Scandal in Pakistan: Familygate morphs into Mediagate

English: Web Guide to Pakistan and Pakistan Me...

English: Web Guide to Pakistan and Pakistan Media & PR Guide (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Arif Nizami

English: This is the Coat of arms of Supreme C...

English: This is the Coat of arms of Supreme Court of Pakistan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What had started as a seemingly innocuous discussion on the social media and was later posted on YouTube about dealings between the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry’s son Arsalan Iftikhar and real estate tycoon Malik Riaz has gone viral. Within a span of a week, Familygate (the ‘family’ being the CJ’s in this case) has morphed into Mediagate involving the media.

The nexus between the celebrity status media anchors, the media barons who own the news channels on one hand and big business and the politicians on the other, has become a subject of intense discussion and scrutiny.

Although vehemently denied by all, well known TV hosts have been accused of being on the take of Malik Riaz.Different lists allotting expensive cars, property and cash to the anchors without any proof or documentary evidence are doing the rounds mostly on the email circuit, blogs and Twitter. Whatever the truth (or lack thereof) behind these allegations, the media which prided itself of being fiercely independent and above board has itself come under intense scrutiny. Neither the courts, the government, nor for that matter any professional or self regulatory body has imposed any kind of check on the media.

Youtube link to Leaked Video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDUgEL5sLMw

Ironically, it is the fast emerging social media through which ordinary citizens, and in some cases the media persons themselves, have brought the conduct of the self styled pundits of the airwaves into sharp focus.

The Supreme Court with undue alacrity has disposed of the suo motu notice regarding the graft case against the CJ’s son, Dr Arsalan. It has ordered the Attorney General to take strict action against Arsalan, Malik Riaz and his son-in-law Salman. He was the alleged middleman in transferring funds to the CJ’s son and hosting him abroad on expensive junkets. The court has also castigated the media persons for not exercising due diligence. Despite the court washing its hands of the matter, moral and legal questions of far reaching import still remain unanswered. Who is to judge the judges and who will regulate the media?

This presents a conundrum for those who believe in free speech and independence of the judiciary. Arsalan Iftikhar has still to clear his name regarding his links with Malik Riaz. Why was so much money exchanged between him and Malik sahib’s son in law?The moral question, highlighted by Justice Khilji Arif Hussain on the bench hearing the Arsalan case, still remains unanswered. In his additional note, Justice Khilji rightfully remarked, “Although family members of public functionaries are not performing state functions, the alleged facts of the case highlight the necessity of extreme caution and discretion in their private and public dealings and conduct.”

Similarly, Malik Riaz (himself facing contempt of court charges after his presser) has a lot to answer for. Why a normally reclusive and media shy property tycoon with links to the generals, politicians and the media decided to go public on Arsalan. Why was Arsalan given huge sums by his men? Was he just being blackmailed? And more importantly, if no favours were expected, what was it in aid for?It is not just the judiciary and the tycoon that have questions to answer.

It is now obvious that even the ostensibly sanctimonious media persons raising these questions live in glass houses. Behind-the-scenes video footage of Dunya TV’s exclusive interview with Malik Riaz hosted by the network’s star anchors Mubashar Lucman and Meher Bukhari says it all. Mr Lucman clearly seen throwing tantrums and staging a walkout in the stolen clips has been suspended.The footage amply demonstrates that the so-called exclusive interview was a hatchet job par excellence.

However Ms Bukhari who clearly seemed in charge during the course of the interview and behind-the-scenes as well, defends the whole episode as a routine matter.Even the Supreme Court has asked for the footage of the controversial interview as well as the off-air footage. What remains however unanswered is why the normally aggressive to the extent of sounding rude anchors were asked to be so submissive in front of the property tycoon?

Obviously Mubashar Lucman was made to pay for his temerity for insisting on asking certain questions. He was clearly unhappy as well for insistence of Ms Bukhari to drag Moonis Elahi into the discussion.It is interesting to note that Dunya TV is owned by a former mayor of Lahore who also owns one of the largest and most profitable networks of business colleges in the country. In the off-air footage, he was constantly passing instructions and he did not want Malik sahib to be interrupted during the course of the interview.

As opposed to GEO, Dunya TV is perceived to be anti-PML(N) and against the Sharifs. Hence, Rana Sanaullah has been made to go to town against its owner. It will be unfair to just blame Dunya TV, its owner and its anchors for the present state of affairs. The malaise runs much deeper and is widespread. The tendency to go to town on everyone or anyone without verifying facts is not restricted to one channel or anchor.It is obvious that some sort of editorial control based on professionalism is needed.

The government-controlled regulatory authority PEMRA has miserably failed to get its rules implemented. Maybe a public inquiry along the lines of the Leveson inquiry on the media culture taking place in the UK after the News International phone hacking scandal would help. Moreover, a self-regulatory mechanism could also help in inculcating some ethics and rules of the game without compromising the independence of the media.

The collateral damage of the Familygate affair has shaken our body politic. The two institutions, which had emerged as the success story of the post-Musharraf democratic order, the independent judiciary and a free press, have been compromised in the eyes of the public.The anchors named as recipient of favours from the property tycoon have probably been wrongly and unfairly named by interested quarters. The Bahria Town management has already trashed the list circulating on the net as fake. However, the onus is on those mentioned in the so-called list to clear their names at the altar of public opinion.

Arif Nizami is Editor of Pakistan Today newspaper

This column appeared in Pakistan Today on June 16,2012

Views expressed by experts in the Opinion section are entirely their own and do no necessarily reflect editorial policy of MyGlobalCommunityToday.

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