Of BOL, Axact, Media Tycoons, New York Times & Govt Interests

By Moeed Pirzada

This is what I had written on 23rd May, 6 days ago; most of it has unfolded & more will unfold:-

FB Blog (23 May, 2015)

Ch. Nisar spoke well, and carefully articulated his govt’s position. Though he requested media not to speculate but his statements gave enough to spill the beans of what is coming, especially with respect to FBI and ‘seriously significant evidences’. It appears fate of BOL as a large TV platform and of Axact as an IT Company or whatever it did is more or less sealed. Earlier the tweets of Kamran Khan and Azhar Abbas hint that they, along with many others, were thinking of leaving; this may materialize within the next few hours and it will lead to a panic stampede of all those who will rush to leave looking for jobs. Resultant chaos will lead to major reshuffle within the media platforms consolidating the “media financial interests/owners” and seriously weakening the independent voices within the journalist community and will strengthen the govt that allies with key media interests.

There used to be a webportal, “Power & Interest News Report (PINR) in Chicago which I used to subscribe. It was a brilliant online portal with American, Russian and Indian analysts analyzing the clash between different financial and political interests without offering any moral judgments, of good and bad, leaving this to the readers. I think we need PINR Analytical tool to make sense of what happened between different players that defined the dynamics of “Bol/Axact Battle”

First the most important players of the battle; Pakistani Media Owners who clubbed together, in an unprecedented fashion, as allies against the BOL/Axact duo. Why? because they realized that BOL’s financial model (with large salaries, insurance, shares and perks etc) is a threat to their businesses, will raise their expense beyond their ability to manage and if it continued even for a year it will knock them out. They suspected and alleged that this is not just a commercial business venture; though since 2002 many media entities have financed themselves from outside their balance sheets, investing funds through other businesses or unknown sources (even from outside the country) but in case of BOL some key media platforms felt strongly and even alleged that this represents a plan or “intervention in the market” to weaken them by Pakistani establishment. Some suspected international interests and names of a real estate tycoon were also mentioned. This picture remained confusing but all sides remained convinced of their own versions. During the recent crisis several important media persons before emptying their magazines, loaded with bullets of hate and jealousy, into the chest of BOL wanted to verify if some powerful interests are behind, but drew blank responses from all corners.

Pakistani Media interests tried persuading govt into action, against BOL, but govt, though sympathetic for its own reasons and media alliances, was not sure how to act on its own. New York Times was thus drawn into it by certain Pakistani media interests; it appears that initial facts and research into their business rivals “potential wrongdoings” and “suspicious business model/revenue streams” were all shared by the media interests from Karachi.

New York Times has written almost 6 times so far on this issue and it appears will continue to follow as it develops providing pretext for action in Pakistan and in all probability in the US. What is interesting is that NYT lacks any track record of substantive interest in “Diploma Mills” or “Fake Degrees” within the US. It has never taken much interest in all scandals that broke like the “Saint Regis University” and has ignored international reports that appeared from time to time that pointed that both US and UK have become the biggest centers of suspicious online diploma/degrees. So why such a strong interest this time? Not only five news reports but also a position by the New York Times Editorial Board asking Congress to look into the whole issue.
However NYT Editorial – with its appeals to Congress – also proved that no real legal framework with teeth exists within the US to deal with the kind of fraud Axact is alleged to have been involved with. This is because in the $16 trillion plus economy genuine education is well structured through an interlocking mechanism of standardized testing. US system does allow diplomas/certificates/degrees in lieu of life experiences and online study etc and apparently this loosely structured low end market is not very well regulated and many mavericks like Axact (as per allegation) are exploiting this, under the radar and so far the US lawmakers and enforcement agencies are not much bothered about this $1 Billion segment of a $16 trillion economy. This brings in Pakistani FIA.

Some people familiar with what is happening thus think that FIA action was conceived before NYT story. Many people were aware that story was developing. However without FIA action in Karachi it was difficult or may be impossible for FBI to initiate an action on its own. This explains the importance of FIA action and the urgency in which it was apparently initiated and where it ultimately fits into. The real question for FIA/FBI to determine will be that 130 plus Diploma sites were all different standalone entities or were controlled by a single umbrella company like Axact.
It is pretty obvious that whatever hanky panky or serious irregularities and abuse Axact may or may not have been doing was of little interest to FBI and regulators or even New York Times in the US or governments in Pakistan. So if Axact did not have he audacity of launching a large media platform it could have continued exploiting the legal loopholes that existed. This underscores that in the new global order media platforms with “significant capacity” the kind of which BOL hinted at are seen as tools of power and control and as threats to entrenched interests- and cannot be allowed to operate without the approval of right quarters. So BOL did not have any real consensus behind it. Its like Banking, BCCI example not exactly relevant but interesting here; it had to fold because it did not have the support of a large political power behind it, was doing audacious hanky panky that included defiance of international consensus on monetary issues; like extending credit to certain countries being disciplined by financial denials.
But what is in it for New York Times? As I have noted it has little track record of interest in “diploma mills” in the US and given its global range of interests will be least bothered to enter into a highly personalized battle between Pakistani Seths. Many familiar with NYT argue that Pakistan state does not fit well in its world view, if its upto NYT then Pakistan would have ceased as a country long time ago or would have voluntarily merged into India; so its interests are in Pakistani state, nuclear issue, establishment
wrong doings and so on. Could it be possible that its friends and allies in Pakistani media have convinced NYT that a deeper probe will lead to something bigger that can fit into its regional and international interests? So lets see if NYT finds what it is really looking for – that is certainly not the Diploma Mills.

Categories: Opinion

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