Pakistani media’s silence on NCA’s £190 million settlement with Malik Riaz

This must have been the biggest news in the last 24 hours but Pakistan's mainstream TV channels maintained total silence on it. What possible reason can be there for ratings hungry TV channels ignoring an important political development?

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The National Crime Agency (NCA) of the United Kingdom has agreed to a settlement worth £190 million with the family of property tycoon Malik Riaz. The news went viral across Pakistan and social media celebrated it for several reasons. “The £190 million settlement is the result of an investigation by the NCA into Malik Riaz Hussain, a Pakistani national, whose business is one of the biggest private-sector employers in Pakistan,” read a statement by the agency.

The agency further elaborated on the case. “In August 2019, eight account freezing orders were secured at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in connection with funds totaling around £120 million. These followed an earlier freezing order in December 2018 linked to the same investigation for £20 million. All of the account freezing orders relate to money held in UK bank accounts,” said the agency.

The Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) also confirmed the development, saying that UK’s NCA had “agreed to an out of court settlement […] with a Pakistani family that owns large property developments in Pakistan and elsewhere”.

Read more: Riaz Malik: I sold flat to pay for Bahria Karachi settlement

A statement, released from the office of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, said that Britain had agreed to an “immediate repatriation” of the funds received after the settlement and hailed it as a “success story of close cooperation between the United Kingdom and Pakistan’s multiple law enforcement agencies and efforts made since last year’s Justice and Accountability Partnership created between two countries”.

Dawn, respected English Language newspapers, carried out the news.

However, the mainstream Pakistani media did not discuss the development at length in order to carefully dissect it and assess its impacts on the future of Pakistani politics. Initially, almost every TV channel mentioned the news and anchors also took to social media to highlight the significance of the same. Between 3 to 4 pm TV channels took up the matter and offered basic facts.

Arshad Sharif, a prominent journalist, and political commentator shared a clip of his own program which he did back in 2016 and highlighted the case. He took the credit of exposing the real owners of the property and claimed to be vindicated.

He also congratulated Shahzad Akbar whiling saying:

But Arshad Sharif did not talk about the same development in his talk show which has raised several questions as to what motivates or controls the mainstream electronic media while choosing their subjects to be discussed in their programs. Political commentators and policymakers believe that it was expected that Arshad will do a hard-hitting program on the same story but at 10 pm he focused on the NAB and Shehbaz Sharif. “It was quite shocking to see that Arshad did not even mention anything about the settlement which has profound political significance,” an analyst told GVS.

Read more: NCA, UK settlement with Malik Riaz: Implications for Pakistani Politics

ARY, Geo, Dunya TV and all other mainstream news channels did not give any coverage to the major breakthrough due to some inexplicable reasons. The 92 channel is the only platform that covered the story. Dr. Moeed Pirzada in his show, Hard Talk Pakistan, took up the matter with Arif Hameed Bhati, prominent investigative journalist, PTI’s MNA Farukh Habib, and PML-N’s Shaista Pervez Malik.

In the same program, it was discussed that the Panama JIT unearthed that this property named one Hyde Park was owned by Hassan Nawaz in partnership with a company called hardstone limited. He had bought it for £11 million and after refurbishing it with another £4 million (total cost £15 million) sold it to a company ultimate holding owned by Ali Riaz for £42.5 million. Therefore, the current development may have serious challenges for the Sharif family.

Political experts are mulling to determine the significance of the development and the possible reasons behind pin drop silence of the mainstream electronic media. The pertinent question in this regard is what would have happened if there was no social media. Similarly, there are questions regarding the future of social media and television. Will television continue to ignore what is happening on social media? Who will set the agenda for TV channels in Pakistan?

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