Covering the familygate -by Arif Jamal

The role of the Pakistani media is far from satisfactory in this case as in most cases
By Arif Jamal

The surfacing of what has been described as the familygate has put the Pakistani media in the dock. But unfortunately, for the wrong reasons.

The familygate has raised many questions which need to be answered. This article focuses on the following two questions: Did the media act inappropriately in covering or, more precisely, not covering the latest scandal in Pakistan? Did the media play in the hands of Riaz Malik or, as some say, the government or, as some others say, the military establishment?

Between June 4 when journalist Shaheen Sehbai discussed the scandal on the newly launched Washington Beat channel on YouTube and June 12 when Malik Riaz appeared in the Supreme Court with his dossier on Dr Arsalan Chaudhry, a large number of journalists, anchorpersons and commentators severely criticised the Pakistani media for having covered the scandal. The common argument was that no journalist has the documentary evidence to substantiate the allegations. They also tried to prophesy that Malik Riaz was using these journalists and he would deny having spoken to them in the court. Some even criticised Mr Sehbai for discussing it on the social media instead of the newspaper he edits. They argued that this would not have happened in the West.

Those who were making such criticism were wrong on all counts. The available evidence shows that Riaz had started showing the dossier to his specially invited guests as early as six months ago. Although he did not give them the copies of the documents, he allowed them to cite and quote him.

In other cases, this would have been enough for a reporter to write the story or dig out the story. Journalistic accounts are not meant for courts of law and are rarely backed by documents. Riaz’s guests disappointed him by withholding the news. The news was, however, spicy enough to become a hot topic among the chattering classes of Pakistan. In the last one month or so, the same people started referring to it in the social media. However, the scam hit the headlines in Pakistan once Mr Sehbai discussed it on the YouTube. Had the media played in the hands of anybody, the scam would have broken several months ago.

The wealthiest people in any country do and say and make news. Malik Riaz is no doubt one of the richest persons in Pakistan. Had he been a citizen of the United States or a European country and paid such money to the son of that country’s Chief Justice, he would have gotten the news out in six hours instead of six months. The Supreme Court emerged as a new kind of taboo subject in the wake of the restoration of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. It would one day give legitimacy to military action against the present PPP government.

Many journalists and anchorpersons and commentators have been almost begging the Supreme Court to call in the armed forces against the government. According to Tehrik-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, the army chief had refused to act under his orders when Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry privately sounded him out. The hope is still alive. The surfing of this scam was bound to smash all hopes of bringing down the government.

The role of the Pakistani media is far from satisfactory in this case as in most cases. Like always, the Pakistani media has been selective in its coverage of this scam. The media is clearly biased against Riaz although some of his allegations are prima facie correct. There is no evidence of CJ’s involvement in this scam at the time of writing this story. However, there is enough evidence that some of the questions raised by Malik Riaz at his press conference on Tuesday are valid. There is enough evidence that the CJ was made aware of his son’s involvement in the scam by a female journalist, through a common friend, and Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan several months ago. Why did the CJ not take action or suo moto action before June 4?

The Registrar of the Supreme Court has at least accepted on behalf of the CJ that the latter met with Riaz before his restoration in broad daylight if not in the darkness of the night. Under the discipline of the Lawyers’ Movement, the CJ was not supposed to meet any government intermediaries. The media is avoiding them as plague.

Many journalists, anchorpersons and commentators have been criticising Malik Riaz for taking oath on the Holy Quran at his press conference, but the same people conveniently ignore the fact that the CJ had done the same earlier.

Dr Arsalan is reported to have built a huge business empire in the last 3-4 years. He claims his net worth is around Rs900 million. He also claims that he had returned whatever Bahria had paid him or spent on him. The real question for the media to raise is: Would someone whose total worth is just Rs900 million spend Rs340 million on pleasure trips to London and Monte Carlo? There are many other questions the media need to raise but avoids it.

Many journalists, anchorpersons and commentators see the government behind Riaz. Others see the military establishment pulling Riaz’s strings. The real issue is whether Riaz’s allegations are true. He should be given enough opportunity to prove his allegations against Dr Arsalan Chaudhry and Dr Arsalan to disprove them. The son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry must be treated as any other accused like the sons of Prime Minister Gilani or any other politician.

Source: The News