Cabinet urges PEMRA to discourage narrative of under-trial persons


–PM directs finance adviser, FBR chief to keep check on prices of essential items

–Shafqat says production orders should not be misused for political purposes

–Says Zardari and Nawaz spent Rs1.42bn and Rs1.84bn on foreign trips respectively

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday expressed concern on the use of electronic and print media to promote the narrative of convicted persons.

Minister for Federal Education Shafqat Mahmood, while briefing the media on decisions taken during the cabinet meeting in Islamabad, said that the cabinet took notice that in any democracy the use of media for promotion of personal interests or to put national institutions under pressure by convicted criminals or under trial persons is never allowed.

In a veiled reference to former president Asif Ali Zardari whose recent interview was pulled off air, he said “A person accused of undermining the future of the country — a country, which is steeped deep in Rs30,000 billion of debt — accused of taking advantage of his office, of having illegally earned billions and accumulating billions abroad, appears in court and has flower petals showered on him and then he gives an interview to the media.”

“You are under arrest and have been accused of looting the nation’s wealth […] you are let out briefly to attend parliamentary sessions and you are giving interviews to the media and having flowers showered on you,” he added.

He said that a production order’s purpose is to call in a member of the assembly to cast his vote so that on the passing of a bill, their absence is not taken advantage of by the government. “But they come and give speeches and interviews to the media,” he said.

“If I go into the history of the production order […] let me tell you how this tradition came into being. This is not a law, it is a custom. This custom came into being because when there is a vote of confidence or some such matter where the government is formed on the basis of votes, the production order guards against the fact that the government could arrest all the MNAs (to get its way). The production order is there so that they (all MNAs) can cast their vote,” he explained.

“But here… when Shehbaz Sharif’s production orders were issued, he actually had the NAB chairman — who had arrested him — summoned. In which democracy do these things take place?” Mehmood asked.

“But these sorts of traditions have no mention in the history of democracy anywhere,” he reiterated.

Talking about alleged censorship in the country, the federal minister said that the government is not, in any way, against the freedom of the media. “Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) believes wholeheartedly in the freedom of the press. We have stood with the media and struggled with them in our 22-year history,” he said.

He said that the cabinet emphasised that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) should fulfil its responsibilities to discourage the trend.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan directed Advisor on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBR) Chairman Shabbar Zaidi to ensure that prices of essential commodities, including flour, ghee and pulses are kept to a reasonable level so that there is no additional burden on people of lower income backgrounds,” he said.

Shafqat said that the premier expressed deep concerns on the trend of granting extensions in employment to some persons of certain organisations and criteria published in the media to select them. “The prime minister said that strict action will be taken against the responsible persons of government organisations who show bias or favour while recruiting candidates for public sector jobs,” he said.

He further said that the cabinet showed concern over the fact that former foreign minister Khawaja Asif was a salaried employee of a foreign organisation during the time of his minister-ship which is not only against his position but also contravened his oath.

“The cabinet directed the Interior Ministry to furnish a report after completing investigations of this violation,” he added.

The federal minister said that the cabinet was given a detailed briefing on number of foreign visits of former president Asif Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the expenditures incurred to the national exchequer.

While giving details of the visits, he said that Asif Zardari, during his presidency, undertook 134 foreign visits and spent 257 days abroad. He also took 3,500 people along with him on these trips, Shafqat added.

“The visits cost Rs1.42 billion to the national exchequer at a time when the country was under heavy burden of debts,” he said.

The federal minister said that Zardari visited Dubai 51 times and spent Rs100 million on these visits. Of these, 48 visits were private, he added.

“He spent 320 million rupees on 17 visits to the UK,” he further said.

The minister said that Nawaz Sharif, during his premiership, remained out of country for 262 days. He spent Rs1.84 billion on his foreign visits, he added.

“Nawaz Sharif visited London 24 times and spent Rs223.9 million on these trips. He visited Saudi Arabia 17 times costing Rs120 million to the treasury,” he said.

Shafqat said that PM Imran will visit the US this month on the invitation of US President Trump.

He said that it has been decided that the prime minister will stay at the residence of Pakistani ambassador to the US to save costs. He said that every effort will be made to minimise expenditures during this visit.