ISLAMABAD, June 14: Malik Riaz strode on to the national political scene vowing to expose the court but he has ended up facilitating an expose of the media, the climax of which came with the release of footage in which two talk show hosts interacted with the property tycoon in a manner that suggested an interview more pre-planned and coordinated than a ‘hard talk’.
Since the familygate scandal broke out, the media in Pakistan has not covered itself with glory. It has been under discussion just as much as Riaz and his alleged links with Arsalan Iftikhar.
Initially the scepticism was targeted at the manner in which the scandal came to light, in which well-known talk show hosts spilled the beans only to later admit that there was little proof of its authenticity.
Shortly after this, a twitter war broke out as anchors accused each other of being in the pay of the country’s most well-known property tycoon. One accused the other of being linked to Riaz; the other hit back on twitter and said the first was in the pay of the Americans. Accusations on social media and indirect ones in their own shows proved to be just as entertaining as the antics of Riaz.
But on Thursday the talk show hosts overtook the SC and the tycoon. The messengers became the story themselves when the footage of the interaction of Mubashir Lucman and Mehr Bokhari with Riaz on Wednesday night were uploaded on the internet. They had interviewed him for their channel in a special programme.
The footage of their unguarded conversation with each other and with Riaz as they discussed the interview during commercial breaks was a damning indictment of the electronic media. Even on the night of the interview, there was an opinion that the two hosts had not grilled the tycoon as much as they could have because they were busy jostling with each other for space and time.
But this still did not prepare everyone for the internet edition of the interview.
The nearly 30-minute long video shows the two discussing questions with Riaz.
At one point, Ms Bokhari is heard saying: “Say what you want…what question should we ask. It will appear as though it is planted…it is, but it shouldn’t appear it is.”
Both the anchors have also been shown receiving instructions from an “unknown” person, asking them not to “interrupt” Riaz during the interview and provide him unlimited time.
What has lent credence to the perception that the entire exchange was pre-planned are the unverified rumours of Ms Bokhari and Mr Lucman being among those media people who have received money and other benefits from Mr Riaz. In fact, the two bring this issue up with their ‘guest’ and insist that he has to clear this up before the interview ends.
At one point, Lucman tells Riaz, “Give me a villa like you have given Hamid Mir [who hosts a show at Geo TV]”. He goes on to add during a phone call, ostensibly from Abdul Qadir Gilani, the prime minister’s son, that Riaz had stopped him from naming Mir on air.
Mr Lucman then hands over the phone to Riaz who is heard calling Mr Gilani “Bunny” and asking if everything is going well. The name dropping does not end here.
Ms Bokhari also informs Malik Riaz that she has received a message from Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, that Hamza Shahbaz turned down the bullet-proof car offered by Mr Riaz.
The businessmen can also be seen choosing questions that he is to be asked. “You ask me as to why I am involved in all the deals,” he tells the two sitting in front of him.
But while the anchors refrain from firing at Riaz they do attack each other as they fight for more airtime. Bokhari calls Lucman childish when he walks out of the studio.
Later, Riaz is seen asking someone to tell his daughter to call Lucman and console him. The reason for his concern is the interview; the business tycoon says: “you are spoiling my programme.”
An angry Lucman returns only to threaten that he will say on air that he was pressured into doing the show by Riaz and Mian Amir, the channel owner.
The comfortable and friendly relationship between the two hosts and the controversial property tycoon and the manner in which Riaz seems to be calling the shots have combined to paint a damning picture.
By evening it was evident that rival channels were not going to pass up on a good story. News bulletins ran the footage and talk shows had a field day. Some attacked the two anchors while others used it to illustrate the already legendary control of Riaz over the media.
The SC’s criticism of the media in its short order the very same afternoon lent more irony to the situation. As this footage was doing the rounds, the SC said that “It is worth remembering that ultimately every person and every institution is the custodian of his/its own reputation and integrity. If we don’t guard our reputation the honourable people of Pakistan will be justified in pointing fingers at us. The same applies to all other institutions, including the media.”
The two talk show hosts remained incommunicado all day long though Ms Bokhari in her Thursday night show ran the footage in order to offer a clarification. Interestingly, her defence was mostly limited to herself; she announced that the management had suspended Mr Lucman and ordered an inquiry.
She conceded only to one planted question in the interview, but said that she had refused to ask the question as it was based on Riaz’s information – that the chief justice had arranged a room for his son at Balochistan House.
She also denied receiving any benefit from Mr Riaz and said that she along with others whose names have appeared on an unverified list planned to sue Mr Riaz as the list doing the rounds appears to be printed on a Bahria Town letter head.
Mr Lucman could not be contacted.
Hamid Mir, the anchor of Geo TV, when contacted, also denied that he had received any villa from Riaz. He said that an inquiry should be ordered and Riaz should be asked to provide the list of the journalists he had given benefits to. He said he wanted the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) to take notice of the allegations and of the presence of “black sheep” among the journalists.
Mr Mir termed it a “planned conspiracy” to damage the credibility of both the judiciary and the media.
When contacted, PFUJ president Pervez Shaukat said that he had already convened a meeting of the Federal Executive Council in Lahore to review the situation.