The brouhaha over the Dunya News video leak has shifted the spotlight from the real issue of accountability to the dark underbelly of the television news networks. Though it fills me with a sense of gratification that within days of writing an article for this newspaper, (“Modern-day gladiators”, June 8), the thrust of the article was reinforced; general public witnessed on TV the macabre machinations that have brought infamy to electronic media, especially the talk show hosts. But talk show hosts are just one aspect of the bigger picture and the singular focus on the television news networks is misleading. Malik Riaz, the billionaire wheeler-dealer, levelledallegations against the son of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, accusing him of graft. That remains the real issue.
The reputation of the business tycoon has been under the cloud ever since he set foot in the real estate industry. Although money cannot buy everything, Malik Riaz has tried to attempt it anyhow. His rags to riches journey was possible only because as an outsider to the system, he realised that he could wheedle his way in only through sheer ingratiation and doling out as much money as was the worth of the person he had to deal with. He has been unabashed about his ways and has called out those who deny this as hypocrites. Given his ways, it should not be a surprise that he tried to sway the courts by attempting to cohort the son of the chief justice. What is surprising, albeit shocking, is how easily the prodigal son allowed himself to enter into a situation that has charred not only him but also his father.
Justice Chaudhry’s defence of being unaware of his son’s excesses is disingenuous and improbable. Quoting religious scriptures andabsolving himself from the responsibility of ensuring that his son does not enter into dubious dealings is a pale and unfortunate justification. Questions about the activism of the chief justice in investigating charges of corruption anywhere and everywhere except home have surfaced, inevitably, and cannot be easily brushed under the carpet. This, however, seems to be the effort. The insinuation that asking the son to clear his name and justifying how he managed to erect a business worth Rs900 million is akin to limiting the independence of the judiciary is rather ludicrous. The Lawyers’ Movement was iconoclastic in essence. It is surprising that those who were at the forefront of this movement have themselves turned a blind eye to the core of their struggle. Recent attempts to cement the judiciary as a holy cow, when all others have been shattered, reek of selective morality and principles.
The billionaire tycoon and the high-rolling son must stand in the dock without any discrimination. The recent judgments by the Court give an impression that the judges have tried to steer themselves clear from such an eventuality, despite throwing the ball in the government’s court. The selectively televised full-court meeting last week gave a partisan and expedient impression, especially when the chief justice reprimanded the obsequious chairman of Pemra for footage that was leaked on Youtube in the first instance. The formation of a two-member judges committee that would delve into media regulation will be a positive step only if it does not attempt to shield the judges or their families from any accountability or scrutiny.
The self-righteous electronic media, meanwhile, is licking its wounds. Given how things work around here, the wounded beast will be back on its feet soon, with an even more aggressive posture. The beleaguered anchors have already heaped the blame on the powerful owners of television networks. The owners, the master puppeteers, remain safely bunkered, unscathed by the public opprobrium. In this game of smoke and mirrors, all power players are guilty of hubris, expediency and selective moral.