ISLAMABAD: A possible showdown between the media and government was averted on Wednesday evening, after the information minister brokered reconciliation between her cabinet colleague Anusha Rehman and a reporter covering Supreme Court proceedings.
The two came face to face earlier in the day when Azam Gill, a reporter for a private TV channel, began filming Ms Rehman inside the Supreme Court building following the Panamagate hearing.
This irritated the minister, who snatched the reporter’s mobile phone and, after deleting the footage, told him that this act could have landed him behind bars for 14 years under the new cybercrime law.
Ms Rehman then left the apex court to attend a contract awarding ceremony for mobile broadband internet/3G services in the Kohistan region.
Talking to reporters at the event, she directed a question towards the mediapersons there. “You are women too... how would you feel if you saw somebody filming you secretly?” the minister asked.
“I only told him not to film me and informed him what the law was, and he apologised to me,” she said.
But outraged media persons were already up in arms against the government.
At the Supreme Court, PML-N leaders Khawaja Saad Rafique, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhary and others were not allowed to hold their customary presser.
Despite repeated efforts, reporters and cameramen refused to let the minister for railways speak and they continued to shout him down, raising slogans against the government.
Then, Ms Aurangzeb intervened and attempted to pacify the protesting journalists, saying that she would hold a meeting in her office to resolve the matter.
But the journalists demanding an apology from Ms Rehman refused to heed her words and the journalists dispersed without hearing the government briefing.
Mr Gill then lodged a complaint with Secretariat police, seeking the registration of an FIR against the IT minister. National Press Club President Shakeel Anjum announced that Principal
Information Officer (PIO) Rao Tehsin was not welcome at the club, while the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) summoned a meeting to plan a protest for the next day.
However, in the evening, a timely intervention by Ms Aurangzeb and Mr Tehsin finally defused the situation.
Both sides were asked to meet at PTV Headquarters, a neutral venue. The media was represented by RIUJ President Afzal Butt, RUIJ Secretary Ali Raza Alvi and Press Club Secretary Imran Dhillon.
Both Ms Rehman and Mr Gill were invited to the meeting, where the minister apologised for her behaviour, saying it was a gut reaction. “Apart from being a minister, I am woman too. I felt insecure when I saw somebody filming me.”
Following the rapprochement, Mr Gill withdrew his application for an FIR.
Talking to Dawn after the meeting, Ali Raza Alvi acknowledged the need to educate journalists in the code of ethics and on cybercrime laws.
Terence J. Sigamony, president of the Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS), acknowledged that filming was not allowed inside the apex court building, but was quick to add that the minister’s behaviour was unethical.
“Media persons are allowed to bring their phones inside in view of their special needs due to the nature of our jobs,” he said.
Mr Sigamony said that Azam Gill was not a PAS member, adding that all their members observed the highest standards of journalistic ethics.
“We will hold a meeting to finalise a code of conduct for our members, but this should have been done by the RIUJ,” he said.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2017