By Murtaza Ali Shah –
LONDON: Pakistan Awami Tehreek paid for the travel of several journalists from London to get “favourable coverage” for Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s arrival in Pakistan to launch the self-proclaimed “green revolution.”
Journalists who were picked up to travel with TUQ on Emirates Airlines were carefully vetted and issued air tickets and travel allowances in a clandestine manner.The PAT has confirmed to The News that 12 journalists had travelled with Dr TUQ to Pakistan, costing an estimated £1,200 per head, but The News understands that the right number is 13.
Four journalists have confirmed to this correspondent that their air tickets were arranged in London by some journalists who had promised “positive” and “praiseworthy” coverage to TUQ and that they had entered into agreements with PAT’s UK leaders that they will not report anything that goes “against” the party.
It is unclear whether TUQ was aware of what some of his advisors in the party did in an attempt to buy media favours. However, the media savvy PAT chief did emotively stressed after leaving the stranded plane at Lahore airport on June 23rd that electronic and print media people were his “Harawal Dasta” – the frontline soldiers or backbone of his revolutionary plans.
The tickets were booked from London Heathrow to Islamabad via Dubai and for the return flight to London Heathrow. All the journalists who availed free tickets remain in Pakistan until today. The journalists who received tickets and cash are from three private channels (5 tickets), a daily newspaper, an online news agency and a news website.
A senior PAT leader in London, on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the tickets operation was looked after by Minhaj-ul-Quran International’s senior UK representative Dawood Hussain Mash’hadi who used at least three media persons as front men to run the operation of picking up the journalists.
In an e-mail response to The News, Mash’hadi claimed that he only “provided the traveling information” of TUQ’s trip to any journalist who inquired about it “so that they can also book their flights accordingly”.
Raheeq Abbasi, a close aide of TUQ, said the expenditures were “not made for this purpose by us from MQI or PAT account” but he didn’t deny that other means were used to accommodate journalists. He said that “some were sponsored by their respective TV channels whereas for some others sponsorship was arranged” through a body of Pakistani journalists. The News understands that this body was used as the cover to issue tickets and to gain pledges. The journalists confirming that their air tickets were provided by PTA sources deny having received anything from their respective media organisations.
A PAT source in London, on condition of anonymity, said the funds for tickets to journalists were provided by a Norwegian Pakistani businessman who was once linked with PML-N but didn’t provide his name.
“We were asked to provide positive media coverage. It was a good opportunity to avail the chance and pay a visit to our families. So I agreed like all others. We were particularly reminded not to say anything critical and provide non-stop positive coverage,” remarked one of them while requesting anonymity.
The Emirates Flight EK-612 from Dubai was scheduled to land in Islamabad at 7:30 am on 23rd June. But, citing security reasons, the Civil Aviation Authority on the instructions of the federal government diverted the flight to Lahore.
Owing to consequent inconvenience to passengers and several hours of delay in its return journey for Dubai from Islamabad, scheduled at 9:30 am the same day, the Emirates Airlines is reportedly considering suing the government and may impose a ban on TUQ.
It is learnt through reliable sources that the majority of over 250 passengers on broad EK-612 were overseas Pakistani supporters of PTA who sat amidst ordinary passengers in economy class, while TUQ, along with few advisors, was in business class.
While the “positive coverage” from inside the plane showed PTA supporters raising slogans in support of TUQ but they didn’t show how the ordinary passengers were shouted at, scaremongered and harassed as exit points of the plane were blocked in groups.
The News has received photographic evidence of the traumatic experience that ordinary passengers had to undergo inside the stranded plane. For clear reasons, the media team accompanying TUQ did not report anything on how the passengers protested while they were kept in hostage like situation, their exit was blocked by the PAT men and their please to leave the plane were ignored.
“They kept blocking the door, which was clearly meant to prevent us from leaving the plane. They refused to comply with repeated appeals by the captain to go back to their seats and several attempts by the cabin crew to physically vacate the area around the exit doors,” said one passenger.
At least two private TV stations have shown footage of how passengers expressed their outrage at the airport lounge. The angry passengers were heard shouting “shame, shame, shame…”
Courtesy: The News – 28th June 2014