The Express Media Group has strongly refuted a media campaign being run by daily Dawn in its pages over the past year. A statement by the Group issued on Thursday stated that daily Dawn has been running biased and misleading stories about the affairs of the McDonald’s chain in Pakistan for the past year in the guise of “public interest journalism.” Express Group and McDonald’s are sister companies. “25 articles have appeared in a space of one year. Each story is riddled with gross inaccuracies, fabricated information, twisted facts and original fiction. This ‘reporting’ can only be described as malicious and malafide,” said the statement by the Express Media Group, of which The Express Tribune is a part.
Hence, it is now incumbent upon the Express Group to speak out against what can only be described as a witch-hunt. “It is unclear what interest such malicious stories serve Dawn group – but it is of particular interest that the disinformation is being spread deliberately while the matter is before the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan. Despite McDonald’s having followed every instruction of the Court in letter and spirit, Dawn has continued to claim to the contrary,” adds the statement.
The misreporting against McDonald’s began with an article published on January 3, 2010 under the heading “50 years of Islamabad: failures over shadow achievements.” The article states that the “Establishment of Jinnah Convention Centre and McDonald’s in F9 Park were some of the violations of the master plan”. No violation had occurred, but Dawn passed its judgment.
More baseless allegations followed. The title of the article (in italics), date of publication, allegation levelled (in italics) and the on-ground facts are summarised as follows:
1. “City bosses scramble after SC hard talk”, dated May 14, 2010, “The meeting also took notice of the disappearance of record regarding approval of establishment of the McDonald’s outlet in the Fatima Jinnah Park” – No files / documents regarding the approvals of the project were missing. This false story was planted to create doubts regarding the transparency of approvals.
2. “McDonalds told to fold up”, dated June 9, 2010, “The CDA has leased 6,000 square yards of the park land to Messrs SIZA Food, a franchise of the McDonald’s for 20 years at the rate of Rs317,000 per month.” The article fails to mention that the rent approved was Rs317,250 or five percent, which ever was higher. CDA till the closure of the restaurant was getting approximately Rs900,000 per month (280% higher than the amount
mentioned in the article.)
3. “McDonald’s is outside park, say CDA bosses”, dated June 15, 2010.
“According to a senior official of CDA, SIZA Foods has been paying to the authority Rs0.8 million per month under the lease agreement and has so far earned over Rs570 million since 2006” – daily Dawn crossed all limits of misreporting in its attempt to discredit McDonald’s. – The amount of Rs570 million is sales revenue. This amount is from the sales of burgers, french fries, cokes, ice cream, etc – this is not the income made by McDonalds as reported. Dawn was juggling the numbers to portray that McDonald’s was raking it in while paying CDA only Rs800,000 per month.
4. “CDA to lease McDonalds land again” dated August 28, 2010, “The area under the use of McDonald’s is 6,000 square yards – 1.2 acres covered area and 5.62 acres open space.” The fact is that McDonald’s has covered only 8,800 square feet (980 square yards) out of the leased land area of 6,000 square yards (1.2 acres). This is only 16.33 % of the leased land. The remaining area of 5.26 acres of land was developed by McDonald’s (as part of the lease agreement) as a park for the general use of the citizens of Islamabad at a cost of Rs13,976,315. There is no levy of any fees, and the park is maintained by McDonald’s and not an inch of this area is in the use of McDonald’s. The annual cost of such maintenance is Rs1,020,000.
5. “McDonald’s to make a comeback” dated 29 December 2010. “The city managers on Tuesday paved the way for McDonald’s management to make a comeback in Fatima Jinnah Park by disqualifying two main contestants from the bidding held to again lease out land of the closed fast food chain, sources told Dawn.” Dawn now takes a shot at the reputation of the city managers, insinuating that they are working with McDonald’s to disqualify other main contestants. The fact is that CDA invited Request for Qualification from National and International fast food outlets on Tuesday, August 31, 2010 with the deadline of submission of application as September 15, 2010. This was extended till September 30, 2010. Only three bidders responded, all international food franchises. To encourage more contestants, another Expression of Interest for pre-qualification of local and international food chains was published on Friday, October 29, 2010 with the deadline for receipt of applications as November 23, 2010. The same three and two more applied. These additional two were local companies. Three were qualified – McDonald’s, Dominos and Hanif Rajput. As per rules of prequalification, Rahat Bakery did not qualify as it is only a bakery and Hardees did not qualify as they had less then three years of experience. No rule of prequalification was changed or altered an any manner to disqualify. A totally open and transparent bidding process was followed and after a tough contest of bids, McDonald’s came out as the highest bidder. Daily Dawn is now making its last ditch effort to derail the entire process of transparent bidding.
In the same article it is stated that “Experts say if compared with the price paid by builders of Centaurus, the land of McDonald’s should have been auctioned for over Rs1 Billion.” The fact is that daily Dawn in its articles has continuously written about the Centaurus project of Islamabad and keeps comparing it with the McDonald’s restaurant in F9 Park. In at least foure different articles they have continued to make convoluted comparisons between the value of the space McDonald’s has and the value of the space Centaurus has. To set the record straight, it is important to let everyone know the true figures.
Centaurus is an approximately two million square feet project, consisting of two residential towers of 22 stories each, one office tower of 22 stories, one seven star hotel of 30 stories and a five storey, 550,000 square feet mall. They own the land which is approximately 6.59 acres. Compared to this McDonald’s covered area of the restaurant is approximately 8,800 square feet and all of it on the ground floor and while Centaurus holds the land in perpetuity, McDonald’s is a tenant.
No other newspaper has covered this issue in the libelous and slanderous manner that daily Dawn has and that is of great concern, the statement adds. These malicious reports have been continuously ignored by the management of McDonald’s – giving daily Dawn the benefit of doubt – but it is now seems this gratuitous campaign, which goes against all tenets of journalism, has no end in sight.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2010.