Fact check: Imran Khan did not pay for Zeteo interview as alleged by PML-N’s Hina Butt

Published May 30, 2024
A combination photo of PML-N MPA Hina Parvez Butt, PTI founder Imran Khan and Zeteo founder Mehdi Hasan. — online
A combination photo of PML-N MPA Hina Parvez Butt, PTI founder Imran Khan and Zeteo founder Mehdi Hasan. — online

PML-N MPA Hina Parvez Butt on Wednesday alleged that senior foreign journalist Mehdi Hasan took money to publish an interview of PTI founder Imran Khan. However, the MPA misunderstood the meaning of a “paid” article, which Hasan clarified meant that the piece was only for his paid subscription users.

The interview was conducted through a letter Hasan sent with questions for Imran, and the journalist was not allowed to ask follow-up questions.

The former premier, who is currently incarcerated at Adiala Jail in a string of cases against him, blasted Pakistan’s political and military leaders — with a special focus on his friend-turned-foe former army chief General (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa — in the interview with Hasan for his independent news platform Zeteo that was published on Wednesday.

In April 2022, Pakistan saw for the first time in its history the ouster of a prime minister through a no-confidence vote. The efforts for the PTI founder’s removal were led by the then-opposition.

For its part, the PTI accused the then-rulers of colluding with the US and hatching a regime change conspiracy to topple Imran’s government and blamed the military, which was led by Gen Bajwa at the time, for letting the then-dispensation in Islamabad go ahead with the alleged conspiracy. The US had denied any interference.

PML-N lawmaker Butt reacted to the interview by sharing a post on her X account with a screenshot of it. The caption for her post said: “Take the money. Give an interview,” insinuating that Hasan took money to publish the interview on his platform since she circled the word “paid” in the article right below Hasan’s byline.

She did not explicitly identify who from Imran and Hasan allegedly took the money and who provided the interview.

The post garnered one million views.

The fact check was carried out due to the virality of the lawmaker’s post as well as because numerous users pointed out to her that she had wrongly understood what the meaning of “paid” was in the interview’s context.

An additional context note added by users for other readers said: “She is misleading that Imran Khan is being paid for the interview which is totally wrong. Actually, the paid on the article represents that this article is for paid subscribers. Anyone can scroll down on given link to see what I mentioned.”

Investigating the actual article, Hasan said that it was an “exclusive interview” for Zeteo.

“It is, therefore, also the first piece of content since our formal launch last month that we have decided to place behind a paywall, available solely for our paid subscribers. If you have a free subscription, please do consider upgrading it today and offering your financial support for Zeteo’s journalism, especially as we begin increasing the number of paywalls around our exclusive online content,” the article said, explaining its terms of access for readers.

The article also shows a paywall behind which the rest of the interview is hidden.

Hassan, the founder and editor-in-chief of Zeteo, responded to Butt’s post, saying: “This Pakistani politician from the governing party is pushing a conspiracy theory that I was ‘paid’ to do my interview with Imran Khan. ‘Paid’ on the post below means it’s a post only for paid subscribers to Zeteo. Imagine being this ignorant and conspiratorial … and elected! Lol.”

In a follow-up post, he said: “Pretty sure that if there was a big conspiracy involving Imran Khan paying Zeteo to do an interview with him, we wouldn’t stick … ‘PAID’ at the top in plain sight to give it all away. Anyways, here’s the interview for paid subscribers.”

“Paid” subscription models on news and media websites generally provide users with access to exclusive content, such as in-depth articles, reports and features that are not available to the general public at the cost of a monthly payment.

These subscriptions often come with additional perks, including an ad-free experience, special newsletters, podcasts and event invitations. Zeteo too operates on such a model.

Therefore, the fact check determined that the PML-N lawmaker’s claim regarding Imran’s alleged “paid” interview is false. The interview article and the platform owner themselves already explained and clarified that “paid” meant the article was behind a paywall for subscribers, not that there was any transactional exchange between Imran and Zeteo for the interview to be published.


This fact check was originally published by iVerify Pakistan — a project of CEJ and UNDP.

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