today, was not there at all that time. So many times I had to sit home and some tutor would come and teach me. I never saw a school for years; I mean I passed class 1, three to four times, for 3-4 years. It was like If I would pass class one my father would transferred to new place and I would again start from class one and then after passing it, my father would again be transferred. At one stage, after I studied class one for 3 years, my father was transferred to Lahore and you won’t believe that after reaching Lahore, I was put in a class that was even lower than class one, that was KG. So after remaining in class one for 3 years and passing it for 3 times, I was sort of demoted, without failing at any level. Again when I passed KG and moved forward to class one, my father was again transferred and at that time he was transferred to a very small place. It was a huge police establishment. A new police was formed that was Punjab Reserve Police but this establishment was situated at very remote area, now it is not but at that time it was very remote. The place was called “Choohar Kana”, it was like 25 miles from Lahore and there was a Govt. Project High School inside the Officers Colony and I was put in class one again and it was the fourth time that I had to be in this class. So, in a lighter note, it can be said that that the basis of my education were made very, very strong”, asserted Makhdoom Babar. At this stage, I asked him that what did he feel at that time? “At that stage, I thought as if the all education was like studying in class one. If you pass class one, you are a graduate. That’s what I used to feel at that time, I used to think that only if one has to go to school, he has to study in class one and has got to pass it and next year again he will have to pass in class one again and for few years one has to repeat this process to have complete education. At Choohar Kana, since my father was establishing a new Police Force so he stayed there for quite some time and that was a miracle that I finally reached to class four at that school. From there my father was again transferred to Islamabad. He was transferred to Intelligence Bureau (IB). It was a short transfer; he was not supposed to stay there for a longer period so I was not put in any school because it was presumed that next month he will be transferred somewhere else but it took him one year and for one year I didn’t go to any school at all. Finally he was transferred as a DIG to Sargodha and again I was put in class four at PAF School Sargodha, It was inside the PAF Airbase and unfortunately, the exams were cancelled. I think it was in 1977, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was running for Prime Minister for the 2nd term and elections were held during the examination dates. So no examinations were held and all the students, after the elections were over, were given one class promotion so I reached class 5 automatically but then I changed my school. My father died there in 1977 at a very young age and after his sad demise, my uncle put me in to St.Mary’s Convent. However, the St. Mary’s people said that they do not agree with one-step promotion that the government gave so all the students who are coming with such promotions so they were keeping them one class below so I was once again put in class four but after that I never looked back, after that I continued on full throttle. I was not a very brilliant student; I never stood first in class but I hardly went below 3rd position in my class until my matriculation. I was an average student but not a brilliant and not a dump. After my schooling was over at St. Mary’s, I studied at Lawrence College and then I went abroad for higher education and did my Masters in International Relations. I studied and United States and Canada and then when I returned I thought that after having that much education and that too with lot of difficulties, I should sit back at my village and just look after my agricultural farms and keep ordering people, No, I didn’t want to do that. So, What I chose was that I started writing. I had been writing in my school life and in my college life too, for college’s magazine and I have been winning lot of prizes in my school/college life, best English Essay, Best Urdu Essay. I was a debater also. I was sort of president of debating club at my education institution and even in my school age I wrote some small pieces for Daily “Mashriq” and Daily “Maghrabi Pakistan”, these were Urdu newspapers. Then I thought I should try to write for some Newspaper as a Reporter, because there was an investigative instinct in me. I found the job of the reporter was to investigate the things, to investigate the facts and bring them to the public.in that process I found that there was a newspaper from emerging from Islamabad and I joined it as journalist in 1988. It was an English Newspaper, a smaller one though. One of my relative, she was working there already, my mother’s sister. So I joined that newspaper as internee-reporter. But soon after the joining I realized that journalism that there was no investigative reporting at all in the field of journalism in Pakistan. The job of the reporter had become merely to go to the political rally’s or just to go to the Press Conference to take press releases from there and come back, make report out of that press releases and file it and that’s all. So there was no element of investigation at that time in reporting and I’m very sadly saying that even today there is no aptitude for investigative journalism. I still remember the first case that I took as investigative journalist was an in incident of a hotel robbery. Some person was robbed at a five star hotel in Islamabad. He was robbed in his room; there was an FIR at Secretariat Police Station. Hotel management was denying that any such incident took place. Police officers were also saying that no such incident took place but somehow I got the copy of that FIR and then I came to know that both were denying and both were lying. After collecting all the required evidences and fact, I made an investigative report. During those days, I mean in 1988-87, even making telephone call was not an easy job as it was very expensive to make inter-city telephone calls. However, I made many telephone calls to that person in Lahore.
However I got very much shocked as when I filed that report and that report was being pasted, the owner and the Chief Editor of that newspaper that I was working with, was just passing by and he looked at that report and he said “Hello! What is this report about?” They (the relevant staff) said that it was about the robbery at local five star hotel “No, no, no… This report should not be published”. I was not in position to say “Why” but somehow, a senior staffer from the editorial desk did gather the courage and said “Sir, Why?” “We are getting an advertisement of Rs. 200/- every day from this hotel, how can we publish a report against them”, the Chief Editor simply replied and after this, that report was removed from the edition right in front of me. That was the first shocker for me in my journalistic career. That was my first investigative report and I did put a lot of efforts and professionalism and made a lot of legwork in preparing that report and bringing the facts to light.
I was very much dejected and later, many such incidents took place in my life and those incidents finally forced me to bring out my own Newspaper with a special focus on investigative journalism. I decided that from my newspaper’s platform, I would encourage new and young journalists to come up with investigative aptitude and investigative reports. So that is how in 2000-2001 I started my own newspaper The Daily Mail with the mission that I will promote healthy investigative journalism, pure journalism with no sensation in it and that’s how I started this Daily Mail and Daily Mail brought a lot of new faces to the Journalism and it made me from a report to Editor and Chief Editor and at the same time it groomed me a lot as a professional journalist. At The daily mail, no report of a journalist has ever been withheld due to any fear of losing advertisements or clients. Whatever loses The Daily Mail had to suffer, it suffered because when I am working at The Daily Mail, I am not working as a Chief Editor or Publisher but, I’m working as a journalist. As a journalist if I see something wrong somewhere, I do investigate and only after that I let it go reported
Here I asked a question “So you did not take it as a business?” No, I never took it as a business, it was not a source of income for me but in fact and it always was and always will be just a mission. You must have heard “My mission is Journalism” but show me one single face or a newspaper or TV channel, whose management can claim that they are moving on a mission of journalism. They are all looking for money, this was not my source of income because my source of income always remained my agricultural lands and the income that I was getting from my agricultural land, I have been spending it on running this Daily Mail,” said Mr. Makhdoom
“Are you inspired by any Journalist?” he replied by saying that “I’m sorry to say that I was inspired by many journalists before starting the career of Journalist. Soon after starting my career, it is really an irony, that I discovered there names were so big but they were so small as professionals as well as human beings. I found many people, whom I used to Idealize when I was not a journalist but when I met them in real life, I found them to be very impolite and very different to what we see them on TV or what we visualize them by reading their writings. For instance, once there was person, very famous anchor on TV, he very popular especially among youngsters in my days of youth. When I joined journalism, I was very desperate to meet him and interview him. But when I met and I interviewed him that was the last day I ever liked him. I never intended to see him again. I found him to be a very Hypocrite and impolite person, totally different to what I have been thinking about him or seeing on the TV, very proud, very rude and no manners. Similarly when I see other journalists who careers with me or many journalists who started career after me, I have found eventually that they had no dedication for journalism or for country. They immensely lack patriotism and they no journalism left in them. The only thing that is left in them is, their greed for money or sometime greed for fame. They have put aside substantial journalism and have very conveniently replaced it with sensational journalism. This menace is seen very high in electronic media that has done the maximum damage to the journalism in Pakistan.
I don’t know about other countries but in Pakistan and in India, the journalism has literally been killed after the arrival of Electronic media.
Here we asked him a question “What is the reason behind this?”
He said “the reason is that journalism became more sensational. You know in print media, a reporter files a report; there are many news editors who edit that report and they also make certain counter checks on these reports and after this process, a news report reaches to the Editor. The editor of the organization finally looks into the report and If he find something faulty, he would ask the reporter to come and explain the contents and If the explanation is found not enough, that report is not published.
More inquiries are made, more calls are made and other reporters are asked to verify the facts and it can delayed for a day or two and after that it is finally is published or not.
But in electronic media, on TV Channels, there is no such practice. Young reporters who are given Mike, who are given camera, who are given live access, they are free to say whatever they want to say, no editing, no cross checking, no senior verifying the contents. OK! It can later be denied but the fire this news can create in a second that is already created, the damage is already done. Secondly in a newspaper you have competition of deadline, deadline is that 2 am or 3am. You have whole day to verify and reconfirm your information but in electronic media you have a battle of rating, a battle of minutes and seconds. You have to be quicker than others. So in that race, or I must say that in that stupid race you do not wait to verify the information or to check the credibility of the information, you just get a news, and you simply shoot it out. That is where the damage has come from. Things like this have been piling up, increasing, and increasing day by day and today every news channel has completely lost credibility in Pakistan as well as in India.
Somebody once said to me that there is no future for newspapers, for print media. I told that somebody that “No, You are very wrong, this is a timely phase, newspapers have history of centuries whereas this Breaking News TV culture has the history of a couple of decades, 10, 20 years. They cannot replace newspaper. A newspaper report is an evidence that you can produced in a Court of Law as a document.
“What about the TV Channels those sell their integrities to foreign intelligence agencies?
”As I am telling you when it became Masala thing, then you know you have to be more sensational, you have to be sensation oriented and when you have to be sensation oriented, you lose credibility and when you lose credibility at that time you lose finances also and when you lose finances then the foreign Intelligence agencies chip into, they give you money to give you finances and eventually they use you to work according to their requirements so in my opinion, today 80% of the News and even the entertainment TV Channels, they are being funded heavily by the foreign Intelligence agencies like R&AW of India and CIA of United States and in fact US has gone public and have officially announced it that they have like $50 million dollars per year, spared for PR campaign in Pakistani Media.
What do they mean by PR campaign? PR campaign is that they are using this money to buy the loyalties of Pakistani Media organizations and in recent cases the two big TV Channels ARY and GEO got into a battle with each other and ARY exposed very clearly that GEO TV has been getting money regularly from the governments of US, UK and India. They actually showed it on their channel with the support of documented evidences that how much money the GEO Administration took from US State Department and other Departments and how much money they took from British Government for different Programs and how much money even they took from Indians for showing a fake documentary on some Ajmal Kasab, a fake character created by Indian Intelligence and this unfortunate that today they have put aside National Interest and they are working mostly on foreign agendas and to appease their mosses, they do it under the gab of Freedom of Press but in nowhere in the world it is defined that you get freedom of Press on the cost of your national interest. National Interest is one thing and Government Interest is another thing. These foreign paid pseudo-journalists, they mix-up the government and official interest with national interest and when they go to the public they show that when somebody says national interest it means interest of government.
You have to be very responsible; you have to be very much focused while defining National Interest. As I have told you that there is great lack of investigative journalism all over the world. When we were little children we got many stories about investigative journalists from West, and even across Pakistan. I still remember that many Police officers, after they were retired, they started writing in different newspapers about the criminal cases they solved during their respective careers. That was also sort of investigative journalism. They wrote books about their experiences. In Pakistan now you will find hardly anybody who is going for investigative journalism today, I haven’t seen it for at least 20 years that I’ve spent in this 24 year or so. My first major investigative report was about Australian Vetch. It was being sold in open market as Red Lentils ( Masoor Ki Daal) but it was not red lentils; it was actually an animal fodder which had a great resemblance with Red Lentils, but it was poisonous and containing hazardous toxin and was being sold in Pakistan as Red Lentils, exported from Australia. It was very cheap in price, like the purchase price of lentils was 40 rupees per kg, it was like 10 rupees per kg but it was being sold for 30, 35 rupees per kg in 1999. How I came to know about it? It is my habit that at night when I’m driving back home, I tune BCC Radio. That night I heard that Bangladesh banned the sale of this Australian Vetch because it being poisonous. it was a just a small, 2 liner report. Next day I went on the internet, I visited that report of BBC and I found that this poisonous red lentils like Vetch was also banned by Sri Lanka and a few other countries of the region in the past, whereas an Indian was exporting it from Australia, his name I still remember today, was Dia Ram Sharma and he was fined for merely 3000 Australian dollars over the issue by an Australian Court. Then I thought that it was not possible that Pakistani markets could get away with the sale of same.. So I went to Bazar Dalgara in Rawalpindi . I pretended to be a contractor who had to supply different pulses to Lawrence College. I took the samples of all the pulses (DAAL) and when I asked for the sample of Red Lentils, I was told, “Oh here is an imported Red Lentils”. I said where is it from the seller said “it is imported from Australia” and I said “Okay! That is what I was actually looking for”. I took that sample, I went to different laboratories but nobody had the capacity to examine it then again I went onto the internet, I found that Dr. Max State of Melbourne University, Australia had done a great research on this. I called him and I sent him the sample and he sent me the report. “Yes! This is a toxic Vetch, it contains neuro-toxic and is very harmful for human health and that is why it is strictly banned for human consumption in Australia”. I made a big report on this big issue. However, when it was published; I had to go to through a lot of troubles. I tried to meet with Australian Ambassador before publishing this report but he refused to meet me but after the report was published, I was invited to Australian High Commission and the Australian Deputy High Commissioner George Beardsley, I still remember his name. He tried to convince me that the Australian Vetch was not poisonous and that it was okay for human consumption but he could not give me any scientific evidence or technical support confirm that Vetch was safe for human consumption. After that I made a lot of research and finally came up the 2nd report on this issue. This was the first ever news report in the history of Pakistan on which Government of Pakistan banned any import from any country on the basis of one news report and that too due to the health reasons. An SRO was issued in this regard. I don’t want to go into the details but that was my first major investigative report and I received a lot of appreciations and letters of thanks from many people from all over the country because this news was reproduced by PTV also mentioning me and the organization that I was working with. Eventually when I was working on my 3rd report in this connection, I was asked to stop this report by my Chief Editor that was to my utter dismay and shock. I knew a lady who used to work at Australian High Commission. She was a Pakistan. During all this, one day she called my on phone and inquired about my wellbeing. She said that My newspaper’s Chief Editor visited the Australian High Commission, a day earlier when he stopped me from working further in Vetch issue and then I came to know that he was paid to stop it and again in this connection when I was attacked by some people, some contractors who were importing this Vetch, my management refused to even own me. They said we don’t know who is he? He is just a contributor, where I was contracted employee. I would always suggest the young journalist that don’t be too enthusiastic, too ambitious, remember in which part of the world you are, it is Pakistan. No one way traffic, it’s always two-way traffic, if you are looking at the one side of the road and trying to cross it, you can be hit from the other side. So be careful and don’t be over ambitious.
I asked “Youngster should start career in Urdu Journalism or English?” He said, If you want to go global, if you want to broaden your canvas, start it in English. If you want to stay at District level, Tehsil level or city level then go for Urdu but in English sky is limit. English is the more expressive language. In English language journalism, you have far bigger audience. English journalism, to some extent, keeps you away from simple sensation, it gives some more substantial journalistic stuff.
I am so much thankful to Sir. Makhdoom Babar for giving me an Exclusive Interview and for his precious time.