ISLAMABAD: A new Pandora Box in shape of audiotape, allegedly of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president Maryam Nawaz and her party’s former information minister Pervez Rashid, Tuesday, went viral in which the duo purportedly exchanged views about the “bias” and “neutrality” of some journalists of a private television talk show ‘Report Card’.
The leaked clip appears to be from October 2016 when then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had returned from a three-day trip to Azerbaijan. That was also the time when the Panama Papers were released and the senior Sharif was not enjoying friendly terms with the establishment.
During the chat, names of participants of the programme were discussed with their performance. And Pervez Rashid can be heard telling ‘barking dogs’ to these journalists.
Names of journalists and anchorpersons Hasan Nisar, Irshad Bhatti, Mazhar Abbas, Babar Sattar and Hafeezullah Niazi were particularly mentioned during the conversions. Both the leaders did the ‘postmortem’ of comments by the mentioned anchor-persons.
Though there was no immediate response from the two PML-N leaders about the veracity of the audiotape, private media channels were running comments by Minister of State for Information Farrukh Habib and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill criticising the duo for allegedly controlling the media in their party’s tenure.
In the audiotape, which has not been independently verified, Pervez Rashid can allegedly be heard referring to a talk show of a private TV channel and sharing his views purportedly with Maryam Nawaz about the journalists’ “bias”.
Purportedly, Maryam could also be heard instructing Pervez Rashid to approach management of the private TV channel and discuss with them the “bias” of the journalists mentioned in the audiotape towards the PML-N’s then government.
Maryam could also be heard allegedly talking about delivering “boxes” to some journalists (Nusrat Javed and Rana Jawwad) as gifts, for speaking in favour of the PML-N. These gifts were stated to were brought by “Abbu” from Azerbaijan’s visit.
No official statement by the PML-N was issued till filing of this report either to confirm or refute the audiotape.
Meanwhile, the PML-N Quaid Nawaz Sharif tweeted an old alleged leaked audiotape of the former chief justice Saqib Nisar later in the day.
“Finally! “Mr Clean” has been exposed as a corrupt and dishonest political con-man. And the other dishonourable man who declared him ‘Sadiq & Amin’ to engineer my ouster has already been heard admitting his crime. Divine justice is done, only the legal one remains to be seen & done!” Nawaz Sharif tweeted, apparently in reference to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s scrutiny committee’s report on the PTI’s foreign funding case.
The leaked clip gave the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) another opportunity to pounce on the opposition PML-N, calling it a “modus operandi of the party of Sharifs to manage the media”.
The PML-N, on the other hand, expressed anger over the recording of telephone calls of their leaders and demanded an investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn; “The real crime is secretly tapping telephone calls and private conversations in violation of the constitutional right to privacy and then leaking them without consent of the people involved.”
“The matter must be investigated and the culprits found guilty of intrusion of privacy given exemplary punishment in accordance with the law,” she emphasized.
Discussion on audio in Senate
The audio leak also came under discussion in the Senate where Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani decided to give a ruling later whether such a matter could be allowed to be debated in the upper house of parliament.
According to details, in the audio clip, Pervaiz Rashid can purportedly be heard saying: “In the Geo News programme ‘Scorecard’, Hasan Nisar has been included in it who only abuses us (PML-N) a lot. Mazhar Abbas, another participant of the show, spins things to make fun of us.” At this, Maryam Nawaz allegedly says Irshad Bhatti was also part of this programme who, Mr Rashid said, “talks very vulgarly [about PML-N leadership]”.
The duo also discusses that there was no one in the talk show who could speak in favour of the PML-N. “Hafeezullah Niazi, another participant, does not give our point of view but the way they abuse us he [Niazi] treats Imran Khan the same way. They have removed him and also discontinued his column,” Mr Rashid is alleged to have said.
Maryam Nawaz says she would first ask Hafeezullah Niazi the reason for his removal from the panel and then take up the matter with the Jang Group owner.
“It will become an imbalanced programme. If there was a check on Imran Khan, you have ended it and imposed barking dogs on us,” Mr Rashid allegedly says.
“Indeed, this is bias,” Ms Nawaz responds and towards the end of the clip she allegedly passes instructions that a pair of baskets that former premier Nawaz Sharif brought from Azerbaijan be sent to journalists Nusrat Javed and Rana Jawad.
Earlier, when Maryam Nawaz had openly owned at a press conference a previously leaked audio clip in which she was giving instructions regarding not releasing ads to certain media houses, the ruling PTI had declared that the PML-N leader’s admission was a clear proof of the party’s media management at the top level and hinted at taking her to court.
Third leaked audio tape
The latest clip is the third leaked audio purportedly of Maryam Nawaz within a few months. In one such leak, she was heard praising her “media management” skills for pouncing on the Imran Khan regime through two news channels. “Look at my media management. Geo News and Dunya News have ruined them.”
During her father Nawaz Sharif’s last government, she was heading the Strategic Media Communication Cell from the Prime Minister Office.
In the Senate on Tuesday, Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem, on a point of order, said the Maryam-Pervaiz audio clip had exposed the real face of the PML-N towards the media.
“In the clip, it appears as if a teacher is telling a student about media management and even used words such as ‘barking dogs’ for media persons,” he said, adding that the PML-N’s narrative of media freedom was based on lifafa —a reference to alleged bribes offered to journalists.
“The PML-N is known for running media campaigns against its opponents and what it had done to the late Benazir Bhutto was known to everyone,” he maintained.
At this, PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui requested the chair to give a ruling whether a debate could be allowed on audio and video clips uploaded on social media. “If a debate is allowed then we have numerous such clips,” he declared.
Dr Wasim said that on a similar audio clip purportedly of former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar, the PML-N leadership was seeking relief from the court.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani said he would later give a ruling in this regard.
State Minister for Information Farrukh Habib tweeted: “The PML-N has a vast experience of blackmailing and controlling freedom of media. The PML-N always kept the media under pressure to use it for its vested interests.”
He further said the alleged audio clip of Maryam Nawaz and Pervaiz Rashid had again exposed how the PML-N was playing tricks to control media freedom.