Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan on Wednesday explained the grounds on which an interview of PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari was pulled shortly after it started airing on a private news channel on Monday.
The government's spokesperson provided the explanation in response to a question from Senator Ghous Mohammad Khan Niazi in a meeting of the Senate's Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting.
She said that though the issue was not a part of the meeting's agenda, she could explain it in detail.
Awan said that the interview was pulled under Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) rules for three reasons.
"[Firstly], an under-trial suspect who is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) can not appear in an interview before cameras in the parliament," she explained.
"[Secondly] the permission of the National Assembly speaker is a prerequisite for bringing in cameras into the parliament," she said, adding that "[Finally], there is a designated spot outside the parliament for media talks [where such interviews should be held]."
"The interview was [therefore] conducted in violation of the rules of parliament," she concluded, adding that Pemra rules too do not allow the broadcasting of an interview of an accused who is under investigation and on remand.
Later, when some journalists asked her why an interview of Taliban terrorist Ehsanullah Ehsan was allowed to air (yet a former president's interview was blocked), she rhetorically asked: "Was Ehsanullah Ehsan an under-trial prisoner under investigation by NAB [when his interview was aired]? Was he on remand? Was he interviewed inside parliament with three [unauthorised] cameras]?"
Character assassination, fake news discussed
Senator Faisal Javed, who was chairing the meeting, rejected a proposal by Senator Rehman Malik to invite Asif Ali Zardari to the committee's next meeting "as a victim of character assassination". Javed said that Zardari is already a member of the parliament and another committee already exists to address the issue.
Malik also raised the issue of fake news and said that relevant laws should be amended to stop fake news. He stressed the need to develop a consensus on measures to curb the menace.
"I am not raising the issue for my party only but for all political parties. A sub-committee of the standing committee should be constituted to compile suggestions," he said.
Awan also shared the concerns of Malik on fake news but said that the government does not want to impose censorship. She agreed that there are apprehensions about fake news and everyone wants a responsible media.
She said that the government had already tasked the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to devise a strategy against fake news. She also stressed the need to bring about reforms in Pemra.
Talking about social media, she regretted that "unguided missiles" are fired from social media platforms. She also stressed the need to devise a mechanism to monitor social media.