Pakistan: Media management hides casualties to protect powerful tycoon

Asia Human Rights
May 11, 2017
Reproduced with Permission
Asian Human Rights Commission

A criminal nexus between the police, tycoon and media was exposed one week after the collapse of an artificial stadium killing three persons and injuring some 150 persons. When the 22-feet stadium collapsed on 28 April 2017 during the shoot of a game show aired from ARY Channel, a private television channel, the organizers, Bahria Town Islamabad and ARY digital, callously turned off the lights so that the incident could not be filmed. As a result, many of the injured could not be promptly helped and remained trapped under the rubble for several hours. Eyewitnesses recounted how instead of helping the injured, the organizers saved their valuables and fled the scene, leaving the beleaguered families high and dry. The video of the accident can be viewed here .

Moreover, the staff that remained were more interested in keeping visitors from taking pictures or making videos of the mayhem. Eyewitnesses noted that the Bahria Town administration did not let journalists record or report the incident by stopping them at the main gate of Bahria Town. Bahria town's administration and ARY channel strictly restricted other media channels from recording or publishing this criminal incident.

With many people injured in the collapse, three to four persons were packed inside each ambulance. Several of the severely injured people are still in intensive care units at various hospitals. Many of them suffered back injuries resulting in paralysis for life. Thirteen days after the incident, the police are yet to file any report, due to the influence wielded by the powerful tycoon and landlord owning Bahria Town, a private mega housing complex where the TV programme was being shot. He has used his connections with the armed forces, politicians, journalists and media houses to cover up the tragedy.

To distance itself from the incident, Bahria Town has sought explanation vide a notification on May 6, asking the ARY management to account for the tragedy. It is a farce that "breaking news" in Pakistan's electronic media consists of the birth, wedding and divorce of a celebrity, while the death of several individuals fails to garner media attention. This speaks volumes about the journalistic integrity of the channels claiming to report facts and exposing the corruption of bureaucrats and politicians. In a country where the likelihood of a media trial is greater than a judicial trial, and where hardened criminals are made presentable to the public as neo saviors, the death of people due to the negligence of a TV channel is hardly surprising. The fearless champions of the right to information themselves kept the news under a tight wrap so as not to tarnish their image.

This is not the first time that Bahria Town Islamabad has witnessed death caused by negligence. In 2010, five spectators of a drag race at the housing complex were killed when one of the sports cars skidded and ran over them. The racing event was held without permission, as the Rawat area police station in Rawalpindi refused to give the NOC. The Bahria Town administration then informed the police that the race would be held in the jurisdiction of Islamabad, but they still held it in Rawalpindi. The incident was hushed up and to date no one has been arrested or charged for the manslaughter.

The criminal negligence of the country's most powerful property tycoon has never made it to the media debate that leaves no stone unturned to "expose the truth". This is because the elitist Bahria group headed by property tycoon Malik Riaz has virtually bought every single influential individual in the country, from politicians to decorated war veterans. A list was allegedly published by the tycoon in which the names of almost all the anchor persons of the electronic media, editors and reporters were mentioned who are on the pay roll of Bahria Town.

The ex-president of Pakistan is also a business partner of Malik Riaz. The military top brass is said to have received many plots of land worth billions in exchange for allowing the society to use the name of Bahria (Navy) and to acquire agricultural land belonging to poor farmers. Similarly, many journalists have also reportedly received land for writing articles painting Malik Riaz as a god fearing philanthropist with a heart of gold.

The myth of independent media uncolored by bias and prejudice has been debunked once again. The news of this incident would not have seen the light of day had it not been for social media. The victims are left in a lurch with no sign of any compensation from the government, Bahria Town or ARY channel.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the government to fix responsibility and give exemplary punishment to those found responsible for the incident. In addition to giving compensation to the victims, the organizers should pay for their medical expenses as well, particularly for those the incident has maimed or paralyzed for life. PEMRA should also take notice of the lack of journalistic investigation and honest media reporting of the accident that caused the death of several attendees.