If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Astronomical salaries, impressive perks, a sprawling business plan in an industry with no revenue growth — when the Axact group announced a plan for its latest business venture, a television channel, it set a thousand rumours flying about the source of its financing. More than four years later, a damning New York Times report has revealed the source of Axact’s financial success to be a multi-million dollar fake degree scam. Unfortunately, so far the best defense that the Chairman of Axact can present the report is that the story is motivated by the ill will of the group’s competitors. An inadequate response, against sobering allegations.
Mr Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh, Chairman of the Axact and Bol group, is not to pitied. To be pitied are the people duped by Axact, who paid with their hard earned money for a worthless degree. To be pitied are the people employed by Axact for Bol, who really did believe that a dramatic revolution in media pay scales was not unrealistic. To be pitied are the many honest journalists and cameramen and sub-editors, who spent years earning a reputation of professional excellence, employed at Bol, now being treated as tainted by association. To be pitied are the many in Pakistan who have spent years whispering about Bol, wondering where the money was coming from, only to read all the details of it, laid out nice and clear in the New York Times, by a reporter who can cover Pakistan better than many living here.
Unfortunately, Axact’s response to the NYT story that prompted the furore was cause for further derision. Dripping with paranoia and scoffing at the credentials of Mr Declan Walsh — the author of the NYT piece — the response only showed that the expectations of journalistic excellence created by Bol were but an illusion. There will be no white knight in shining armour for Pakistani media. There is no overnight revolution. There is no new media group that will suddenly emerge as the “imminent number one”, and no utopian organisation with endless reams of legitimate cash that will forever change reporting in Pakistan.
The media will evolve as it has done over the last few years; learning lessons the hard way. The excesses will continue until we develop better sense. The pay scales will remain the same until the industry’s advertisements expand. The competition will all look the same until audiences evolve. There was no magic trick at Bol. The illusion was created by them, and by those of us willing to believe in magic tricks. A sorry state of affairs all around.