PTI ministers cry foul as Maryam admits audio clip about refusing ads to certain TV channels is legit
The government on Wednesday called out PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz after she admitted that an audio clip of her issuing instructions to refuse advertisements to certain TV channels was genuine.
But the PML-N played down her acknowledgement, saying there was no need to kick up a storm because Maryam was talking about her party's ads.
Earlier in the day, Maryam addressed a wide-ranging press conference centred around another audio leak that has dominated headlines in recent days: the one concerning former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and his purported statement that Maryam and her father PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif were jailed on the instructions of "institutions".
But a reporter asked her a question about her own audio clip that has been doing the rounds on social media. In the eight-second clip, Maryam can be heard saying: "No ad at all will be given to Channel 24, Samaa, 92 News and ARY."
Maryam admitted that the voice in the clip is hers, saying: "I am not saying it has been compiled from different [separate] occasions. It is my voice."
When asked about the clip again, Maryam said it was an "old" clip from the time she was managing the PML-N's media cell. But she refused to comment anymore on it, saying she could do an entire press conference on it if she wanted to but that wasn't the subject of her presser today.
During her father Nawaz's government, Maryam was heading the then little-known Strategic Media Communication Cell (SMCC) operating out of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Set up with the special approval of the then prime minister as part of the information ministry in late 2014, the SMCC quickly evolved into a powerful unit, working under the watchful eye of Maryam, Dawn reported at the time.
Reacting to Maryam's admission, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the PML-N vice president had confessed to "controlling" advertisements to major TV channels.
"This is another confession concerning serious financial irregularities. She says she was running the party's media cell. After this confession, I hope she will also divulge details about the properties owned by her and her family abroad," he tweeted.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, who also choose to comment on the same part of the press conference, said that Maryam had "finally said something truthful".
"The point is on what authority did she give these orders? Did she assume Nawaz Sharif was running his personal kingdom where she as his daughter could pass official orders?" the minister asked.
Defending Maryam in the face of the government criticism, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb in a statement said "Maryam Nawaz's conversation was regarding party advertisements; this is an old audio on which Maryam courageously spoke the truth."
Aurangzeb emphasised that decisions regarding party ads "are taken by the party itself".
"When one hasn't done anything wrong then this is how one openly confesses," the spokesperson said, adding that "there was nothing to hide in the audio."
"There is no need to stir up a storm over this audio; attention cannot be diverted from the real issue."
Govt to conduct 'serious inquiry'
Addressing a press conference alongside Energy Minister Hammad Azhar in the evening, Information Minister Chaudhry said Maryam had admitted to using advertisements to "influence the media". The ministers also played the PML-N leader's clip during the presser.
Chaudhry claimed that the party media cell that Maryam oversaw used approximately Rs10 billion to fund federal government advertisements. "She gave this money to the TV channels she favoured," he said.
The minister refused to share the names of these channels but said he would hand over the record to the media for the "benefit" of the journalistic community.
He said that Rs10 billion were used in Islamabad, and that the same media cell was also controlling ads in Punjab. "In total, between Rs15-18 billion were distributed among journalists and media groups."
The minister stated that Maryam's admission, in addition to being "immoral", was also illegal. "A private person handling public funds constitutes a crime under the Federal Investigation Agency," he said.
He added that the PML-N leader's comments were an "eye-opener" for genuine journalists in the country.
"When it comes to advertisements, we are not even close to Rs15-18bn, and we are also bound by a Supreme Court notice," the minister said of the PTI government.
He said the government had decided to conduct a "serious inquiry" into the whole affair.