It would be interesting to count up how many major news stories in recent years have broken as a result of video footage taped and then leaked to the media. However, the video that has appeared on YouTube featuring Malik Riaz in an ‘interview’ staged by a private TV channel may have shaken people’s faith in the workings of the media like nothing else. We have got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the great and the not-so-good manipulate media agendas; and how self-same ‘independent’ media persons are happy to be complicit in off-air manipulation. The entire talk show was planted, apparently in yet another attempt to defame the chief justice of Pakistan, with links between Malik Riaz the prime minister’s son Ali Qadir Gilani and the hosts of the programme clearly established by the leaked footage. The entire episode makes a mockery of the concept of a free and independent media going about its business without fear or favour. Leaving aside the blatant pursuit of self-interest by all of those involved in the production, what came across strongly was the lack of professional integrity on the part of the ‘journalists’ involved, their willingness to be complicit in what amounts to a deception of the audience by allowing ‘planted’ questions and the porosity of the format in general. By Friday afternoon this unsavoury episode was claiming heads. The director of current affairs of the channel under question was said to have resigned in protest at ‘unprofessional practices’, and one of the two anchors was also said to have tendered resignation. To paraphrase an indelicate saying – the solids have hit the ventilation and the body-count may be expected to increase. We have questions to ask. In the first place, why should journalists who demand respect for themselves and lay claims to integrity have this kind of contact with those who can and do influence them through various means. If they genuinely wish to protect their reputation they should stay well away. A battle has now begun among journalists with accusations and sometimes abuse used as weapons to blame others and save oneself, while public faith in the media and some channels stands badly affected.
But we must look deeper than this. While the issue of the media’s role and all that happened is significant, what is even more important is that we may now have evidence of a conspiracy to damage the chief justice and to possibly force him out of his post. The leaked video has exposed a plot hatched in the higher echelons of power. The truth has been laid out, in all its ugliness for everyone to see and the government has in fact suffered far more damage than the court. A full Supreme Court meeting has taken strong notice of the programme and the leaked footage, held that the show amounts to contempt of court and asked Pemra what it is doing in this regard. Where the government stands in all this is clear in what the information minister has been doing; he tried first – while speaking at a Geo talk show – to reduce the whole episode to rivalries between anchors and posing to keep his distance, and then spoke later in the day to one of the hosts of the planted show, supporting her lame justifications. He was not being very careful about the distance he had been so fond of keeping only hours ago. But the question, once again, is: how big is the attempt to bring down a judiciary that has time and again proved its mettle? Are shadows other than Malik Riaz lurking in the dark, waiting to jump into the limelight on their turns? We still do not know. But the book of hidden secrets may just have begun to open.