Pakistan News

State news outlets left behind from PM’s Russia trip

State news outlets left behind from PM’s Russia trip

ISLAMABAD: In a baffling move which critics are viewing as the PML-N’s aversion to freedom of information, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif travelled to an important summit without being accompanied by journalists from the state-run television, news agency or radio.

Sources in the state-run Pakistan Television told Dawn that the organisation, as in the past, had proposed that a media team accompany Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Russia where Pakistan was given full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a body dominated by China and Russia.

Pakistan has been participating as an observer in SCO meetings since 2005. On the sidelines of this important event, Mr Sharif also met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, kick-starting the Indo-Pak dialogue again.

However, when PTV suggested the name of a reporter to accompany the delegation, Danial Gillani, a public relations officer for the prime minister, informed PTV authorities that no reporter would accompany the prime minister.

Traditionally, staff members of the state-run television channel, the official news agency and radio accompany heads of states on foreign visits. Their reports, footage and photographs are included in the official state archives.

However, this time, PTV was asked to only send a cameraman and the television network sent a cameraman and a sound engineer to the Russian city, Ufa, to cover the high profile summit.

A senior PTV official said that in the past, director news would finalise and coordinate the coverage of foreign visits of senior government officials. He decided the required number of people who would make the trip, and select the reporters, cameramen and engineers.

PTV also bore travel expenses of its media team but approval from the prime minister’s office is required. “Without approval, the state-run television cannot dispatch its media team abroad,” a PTV official told Dawn.

As a result of the decision to not send a media time, the prime minister’s meetings with a number of world leaders, including the Indian premier, were not covered by PTV. Instead, the organisation relied on official press statements.

“There was lack of cooperation between the cameraman in Ufa and the staff deployed at the PTV centre at Islamabad so even the footage of the prime minister’s activities in Ufa could not be aired,” said another official at PTV.

He said that on July 10, 2015 there were seven high profile events in Ufa but there is no footage available because of lack of coordination.

“Besides the SCO summit, the Pakistani prime minister’s meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the BRICS summit and the briefing by the secretaries (after the Sharif-Modi meeting) were not properly covered,” said the official.

According to him, it was not possible for a single cameraperson to cover one event, transmit the footage, and then run to cover the next one.

As a result, the state-run PTV had no option but to borrow footage from Indian channels, the official added. Insiders said that the incumbent director news Muzammil Ahmed Khan took up the matter with Danial Gillani, the concerned official at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat but no satisfactory answer was provided.

When Dawn contacted Mr Gillani, he denied making the decision to not take the state-run television’s journalists on the trip.

“I had received names from PTV and forwarded it my superiors and the final decision was taken by them,” he said.

When Dawn inquired about the identity of the senior officials who had taken this decision, Gillani suggested that the prime minister’s spokesman, Dr Musadiq Malik, may have the answers. Surprisingly, Dr Malik was also not aware of who had decided to not take PTV reporters along. The reporters of Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) and Radio Pakistan were also not accompanying the prime minister.

Mr Malik told Dawn that in order to avoid criticism for spending money on taking journalists on trips, the government decided to not take staff of private channels along. He added that if private news channels and newspapers were interested, they could have sent their staff members to the SCO summit.

However, he did not have an answer why the staff members of the official news outlets were left behind.

Published in Dawn ,July 16th, 2015

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