Off-screen whirlwind

April 10, 2022

The press in Islamabad have been through a whirlwind series of events this past week as they continue to follow the political situation

Off-screen whirlwind


ournalists in Islamabad have had their busiest week yet this year. All eyes were glued to the parliament and the Supreme Court between quick lunches, late dinners and hurried teas.

The whirlwind of uncertainty slowed down on Thursday night when the Supreme Court gave a judgment pegging the situation back to April 3.

Islamabad is host to over 3,000 journalists, a majority of them registered with the National Press Club (NPC). Aside from registered journalists, there are swarms of social media ‘reporters’ seen at the Parliament House and the Constitution Avenue. Armed with their phones and a ring light, they invite people to opine about hot topics.

Social media ‘reporters’ tend to have a much larger impact on the general public, as people scroll endlessly through their phones for news. They were the first in the chain to create online content that was political in nature, prompting others to follow suit.

Pakistan had a history of slow digitisation. However, things changed when Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf decided to explore social media as a publicity avenue, with huge teams dedicated to content creation, trend analysis and counter argument research. These teams set a benchmark that modernised the national discourse.

Feeling the winds of change, the PTI mustered up its supporters at Parade Ground on March 27.

One of the party’s biggest achievements has been social media engagement with its public gatherings. This meeting was no different. With a careful use of drones and still cameras, the crowd was touted to be 1 million-strong in a city of 2.5 million people. The place can host only about 20,000 people.

After the PTI, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman brought in his army of seminarians, who dispersed peacefully after making their mark on Kashmir Highway. Maryam Nawaz followed the Maulana and led a march of her own.

The city administration managed all these crowds very well. They made sure that there was no violence and the road leading to the Parliament House was not blocked. Both opposition workers and supporters of the government were treated reasonably.

Pakistan had a history of slow digitisation. Things changed when Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf decided to explore social media as a publicity avenue, with huge teams dedicated to content creation, trend analysis and counter argument research. These teams set a benchmark that modernised the national discourse.

Since a foreign country was openly accused of distributing money amongst parliamentarians to topple the government, arrangements were also made to protect the Diplomatic Enclave.

Once the embassies used to be scattered all over Islamabad. When threats from violent mobs became a common occurrence, they were all asked to relocate to the Diplomatic Enclave. A visa collection and delivery centre was set up on Chatha Bakhtawar Road and a bus service was started.

Complaints about the high fares and unprofessional handling of visa processing by the collection centre are frequent, but these measures have solved the security problems for the Enclave.

The Bari Imam squatter town is stuck like an uneven wedge between the Enclave and the Quaid-i-Azam University but no government has put it out.

The city administration made sure last week that no protesters enter the Red Zone. Extra care was taken to protect parliamentarians. Some of them were harassed at a hotel in the Red Zone regardless.

The Islamabad administration has learnt the way to manage protesting crowds. Now they need a solution for the mass littering that accompanies political rallies. When these crowds leave, heaps of garbage are left behind, keeping the sanitation department occupied for a long time.

When Law Minister Fawad Chaudhry recently invoked Article 5 of the constitution against all opposition parties, the journalists sitting in the National Assembly gallery were barely able to make sense of the situation. Whispers of “This is happening” could be heard as Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri turned down the no-confidence motion.

Till Wednesday, the reporters were divided in reporting the latest developments. However, when Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry misbehaved with journalist Matiullah Jan during a press conference, the NPC and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) unanimously condemned the minister.

On Thursday, the court struck down the deputy speaker’s ruling, ordering for the vote on the no-confidence resolution to go ahead on Saturday. In less than a week thus, the country witnessed countless reports starting with the subversion of the constitution and dissolution of the National Assembly to a return to the vote of no-confidence.

Journalists face many problems in dealing with this flood of information. Those not registered with the Supreme Court office are not allowed to enter the court. TV cameras are also not allowed on the court premises. This is why people see a line of cameras running parallel to the fence of the court on their screens. Eyes continue to be glued to the Parliament House as the media awaits new developments with bated breath.

The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.   Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ   Email:

Off-screen whirlwind