Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said on Tuesday that journalist Azam Chaudhry — who is reported to have claimed he was “taken off air” from the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) for asking a question related to press freedom from the prime minister — was never an employee of the state-run broadcaster.
“He is and has only been a member of an issues-based analyst pool for PTV. He has not been removed from this pool and has not been asked to leave. Nothing of the sort has been communicated to him,” the minister said.
Aurangzeb’s clarification comes after several local media outlets reported that Chaudhry, who is also the president of the Lahore Press Club, was “told he was no longer with PTV”.
According to a report published in the Express Tribune, the journalist received the message after he attended a press conference in Lahore, where he had asked a question from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif regarding “diminishing space for freedom of speech” in the country.
The report said Chaudhry had asked a two-part question from the premier in which he had pointed out restrictions on the media across the country and enquired when these curbs would end.
In response to the journalist, the premier had expressed his disapproval of the restriction but then deflected the query to Aurangzeb.
The Express Tribune report quoted Chaudhry as saying that “he was informed that PTV would be doing a panel program from the Governor House after the PM’s press conference, where he would also be joined by Sajjad Mir and Salman Ghani”.
But he was told after the press conference that he was “off aired and told that he was no longer with PTV”.
“The journalist said that he was part of the pioneer team of the program ‘Ba-Khaber’ that started airing last year. He added that according to the last communication he had with PTV, he was not with them officially as there was nothing given to him in writing as he was on contract and they were not bound to give him any written intimation,” the report added.
Responding to the reports today, Aurangzeb said they were “completely false and baseless”.
Chaudhry is still a “part of PTV Lahore analyst pool”, she maintained.
She stated that the view and opinions of the journalist were “known to the government” when he was invited to the press conference.
“If the government wanted to suppress his voice or questions, he would not have been invited and given the opportunity to ask his questions. The prime minister answered his questions in detail. I answered his questions as well,” the minister added.
She went on to say that unlike the previous PTI government and its “fascist” prime minister — who Aurangzeb claimed was declared a “predator” by Reporters Without Borders — PM Shehbaz and the incumbent government “firmly believed in media freedom”.
“The PTI government used to only allow selected reporters and journalists to its fascist PM’s press conferences. The present government ensures that PM Shehbaz Sharif’s press conferences are open to all reporters and journalists.”
The information minister further said the reports published on the matter did not take the government’s point of view into account. “This is unprofessional and falls short of journalistic ethics and standards,” Aurangzeb added.