Even as Pakistan grappled with various names for its latest scandal — CJgate, familygate or Bahriagate — the raging debate over allegations against the Chief Justice's son took another turn on Thursday that put the media in the dock; opening up a ‘mediagate' to the scam that from day-one threatened to open a can of worms affecting all institutions.
The media became the story of the day as the Supreme Court on Friday took cognizance of an off-air conversation between two television anchorpersons and the property tycoon, Malik Riaz, who has accused Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry's son, Arsalan Iftikhar, of taking huge sums of money from him on the promise of influencing cases involving his business.
On Wednesday night, Dunya TV had carried a detailed interview of Mr. Riaz. Several hours later, a video of what transpired among the three during the commercial breaks in the programme was uploaded on YouTube and went viral by Thursday evening. In this 30-minute video, the anchorpersons are seen getting directions to allow Mr. Riaz uninterrupted say during the programme.
The identity of the person who made the calls to the two anchorpersons is unknown but another caller is said to be Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani's son Abdul Qadir Gilani. Though there is no confirmation as to whether it was really Gilani Jr., the anchorperson who received the call is shown identifying him as such while handing over his telephone to Mr. Riaz who then addresses the caller as ‘Bunny'.
Later, the second anchorperson gets a text message from former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's daughter, Maryam, clarifying that her cousin Hamza Shahbaz Sharif had refused to accept a bulletproof car offered by Mr. Riaz. Also, time and again, during the breaks, the property tycoon is seen priming the anchorpersons to ask him certain questions that would allow him to hold forth on issues he wanted to be highlighted.
The video went viral round about the time another list of journalists alleged to be on the take from Mr. Riaz began circulating online.
This was a longer list than the first which had eight leading names on it. Both have been rejected by Bahria Town, Mr. Riaz's property company. Nonetheless, the two lists have had anchorpersons air their personal rivalries against each other in public with some dragging their rivals to court.
The recording was screened during the full court meeting convened on Friday afternoon by Mr. Justice Chaudhry to take stock of the situation arising out the allegations and a committee has been set up to investigate the matter and see whether there is a conspiracy to malign the courts given the telephone calls received by the anchorpersons.
On Thursday while instructing the Attorney General to act against Mr. Arsalan and Mr. Riaz, the Supreme Court had in its order commented at length on media ethics as it was the decision of some television anchors to talk about the “whispering campaign” about the Chief Justice's son that made the Court take suo motu notice last week. “Requisite due diligence prima facie appears not to have been undertaken” before reporting on the matter, the Court noted.