- And boot lickers
The fact that the rank and file of the ruling PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf) are afflicted by the foot in the mouth syndrome is well known by now. But the audacious ‘boot stunt’ perpetrated by federal minister Faisal Vawda in full view of a live TV audience the other day- even if judged in the backdrop of the low bar set by the Party- takes the cake.
PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Authority), in unholy haste, slapped Kashif Abbasi, the host of the controversial show, with a two months ban. But after a hue and cry raised by media bodies, especially the newly formed Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND), an apology from the ARY News channel and the host anchor, the ban was promptly lifted.
However, the erring minister was merely rapped on the knuckles by his boss the prime minister, forbidding him to appear on talk shows for merely two weeks. A patently rude Vawda brought a military boot to the show and insulted not only the military but also the guests, namely the PPP’s (Pakistan People’s Party) central Punjab president Qamar Zaman Kiara and PML-N’s (Pakistan Muslim League) senator Javed Abbasi.
The duo promptly walked out. But no apology was proffered to them either by the erring anchor or Mr Vawda who had implicitly accused them of being Army boot lickers by supporting the recently passed Services Bill in the parliament
Mr Abbasi is back in business while the minister for Water Resources still retains his free pass to insult his adversaries with impunity, displaying the crudest of manners. Had he not enjoyed the blessings of the prime minister; he would have been summarily sacked.
That is why the likes of Vawda, Sheikh Rashid and Murad Saeed (to name only a few) the prime minister’s favourites. Khan seemingly feels comfortable in the company of super rich brats in his cabinet
This is not the first time (nor will be the last) when media persons got the wrong end of the stick from ruling party stalwarts. Mr Vawda and quite a few of his colleagues have a foul mouth while there are others amongst his flock who do not mind beating up media persons.
For example, Mr Fawad Chaudhry has manged to earn an unsavoury reputation of beating up adversarial anchors at wedding parties. Sami Ibrahim and only recently Mubashir Lucman have been at the receiving end of his stick.
The minister of Science and Technology has the gift of the gab and does a reasonably good job of being omnipresent on the screen despite losing his job as Minster for Information to Firdous Ashiq Awan. He has not been reprimanded in the slightest for his uncouth behaviour.
And why would he be? This is the kind of ethos prevalent in the corridors of power starting from the prime minister himself.
The PTI chief, while in the opposition, used to laud the role of a free press. Many a times he criticised curbs on the media. Ironically in one of his speeches he claimed that only corrupt governments impose curbs on the media.
But now the shoe is on the other foot (no pun intended). The media is portrayed as an arch villain in numerous cabinet meetings. Different measures to curb its freedom are openly suggested by the same ministers who love to be seen in different talk shows in the evenings.
Thankfully, owing largely to the resilience of a shrinking section of the media, a modicum of dissent still manages to find its way into print and to a lesser extent on some news channels. Nonetheless, the sycophants in the inner sanctum of the government keep on harping in front of the prime minister that the government is doing a reasonably good job but it is not being properly portrayed by the media.
That is why a vast array of a motley crew of spokespersons are frequently briefed by Khan himself. The usual theme is to amplify the achievements of the government especially in the economic field. At the same time, the lack of progress is blamed on bad policies and alleged corruption of the PML-N and the PPP governments of the past.
The fact that so far as the common man is concerned, there are hardly any achievements of the past one and a half years to crow about, is conveniently swept under the carpet. In one such recent meeting a spokesperson reportedly had the gumption to complain to the prime minster that it is no longer credible to blame the country’s present travails on the doorstep of previous governments performance or lack of it.
But such candour gets lost in the cacophony of prevalent sycophantic narrative. It is also quite bizarre that the economic team itself hardly holds any pressers or briefings.
That is why making media the convenient scapegoat has become the norm rather than the exception. Those ministers and spokespersons who castigate the opposition in the crudest of terms earn brownie points with the PM.
That is why the likes of Vawda, Sheikh Rashid and Murad Saeed (to name only a few) the prime minister’s favourites. Khan seemingly feels comfortable in the company of super rich brats in his cabinet.
If Khan did not approve of their consistently errant behaviour they would have been shunted out of the cabinet by now. They simply represent the virulently aggressive culture of the PTI. Interestingly no political party in the past has behaved in such a manner towards the media.
However, there are chinks in the armour of the media as well. No one can condone the alacrity with which PEMRA banned Kashif Abbasi without following proper procedure.
But Mr Abbasi and his management should be held accountable as well. Some questions beg an answer: why was Mr Vawda allowed to bring in a boot to the studio and place it in full view of the camera? Why didn’t the errant anchor, responsible for maintaining decorum in the studio not stop the unsavoury episode by immediately going off air or taking a break?
In the absence of honest answers, a miasma of doubt will remain that it was a hatchet job enacted for the sake of better ratings. Or perhaps there was some other hidden agenda behind this.
The more worrisome issue however remains; slowly but surely whittling away of media freedom. And such charades are not serving the cause of a free and unbiased media.
The DG ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) Asif Ghafoor has been replaced with another major general, Babar Iftikhar. The outgoing military spokesman’s tenure was marred with increasing curbs, most of them hidden, on the media in the name of national security.
For the sake of enlightened self-interest as well as the ubiquitous national interest, this tendency should be shunned by the DG designate. The ISPR must restrict itself to its mandated role rather than sticking its fingers in every pie.
As it is, owing to the precarious security and regional situation, it has more than enough on its plate. A spokesperson should be, as much as possible, faceless rather than constantly endeavouring to be news himself.
In this context using official and personal twitter handles to engage in polemics with journalists is highly undesirable as well.