Samina Khawar Hyat is the most powerful weapon in the PML-Q’s arsenal of five strong ladies. She is a parliamentary cheerleader par excellence. Looking back at the last four years of this Punjab Assembly, the PML-Q’s ladies’ brigade has seemed the real force on the opposition benches, rather than the large contingent of lazy PPP opposition lawmakers.
Yesterday, Hayat raised something which many have now conveniently forgotten. The media ethics storm that kicked off following the leaking of off-air footage from a TV talk show has obscured the issues raised in the two hours of footage that was actually aired. In it, a certain Malik Riaz told his side of the story and made very serious allegations about the son of the chief justice of Pakistan. The interview had far more significant content than the off-air talk.
Hayat yesterday tried to remind the house that those allegations needed probing and that the outcome of any investigation should be shared with public representatives. As soon as Speaker Rana Iqbal could tell where Hayat was headed, he turned off her microphone and refused to listen. Hayat, undeterred, just shouted louder. She reeled off a list of breathtaking expenses that Arsalan Iftikhar allegedly incurred thanks to the largesse of Malik Riaz’s son-in-law. The list was perhaps the same that Malik Riaz shared with some journalists at the beginning of this entire episode.
It is quite striking how the leaked footage has converted the debate into one about the integrity and professional ethics of the journalists who were seen colluding with Malik Riaz in the television show.
An incisive probe into the conduct and professionalism of the journalists is not a bad idea at all. But, as Hayat said, not at the cost of neglecting the charges made by Malik Riaz.
“Journalists should be put in the dock if someone has overstepped. Their assets should be investigated too. But for God’s sake, how can we ignore the allegations of Malik Riaz?” Hayat told The Tribune after the session.
“It’s not about one person. It’s about the integrity of the entire institution. I wonder what the government is doing. Why is there no progress yet on the allegations against Arsalan Iftikhar, especially after the court has told the federal government to look into the allegations?”
The fear here is that the leaked off-air footage has diverted the public attention to a new issue, though even interest in that has now waned. Both issues are of extreme importance. Ignoring one or both would damage the national interest.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012.
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