That trouble comes in threes could not be any truer than in the case of the latest scandal hitting mainstream media and social media, dubbed “Mediagate”. What started as mere allegations against Dr Arsalan Iftikhar that first turned into a storm that shook the very foundations of judiciary, has now turned into another earth-shaking scandal that has put at stake the careers of many prominent journalists in the country, and putting into question the role of the media as a watchdog against corrupt practices.
“Bahriagate” or “Familygate” has seemingly opened up a Pandora’s Box, and Malik Riaz’s revelations have put some of the anchors on a warpath.
After appearing in a press conference, which in itself spurred the Supreme Court to initiate contempt of court proceedings, the real estate tycoon and central character of Bahriagate, Malik Riaz, appeared in an interview on Dunya News TV channel, hosted by Mehar Bukhari and Mubasher Lucman, which has brought a rumble along the foundations of Pakistani media.
First it was Najam Sethi of Geo TV and Syed Talat Husain of Dawn News who sparred and traded punches a few days ago, mostly over their intellectual capacity and professional integrity. Echoes of this episode had barely died down when this explosion was heard on the vibes.
The recent interview was routine business but what really proved to be shocking was behind-the-scenes video footage that somehow got leaked and was uploaded on YouTube, and was soon doing the rounds in the social media. It appears from the footage that Malik Riaz had planted questions in the interview. The hosts also appear to be helping him prepare his answers, and in certain cases mouth-fed him some answers. He appeared to take full advantage of his position and contact with the management of Dunya News who told the hosts not to interrupt him and give him as much time as he wanted.
The video also shows political scions of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Nawaz Sharif interrupting and giving their input to the hosts on points relevant to them.
“Why don’t you start talking about it yourself, otherwise [if we ask] it will seem planted, which it is, but I don’t know if it should look planted,” an otherwise ferocious Mehar at one point suggested to Malik Riaz.
Both Mehar and Lucman in the start reminded Riaz of mentioning ‘Code of Conduct’ for judges, where “as per section 4 listed on their website also, even if a judge is related to one of the lawyers involved in a case or personally knows someone in the case, they should quit,” Lucman says, while Mehar adds, “and in this case it’s his [CJ’s] son”.
During the interview Mubasher Lucaman, known for his no holds barred approach, seemed upset and offended at the very idea of hosting a programme jointly with Mehar Bukhari, who in herself has seen a fair deal of controversy during her career as an anchorperson. He was piqued when Mehar insisted on deciding who was going to ask Malik Riaz questions. In fact, he did get up and walked out of the room when Mehar did not give in. Later, under persuasion by both his co-host and the guest, he came back. He also said: “I’ll say it on air that I’ve been ‘pressurised’ by Mian Amir Mehmood and Malik Riaz to do this programme.”
It also appeared that he was more interested in defending the political scion of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Moonis Elahi, who Mehar wanted to ask a question about from Malik Riaz, than asking direct questions from the guest.
Lucman was also adamant in bringing into debate the name of Hamid Mir, host of a well-known TV talk show, for “taking a villa” from the tycoon to which Malik Riaz resisted. Lucman apparently handed him a cell phone, in his support, on the other line of which was, he said, Abdul Qadir Gilani, the son of Prime Minister Gilani. Meantime, Maryam Nawaz sent a text message to Mehar clarifying the situation regarding allegations that Malik Riaz had given Hamza Shehbaz a bullet-proof car.
The video has become the talk of the town as almost every talk show was seen discussing it.
Hamid Mir of Geo News used the video in his programme, Capital Talk, and asked scathing questions from his guests that included Khawaja Asif of the PML-N, Qamaruz Zaman Kaira of PPP and Imran Khan of PTI. He was quick to point out the laxity shown by his colleagues in the media though he exonerated himself from all the allegations levelled against him in that interview. He insisted, “All of us journalists who have been named in the list must put ourselves up for accountability by the PFUJ and the courts.”
He was referring to a list allegedly published on the official letterhead of Bahria Town and containing names of 19 journalists with the amount of money, vehicles, property and other favours they received from the Bahria Town management. The Bahria Town management has denied publishing the list.
In their defence, the management of Dunya News claims that the controversial video footage was stolen by a rival media group and thus could have been manipulated and edited into something it never was intended for.
Mehar gave a dispassionate defence of her actions in her programme ‘Crossfire’ while claiming that nothing out of the ordinary was done during the interview. “Everybody in media does what we did,” she said. “Journalists in that list are in the process of consultation on how to take legal action against Bahria Town,” she added.
Meanwhile, sources told Pakistan Today that Lucman has been “suspended for three days” by the Dunya News management, and an enquiry has been started against him for his controversial actions during the interview. Malik Riaz had in fact warned him during the interview that he would have to answer a lot of questions about his comment with regard to “having been pressurised by Mian Amir” on-air.
Meanwhile, in a related development, Nasim Zehra has resigned from her position as the Director Current Affairs, Dunya News, in the aftermath of this leaking of behind-the-scenes video.
The turmoil at Dunya News also brings into focus the role of emerging media barons and their hobnobbing with the powers that be.
Behind the Scenes
Published on Youtube by Anumuae