Convicted politicians not to get media time, decides government

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet decided to block media coverage and interviews of politicians who are convicts or under-trail prisoners and directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to fulfill its “responsibility” to discourage airing of such programs by electronic media.

A cabinet meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan, also unveiled details of foreign visits of former president Asif Ali Zardari and former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, observing that the trio had made 245 foreign visits on which over Rs3.5 billion was spent.

On the issue of the video leak related to an alleged conversation between Accountability Court Judge Arshad Malik and Nasir Butt, a close aide of Nawaz Sharif, the cabinet reached the conclusion that as the video was made public by Maryam Nawaz, daughter of Mr Sharif and a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), therefore the onus to prove the allegations against the judge was on her and not the judge and the judiciary.

Addressing a post-cabinet meeting press conference, Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood said Prime Minister Imran Khan and members of his cabinet unanimously decided that no convicted or under-trial prisoner should be given media coverage or should be allowed to give an interview. He quoted the prime minister as saying, “those who have plundered national wealth and brought the country on the verge of collapse should not be glorified. No democracy permits interviews and media coverage of those who have been arrested on charges of corruption.”

He, however, said the government had not directed Pemra to close down any private TV channel as it was an independent body competent to take its own decisions.

Pemra suspended transmission of three private TV channels a couple of days ago for airing an interview of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari who is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau and facing a trial in a fake accounts / money laundering case.

The authority also took off air an interview of the former president which was being conducted by anchor Hamid Mir on July 1, on the premises of the Parliament House where the former had come to attend a National Assembly session after the house’s speaker had issued his production order.

The government is reportedly of the view that the production orders of Mr Zardari were issued only to enable him to attend the assembly session and not for giving any interview to ‘undermine’ the judiciary and trial court.

The education minister said the cabinet decided that Pemra would be asked why it was allowing something which did not take place in any democracy.

Mr Mehmood said the production order of another detained opposition leader and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif were issued to enable him to attend the National Assembly session but he summoned National Accountability Bureau NAB) chairman retd Javed Iqbal to a house committee meeting to grill him over the investigation being conducted against him (Mr Sharif) in a corruption case.

“When Shahbaz Sharif’s production orders were issued, he summoned the NAB chairman who had arrested him. In which democracy do such things take place,” the minister said.

He said ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) believed in freedom of the press as both the party and the media had stood together during the former’s struggle for 22 years.

Video controversy

After a discussion on the purported video of Judge Arshad Malik who had convicted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the cabinet came to the conclusion that the onus to prove the authenticity of the video tape was on Maryam Nawaz and not the judge or the judiciary. “It is the responsibility of the PML-N to get forensic audit of the video tape conducted,” Mr Mehmood said.

“The PML-N has a history of attacking judiciary and the fresh video leak is an attempt to make the decisions of the accountability court controversial,” he said.

The education minister claimed that former president Zardari made 134 foreign visits on which Rs 1.42bn was spent. Of the 134 visits, 48 were private tours, he said.

Nawaz Sharif as PM, he said, made 92 foreign visits at a cost Rs1.83bn and 25 of them were private visits.

During his 10-month tenure as prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi made 19 foreign visits and Rs 259.5 million was spent on them, the minister said.

“On the other hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to stay at the residence of Pakistan’s ambassador during his coming visit to the US,” he said, adding that the members of the PM’s delegation would stay at a three-star hotel.

Structural reforms

The cabinet also approved structural reforms in all 441 institutions, departments and organisations working under the federal government.

Adviser to the PM on Austerity and Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain presented a report on restructuring of the institutions.

The cabinet approved formation of committee — comprising relevant secretaries, Shafqat Mehmood, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Shahzad Arbab, an adviser to the PM, and Kashmir Committee chairman Fakhar Imam — to implement the recommendations made in the report.

Dr Hussain said of the 441 institutions, it was recommended that 43 should be handed over to the newly formed body Sarmaya Pakistan for privatisation, 14 should be handed over to the provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan, eight departments should be dissolved, 35 should be merged with others, 17 should be restructured and 324 should be retained by the Centre.

The cabinet also decided to reduce Gas Infrastructure Development Cess to provide relief to the farmers in provision of urea fertiliser.

PML-N reaction

Reacting to the cabinet’s disclosures about foreign visits of Nawaz Sharif, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said in a statement that the ex-PM paid official visits for the sake of the country and “not for begging as is being done by Prime Minister Imran Khan”.

She said $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was one of the results of Mr Sharif’s visits. “Nawaz Sharif brought the country’s growth to 5.8 per cent and provided jobs to the youth while you [Imran Khan] are making young people jobless,” she added.