ISLAMABAD, June 16: The leaked video footage of two TV anchors featuring their controversial conversation with property tycoon Malik Riaz has not only put credibility of journalists under a cloud, but also raised a question why cameras and recording devices remain operational during commercial breaks and informal discussions in TV programmes.
Background interviews with a number of TV hosts, producers and technicians working in different organisations showed that such pilferages and thefts can easily be avoided by adopting certain checks in studios and following the available SOP (standard operating procedure).
Renowned TV anchor Syed Talat Hussain told Dawn that he had made it a practice in very early days of his career to mute audio and block visuals to the main control room from the studio during commercial breaks and informal sittings.
“I have been doing this since long. I became more careful after Dr Amir Liaquat’s episode,” he said, referring to the leaked footage of the host of a popular religious programme showing him using slang and objectionable language while talking to his guests and other staff in the studio during unguarded moments.
Mr Hussain was of the opinion that such embarrassing pilferages could be checked by adopting the SOP for media organisations all over the world.
Sabir Shakir, the bureau chief of ARY News in Islamabad, endorsed Mr Hussain’s viewpoint, but said it would be impossible to stop video theft if someone from within the organisation decided to violate the procedure.
Moreover, Mr Shakir claimed, it was very easy to grab the transmission of a TV channel by an individual or any other organisation if they had specified equipment.
He explained that most of the talk shows and other programmes involving politicians, lawyers, news analysts and other experts on current affairs were conducted in Islamabad, being the capital seat, but shows were telecast and recorded at the main control room in Karachi or Lahore, where head offices of most of the channels were situated.
The audio-video beam from the studios, he said, was sent directly to the central control room via satellite through an allocated frequency which was known to even a junior technician working in a channel.
Giving an example, he said it was a routine practice that the state-run Pakistan Television informed other private channels about their frequency address so that they could get the “clean feed” of any function for onward live telecast with their own logos.
He was of the opinion that the leaked video of the exclusive interview of the property tycoon on Dunya TV showing the two anchorpersons - Mubashar Lucman and Mehr Bokhari - exchanging highly incriminating remarks with Malik Riaz had been the work of an outsider.
Nadeem Ihsan, a senior manager technical (operations) in a news channel, said according to the SOP for live shows, the audio should be muted and the source should be changed from cameras during commercial breaks. He said his organisation had strictly been observing the SOP, but regretted that generally people working for TV channels did not care about it.
Editor (North) DawnNews Mubashar Zaidi said everyone was now talking about the need for observing the code of conduct without knowing that no such code was available.
The director news of a private TV channel said that after the release of the footage his management had directed studio crew to adopt certain special measures to avoid such incidents as it could cause embarrassment not only for the channel but also for the guests. Despite repeated attempts, no-one from the Dunya TV management agreed to speak on the issue on record.
However, the channel issued an official handout saying: “The management of Dunya TV regrets to admit a serious breach of its security protocols which resulted in theft of its ‘off-air’ footage by elements who wanted to scandalise both the judiciary and the media.
“Dunya TV has lodged an FIR against the theft of its ‘off-air’ footage. Dunya TV will be extending full cooperation to the two-member inquiry committee formed by the Supreme Court to unearth the facts of a well-planned conspiracy against the judiciary and the media.
“It must be noted that Dunya TV did not air any ‘off-air’ footage of its recording which was stolen by unknown conspirators and leaked on the internet the same way social media has been used to malign the honourable Supreme Court.
“The management of Dunya TV did not prompt any of the two anchors to ask any particular question at any stage during the transmission in question. It must be noted that the management of Dunya TV facilitates its editorial staff to the maximum, even at the expense of commercials, in special transmissions as has been happening in the past.
“We have also launched an internal investigation into the unfortunate incident and action will be taken against anyone found involved in facilitating the conspirators from within the organisation.”
* Outside illustration by Abro