Media curbs on absconders, convicts in the offing


ISLAMABAD: Apparently targeting opposition leaders, the federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to impose curbs on media coverage of convicts and absconders.

“The prime minister has given a task to the law minister to draft a law to curb media coverage of convicts and absconders,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

The meeting was informed that Maryam Nawaz had filed an application with the interior ministry, seeking the removal of her name from the no-fly list so that she could see her ailing father Nawaz Sharif in London and take care of him.

“Unfortunately, those convicts and absconders who looted public money are glorified in the media as they frequently come on TV and claim to be innocent and criticize the government and its policies,” Dr. Awan said.

Although the PM’s adviser did not name any of the convicts or absconders against whom the new law was being considered, it is believed that she was talking about former prime minister Sharif, his daughter Maryam, sons Hassan and Hussain Nawaz and former finance minister Ishaq Dar. “If they are innocent, why do they take the benefit of media and do not come to the country to face their cases,” she said without naming anyone.

In reply to a question, Dr. Awan said it was the desire of the prime minister that the proposed law placing curbs on media coverage of convicts and absconders be applied across the board. “The law minister will sit with Pemra [Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority] officials to finalize a draft of the law,” she added.

Asked how the government would create harmony with the opposition for the passage of over 150 pending bills in parliament if it [the government] continues to criticize and grill opposition leaders, she said the government had tried its best to appease the opposition and met all their demands, but they were not ready to cooperate with the former.

“On the opposition’s demand, we have introduced a bunch of bills in the National Assembly that had been passed through ordinances by the president. Similarly, production orders for detained opposition lawmakers were also issued,” she added.

Referring to the remarks made by PML-N leader Khawaja Asif in the National Assembly that “opposition will not cooperate with the government” because he believed the government was behind a recent protest outside the residence of Nawaz Sharif in London, Ms. Awan said that on the one hand, Mr. Asif was advocating for freedom of expression and, on the other, he and other PML-N leaders were offended by a “peaceful protest” in London.

Talking about the recent meeting of PML-N leaders in London, she said: “All absconders gathered in London to decide what kind of legislation should be made in Pakistan.” She said investigative journalists should probe as to who had borne the expenses of boarding and lodging of PML-N leaders.

Maryam’s application

Ms. Awan revealed that Maryam Nawaz had filed an application with the interior ministry for lifting the travel ban on her and said the matter had been referred to a subcommittee of the cabinet headed by Law Minister Farogh Naseem for recommendations which would be placed before the cabinet.

“It happened for the first time in the world’s history that a convict wants the removal of her name from Exit Control List (ECL) so that she can travel aboard and take care of her ailing father [Nawaz Sharif]. Unfortunately, it shows that Nawaz Sharif only trusts his daughter and not his sons, daughters-in-law, grandsons and granddaughters who are already in London,” she added.

During the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed concern over the performance of the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) and directed that concrete steps be taken to ensure food security in the country and bring to book the hoarders and cartels making profits.

“The prime minister had summoned the CCP high-ups for a briefing on hoarding of flour and sugar and the commission’s role in controlling this practice. They informed the meeting that most of the laws related to food security were obsolete and there was no harmony between the federation and the provinces in this regard,” Dr. Awan said.

The prime minister observed that the CCP had failed to ensure food security and issued directives with a timeline for its reforms and empowerment and tasked the law ministry with pursuing cases of stay orders taken by mills/cartels selling edible items. Dr. Awan said the cabinet also requested the superior judiciary to decide such cases on a priority basis because they were of public interest.

The water and power division informed the cabinet that when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf came to power, circular debt was very high, but it was brought down by the present government. The cabinet was informed that a subsidy of Rs242 billion was provided to protect electricity consumers using up to 300 units from the effects of fuel adjustment.

The industrial sector was given Rs29bn subsidy and agriculture sector Rs100bn. The prime minister directed the water and power division to present the summary of fixed billing for tube well farmers at the next meeting.

The oil and gas division informed the cabinet that it had inherited Rs181bn deficit due to bad policies of the previous government, but it formulated a structural plan to save the consumers from a major increase in gas bills.

“Rs10bn subsidy was given to fertilizer industry to ensure stability in the prices of fertilizer, while domestic consumers were given Rs19bn subsidy last year,” Dr. Awan said.

On public complaints about fudging in bill and meter readings, the prime minister directed the oil and gas division to activate its redundant meter manufacturing industry to reduce the extra cost of gas meters bought from the market.


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