With big red stamp, Pakistan government portal singles out journalists and ‘fake news’

A combination picture shows screengrabs of tweets by the Pakistan government's @FakeNews_Buster Twitter handle, run by the ministry of information (AN photo)
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Updated 30 September 2020

With big red stamp, Pakistan government portal singles out journalists and ‘fake news’

  • Official at information ministry who runs @FakeNews_Buster Twitter account says the page “simply tells people the government’s viewpoint”
  • Rights activists say government has picked up the term ‘fake news’ from Trump who routinely uses it to discredit journalists and play down stories against him 

ISLAMABAD: Suriya Jamal is the director-general of the cyber-wing of Pakistan’s Ministry of Information. Every day she ensures that Internet and social media monitoring reports are prepared for senior officials, Internet campaigns are designed for national events and her team provides seamless IT and communications services support to the ministry and its attached organs.
Since October 2018, however, Jamal’s job has had a new component: running the ministry of information’s @FakeNews_Buster account on Twitter that is meant to highlight articles the government considers to be ‘fake news’, including one in July by Arab News.
Each post on the @FakeNews_Buster Twitter account carries a big red label reading “FAKE NEWS” in English and a line saying: “Disseminating #FakeNews is not only unethical and illegal but it is also disservice to the nation. It is the responsibility of everyone to reject irresponsible behavior. Reject #FakeNews.”
Digital rights activists and journalists told Arab News the venture, which routinely singles out individual journalists, fits a pattern of creating alternative realities meant to sow confusion and is part of the government’s sweeping efforts to dismiss real news it does not like and intimidate journalists who write or speak critically of its policies.
Since his campaign to run for US president, Donald Trump has popularized the term ‘fake news,’ invoking it to undermine opponents, rally his supporters and discredit journalists who aggressively investigated his campaign and now his presidency.
Emboldened by Trump, many authoritarian and populist leaders around the world have seized on the phrase ‘fake news’ as a tool to attack critics.
Pakistan too has taken a shine to the concept.

In July this year, the government said it was preparing new laws to curb coronavirus-related ‘fake news’ on social media platforms in a move that has stoked fears authorities might use the additional powers to choke freedom of speech and chill dissent.
It was not immediately clear what criteria the Pakistani ministry of information applies in its effort to identify what it considers to be ‘fake news,’ and Jamal declined to answer questions beyond that the @FakeNews_Buster account labeled stories as ‘fake’ after seeking information and ‘clarifications’ from relevant government departments and officials.
“We simply tell people about the government’s viewpoint,” she said. “How is this harassment?”
In a joint statement last month, a group of Pakistani women journalists demanded action by the government against social media attacks, including campaigns to accuse them of peddling ‘fake news’ for covering the government’s policies critically.
“The online attacks are instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, which declare their affiliation to the ruling party,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a petition last week.
Azhar Mashwani, an adviser on digital media to the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, denied government social media accounts were being used to harass journalists or suppress freedom of the press.
The prime minister, he said, had conveyed “clear instructions” through the ministry of information to all government departments to issue rebuttals against ‘fake news’ and take legal action. “But no department has initiated any action so far,” he told Arab News.
“We bring facts to the people,” he added.
In one of many examples where Mashwani has taken to Twitter to accuse journalists of peddling ‘fake news,’ he accused a reporter at Pakistan’s daily Dawn newspaper last month of “twisting and altering” his remarks in a WhatsApp interview for a story about the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party’s use of social media to project a ‘positive’ image of Pakistan.
The reporter published a complete transcript of the conversation, showing that she had quoted Mashwani verbatim. But he continued to post on Twitter saying what was published was a “total misrepresentation.”

In an article last week, the website for Pakistan’s Geo News channel fact-checked a number of news stories that the @FakeNews_Buster account and government representatives had labeled as ‘fake’ on social media, including an Arab News report published on July 7 about the centuries-old Ram Mandir temple in Islamabad where Hindus are no longer allowed to pray.

In response to the post by @FakeNews_Buster, Arab News sent a letter to information minister Shibli Faraz, urging the ministry to take down the tweet and explaining the multiple rounds of fact-checking and editing that the story had gone through.
The ministry acknowledged receiving the letter, but had not taken action to remove the post, Baker Atyani, Asia bureau chief for Arab News, said.
“The story was thoroughly investigated, checked, and cross-checked by senior editors of Arab News but unfortunately we didn’t hear back from the ministry or the information minister,” he said. “We have asked in our letter that the tweet should be taken down and the ministry should clarify that the Arab News story was accurate.”
Atyani said Arab News had urged the ministry to take up such concerns with the organization directly, rather than targeting its reporters and editors on social media.
“We believe these kinds of unfortunate claims not only undermine our credibility,” he said, “but also could put the lives of our team who worked on the story at risk.”
When Arab News asked Jamal about the @FakeNews_Buster tweet about its story, she declined comment, saying “Let me check.”
“Whenever I rebut a story, I do it with facts, and this is not harassment of journalists,” Dr. Arsalan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News when asked about attacks on journalists by government-affiliated social media accounts. “Ideally when you label a news as fake news, you will have to provide the details through documents or videos and nobody should get offended over it. If it is fake news, it is fake news.”
Farieha Azizi, a digital rights activist who heads Bolo Bhi, said the government used accounts like @FakeNews_Buster to beat back media scrutiny and browbeat reporters, and the strategy to attack individuals, rather than organizations, on social media was a deliberate one.
“I’m not saying that you should start targeting the organizations, but the institutions have a mechanism and people to respond,” she said. “But here you’re singling out individuals deliberately, then multiple accounts start targeting them and give threats only because there was a difference of opinion, or an opinion which they [government and its supporters] don’t like.”
“If the government wants to clarify a news item, it should do it from official sources only,” Aziz added, saying the Pakistan government had picked up the term ‘fake news’ from Trump who routinely used it to discredit journalists and play down stories against him.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists [PFUJ], said the government was “intentionally” using social media platforms to confuse the public and discredit journalists it did not agree with.
He said government representatives used social media to “incite the public, their [government’s] supporters and followers” to attack and abuse journalists by using ‘fake news’ as a tool.
“This is certainly a condemnable act,” Zulfiqar said, “and the government must ensure freedom of press in the country instead of working against it.”
Imran Ghazali, the head of the newly established Digital Media Wing, said he was working to get all official accounts verified so no one could claim to speak in the government’s name and an ‘authentic and data-driven’ flow of information could be maintained on social media.
“Once it is done,” he said, “many of the issues will stand resolved automatically.”


Afghan Taliban blame foreign Daesh fighter for Pakistan embassy attack

Updated 10 sec ago

Afghan Taliban blame foreign Daesh fighter for Pakistan embassy attack

  • A Pakistani security guard was wounded in a gun attack on Friday
  • Pakistan called it attempt to assassinate its head of mission, who was unhurt

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban said on Monday a Daesh militant attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul was carried out with involvement of unidentified foreign groups with the intention of sowing distrust with Pakistan.

Daesh, which fights the Taliban in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the Friday gun attack on the Pakistani embassy in a statement carried by one of its affiliated channels on the Telegram messaging service on Sunday.

A Pakistani security guard was wounded in the attack that Pakistan called an attempt to assassinate its head of mission, who was unhurt.

Pakistan has for decades had good relations with the Afghan Taliban but recently ties have been strained over security concerns on their common border.

The Taliban said they had arrested one suspect and recovered two guns and Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the suspect was a foreign Daesh member.

“Behind the attack there is the hand of some foreign groups and their aim is to create distrust between the two brotherly countries,” Mujahid said.

He did not say which country the suspect was from. An investigation was continuing, he said.

The Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed several high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months, including a suicide blast outside the Russian embassy in September.

Pakistan said earlier it was consulting Afghan authorities to verify the report of a Daesh claim of responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan said it had no plan to close the embassy and the head of the mission was in Pakistan for consultations.


Head of Pakistan's newly formed reforms commission 'confident' of simplification of tax system

Updated 05 December 2022

Head of Pakistan's newly formed reforms commission 'confident' of simplification of tax system

  • Ashfaq Tola says the independent commission will address issues pertaining to complex tax system, budget
  • The reforms commission head says it'll be able to give first set of recommendations by the mid of April 2023

KARACHI: Ashfaq Yousuf Tola, chairman of recently formed Reforms and Resource Mobilization Commission (RRMC) of Pakistan, on Sunday said he was "confident" of playing a catalyst role in the simplification of the country’s complex taxation system and cut the informal, parallel economy to size.  

Pakistan has been grappling with a widening current account deficit, a balance-of-payment crisis and inflation hovering around historic highs in recent months. The South Asian nation has also witnessed an economic slowdown in the wake of recent floods that have damaged huge infrastructure and agriculture output.  

Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last week constituted a powerful commission to review the existing revenue policies, identify issues and risks of existing tax system, review budget proposals and evaluate their consequences as well as review complexities of tax legislation.

An undated file photo of Ashfaq Yousuf Tola, Chairman of Reforms and Resource Mobilization Commission (RRMC). (Supplied)

Tola, who is currently serving as a technical advisor on the Board of International Federation of Accountants, would directly work under the finance minister and hold a full-time office at the Islamabad headquarters of the national tax agency, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).   

“This commission is completely independent and will play a key role in addressing complex taxation and other economic issues,” Tola told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Sunday.   

“The commission will have access to analyses, revenue policies and meet with the stakeholders. The commission will have its input in budget and budget evaluation.”  

The RRMC head, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP), has an experience of over 30 years in financial and forensic auditing, tax advisory and corporate structuring.   

The 11-member commission headed by him comprises FBR chairman, experts on taxation and economy, and representatives of the business community. 

This is the second commission formed by Dar in the last eight years and is given both short- and long-term objectives, with a major focus on finalization of taxation measures for next fiscal years.  

“This commission is completely different from the previous one and it has no lifecycle,” Tola said. “This time strong players have been picked up for the commission who have the capability to deliver.”   

Asked how the commission would work, Tola said it would form different sub-groups to come up with assessments of their relevant fields.  

“For instance, economists would be tasked to evaluate the size of parallel economy and the chartered accountants would be asked to draw global comparison and identify snags and [present] recommendation on how to rectify them,” he explained. 

Pakistan has complex taxation measures in place, which experts say are highly "oppressive" in nature.  

“Pakistan’s tax system is complicated, fragmented, oppressive, narrow and anti-growth. It has one of the highest rates for the corporate sector,” Dr Ikramul Haq, a Lahore-based taxation expert, told Arab News.   

“It is highly oppressive for salaried persons and citizens with fixed income living under hyperinflation. It levies and collects main taxes at import stage, making exports uncompetitive and increasing the already heavy cost of doing business.” 

The Tola-led commission is assigned a daunting task to come up with recommendations to reform the ages-old taxation system and broaden the tax net.  

Pakistan has less than 3.5 million income tax filers, with a majority declaring its income below the taxable limit or reporting losses. The number of individuals registered for sales tax is less than 350,000 and actual payers are less than 85,000, the rest claim refunds, according to official data.   

Haq suggested dismantling the fragmented tax structure by giving power to the federation to levy and collect tax from all sources, including from the ones whose income is based on agriculture.  

Provinces should have exclusive jurisdiction over harmonized sales tax on goods and services and all these should be collected through a national tax agency, he added. 

The RRMC is given an April 2023 deadline to submit its first report, which Tola is confident to meet.   

To a question about the timing of the RRMC formation amid an uncertain and fluid political and economic situation, Tola said the formation of the commission was a "good initiative" and must be kept apolitical.   

“This is a good thing formed and if it is kept apolitical that would be good for the country,” he said.   

He, however, conceded that there was no guarantee of the commission’s future in case the government changes.  

Pakistan has been hit by political instability for years now, which has aggravated since the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan in April. 

The instable political situation has been taking a toll on the country's frail economy, already suffering from devastating impacts of the floods. 


For Pakistani beauty and fragrance brands, the newest craze is Middle Eastern scented wood chips

Updated 05 December 2022

For Pakistani beauty and fragrance brands, the newest craze is Middle Eastern scented wood chips

  • Popularly known as 'bakhoor' in the Arab world, the agarwood chips are said to have several medical and psychological benefits
  • Local businesses say the incense chips are in high demand in Pakistan, though many customers also find them quite expensive

KARACHI: Beauty and fragrance brands across Pakistan have been importing a product which has long dominated the Middle East culture and is widely used in traditional Arab households and markets. 

'Bakhoor,' or agarwood chips, are used to spread lingering fragrance at homes, shops and offices. Pakistani businesses have been bringing these scented bricks from Arab countries before offering their different varieties to customers. 

A salon in Karachi, for instance, provides hair bakhoor scalp treatment which, it says, is quite popular in the Arab World. 

"Bakhoor is in high demand in Pakistan," Adeel Shafiq Alam, chief executive officer of an Arabian fragrance shop, Souk Galleria, told Arab News. 

Alam's organization has been doing good business in Karachi and Lahore since 2020 and boasts international outlets in places like Dubai and the United States. 

"We import bakhoor from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," Alam added. "Bakhoor farming is not common in Pakistan. Even if we start it today, it will take another 25 years for us to benefit from it. A large number of people in Pakistan are still not very familiar with bakhoor." 

A Saudi man holds a handful of Bakhoor or Agarwood at his shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 10, 2007. (AFP/File)

Alam, whose business offers several types of bakhoor products, said people used to ask him all sorts of questions about the scented bricks when Souk Galleria started advertising bakhoor in Pakistan two years ago. 

"Many of them want to buy bakhoor but are usually deterred by high prices," he continued. "Most of them find it difficult to afford good quality bakhoor, which can cost around Rs1,000 per gram." 

The incense chips, which have been used in the Middle East for centuries, are said to have several medical and psychological benefits. Some say they change people's mood and relieve them of stress and anxiety. 

"The future of bakhoor is bright in Pakistan since many people from this country visit Arab states, especially for Hajj and Umrah, and see how Arabs use these scented chips," Shiekh Faisal Ghani, chairman of Saeed Ghani, a popular Pakistani brand for herbal and skincare products, told Arab News. 

Ghani's business offers bakhoor fragrances that include Oud Wood, Oud Combodi, Oud Kindi and Oud Amber. 

"Ninety-nine percent of bakhoor is imported from Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman," he added. 

Karachi's Scalpxury, a beauty salon, says it is the only place in the country offering bakhoor hair treatment. 

"Hair bakhoor are different from normal bakhoor sold in Pakistan. The fragrance and texture are slightly different and they give longevity to one’s hair," said Shehla Khan, the salon owner. 

"Conventionally and commercially, hair bakhoor are not available in the market. I get them from the Arab region." 

Khan said her business was different since it was not retailing or selling bakhoor, but using them to offer a popular variety of hair treatment. 


England's Livingstone out of Pakistan tour with knee injury

Updated 05 December 2022

England's Livingstone out of Pakistan tour with knee injury

  • The 29-year-old all-rounder made his Test debut Thursday in the ongoing first Test in Rawalpindi
  • Livingstone jarred his knee while fielding on day two and did not bowl in Pakistan's first innings 

RAWALPINDI: All-rounder Liam Livingstone has been ruled out of the rest of England's tour of Pakistan with a knee injury, the team's management said Monday. 

The 29-year-old made his Test debut Thursday in the ongoing first Test in Rawalpindi, scoring nine and seven not out in England's two innings. 

But he jarred his knee while fielding on day two and did not bowl in Pakistan's first innings. 

Livingstone also missed the Twenty20 series against Pakistan a few months ago after suffering an ankle injury. 

England have yet to decide if a replacement will be called up. 

Pakistan were chasing 343 Monday on the fifth and final day of the first Test. 

England are on their first Test tour of Pakistan since 2005, having declined to visit in the interim years on security grounds. 

The second Test is in Multan from December 9-13, and the third in Karachi from December 17-21. 


Second phase of Pakistan T20 Women's Cricket Tournament to kick off from Monday

Updated 04 December 2022

Second phase of Pakistan T20 Women's Cricket Tournament to kick off from Monday

  • Tournament matches will be played at two Lahore venues, final to take place on December 9
  • PCB says tournament winners will bag Rs1 million, runners-up team to receive Rs0.5 million

ISLAMABAD: The second phase of the Pakistan T20 Women's Cricket Tournament is scheduled to kick off from December 5, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced on Sunday.
The first phase of the tournament concluded earlier this week on Friday.
The second phase, which will begin from Monday, will be held at two venues in Lahore: The Lahore Gymkhana and the LCCA Ground, the PCB confirmed.
"Four teams namely Blasters, Challengers, Dynamites and Strikers will feature in the event where Pakistan's elite cricketers will take part," the country's cricket board said in a statement.
The second phase will be played on a single-league basis, where two matches will be held everyday on 5, 6 and 7 December.
The final of the tournament will take place at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium on December 9 which will also be live-streamed for viewers on the PCB's YouTube channel.
“The tournament provides a great opportunity for players to kick-start their preparations for the ICC Women's T20 World Cup in South Africa later next year and hone their skills in the format," it added.
The contest will feature a blend of Pakistani cricketers who have represented their country internationally along with the emerging talent in the game.
In order to incentivize domestic performers, the best player of every match will continue to receive Rs20,000 as they were getting in the first phase of the tournament. The player of the tournament will bag Rs50,000. The winning team will receive Rs1 million, while the runner-up will get Rs0.5 million.
Blasters squad:
Fatima Sana (Captain), Aima Saleem, Anam Amin, Ayesha Bilal, Ayesha Naseem, Bismah Maroof, Fareeha Mehmood, Gul Rukh, Huraina Sajjad, Maham Manzoor, Mahnoor Aftab, Masooma Zehra, Shawal Zulfiqar, Sidra Amin and Amber Kainaat
Team management – Mauhtashim Rashid (head coach), Shahid Mehmood (assistant coach), Mahlika Mansoor (manager)
Challengers squad:
Omaima Sohail (Captain), Aiman Anwar, Aliya Riaz, Anoosha Nasir, Ayesha Zafar, Dua Majid, Ghulam Fatima, Hamna Bilal, Javeria Wadood, Khadija Chishti, Lubna Behram, Najiha Alvi, Noreen Yaqoob, Rameen Shamim and Rida Aslam
Team management – Azam Khan (head coach), Nazim Khan (assistant coach), Asiya Khan (manager)
Dynamites squad:
Umm-e-Hani (Captain), Aleena Shah, Gull-e-Uswa, Gull Feroza, Kainat Imtiaz, Nahida Khan, Nida Dar, Sadaf Shamas, Sadia Iqbal, Saima Malik, Saira Jabeen, Sidra Nawaz, Tuba Hassan, Waheeda Akhtar and Yusra Amir
Team management – Taufiq Umar (head coach), Jawad Hamid (assistant coach), Hina Azam (manager)
Strikers squad:
Muneeba Ali (Captain), Aroob Shah, Ayesha Irfan, Eymaan Fatima, Fatima Khan, Iram Javed, Javeria Rauf, Kaynat Hafeez, Maham Tariq, Nashra Sundhu, Natalia Parvaiz, Neha Sharmeen, Saba Nazir, Soha Fatima and Zunera Shah
Team management – Waqar Orakzai (head coach), Rehmat Gull (assistant coach), Aisha Jalil (manager)