Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz members have accused the media of exaggerating the extent and severity of the dengue outbreak so they can use it as a stick to beat the Punjab government with.
In a three-hour sitting of the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday, several PML-N members complained that there had been misleading news coverage of their efforts to battle the dengue outbreak. Opposition members retorted that the PML-N just didn’t like what the media was reporting: that the provincial government had mishandled a major public health crisis.
Though the dengue outbreak was scheduled for debate on Friday, the subject was brought up on a point of order shortly after the start of the sitting at 11:35am.
Farah Deeba of the PML-N said television news channels were misleading the public. She said some channels had run pictures of her and reported that she had been infected with dengue, but this was not true.
She said that she had been working day and night conducting insecticide spray campaigns and checking up on patients in hospitals in her constituency. Exhausted, she had got a medical check-up and been advised to rest a few days. The media had then run the story that she had become a victim of dengue, showing that channels were so keen on stories critical of the Punjab government that they aired them without verification.
Deeba said the media was going out of its way to run stories critical of the Punjab government. She said shots of hospital patients that accompanied dengue stories showed people who weren’t even infected with dengue.
Arifa Khalid Pervez of the PML-N said that the coverage of the outbreak appeared politically-motivated. She said when she had joined the fumigation drive in her constituency, she had been portrayed as interrupting the spray campaign. When she had stayed away from the spray campaign, she had portrayed as neglectful of her constituents. She said that the media should suggest solutions to the crisis rather than simply look for ways to criticise the government.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah urged members to restrict their criticisms to specific news channels or publications that had transgressed rather than ‘the media’ as a monolith. He said there were good journalists and bad journalists.
Speaker Rana Mashhood Khan said that the house had formed a committee to discuss media issues and this was still active. He said legislators should discuss such matters in the committee before bringing them up in the house. He asked the media not to “politicise” the dengue issue.
Shaukat Mehmood Basra, the deputy parliamentary leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), said the media was simply highlighting instances of government negligence and the Punjab government should listen to them rather than go into denial.
“The media is reporting facts that the government doesn’t like,” Basra said. He said up to 5,000 people were visiting public hospitals every day to be tested for dengue. The Punjab government put the death toll at 12, he said, but the media put the toll at 30 and according to his sources more than 60 people had died. He said that the media was not maligning the Punjab government, merely advising it.
He said that the government had not even sprayed insecticide at the MPA hostels. “Instead of blaming the media, government officials and ministers should accept responsibility for their failure to conduct a timely spray campaign and resign,” he said. Basra later walked out of the assembly hall in a token protest.
Zaeem Qadri of the PML-N rejected charges that substandard insecticide was being used in the spray campaign, saying they had been tested and cleared by four laboratories. He said the Punjab government’s response to dengue had been far more effective than the Sindh government’s response to the floods.
Opposition Leader Raja Riaz said that the district coordination officer had ignored repeated calls from former minister Farooq Ghurki for the fumigation of his area, and Ghurki had now come down with dengue. He blamed the crisis on the chief minister, saying he had not even appointed a health minister. He said that the dengue mosquito was a “stubborn pest, just like the chief minister”.
Also on Wednesday, Minister Ahmad Ali Aulakh answered questions about the Livestock and Dairy Development Department. Three bills were to be introduced in the house including the Punjab Power Development Board Bill 2010, but they were not. The sessions was adjourned at 2:45pm when the lack of quorum was pointed out.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2011.
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