By Shaheen Sehbai
THE MEDIA and the political scene in Pakistan has just gone through a mini tornado which could have uprooted many big and small establishments, all because an experienced and white-bearded media mogul over-estimated his intellect and stepped on a landmine.
The story of the audio-video tapes of NAB Chairman and what happened in the studios of NewsOne TV, owned by Tahir Khan, who also owns the Interflow advertising giant and who had come so close to PM Imran Khan that he became a Special Assistant within weeks, was revealed to me by a close friend.
Whether it was a deliberate attempt to shake the system or whether it was an innocent mistake that blew up in his face, the lovingly nick-named old fox, Tahir Khan stands out as the big loser as his channel lost credibility, he had to wind up his so-called “earth shattering scoop” show within minutes and had to apologise. He also lost his job at Bani Gala and more importantly the trust of Imran Khan.
What happened was that the lady Tayyaba, who was trying to plant these tapes for months, brought them to a new anchor-cum-journalist, who basically is a lawyer and not a seasoned and well-grilled and groomed newsperson, Barrister Ehtesham, and offered him the scoop.
Barrister could not guess the intensity of the subject and what could happen if this boomeranged or blew up to take down NAB or his own TV.
He rushed to owner Tahir Khan who told him to judge it on merits, if this version is to be believed.
What Ehtesham was about to do was bomb the entire Accountability Process and also demolish the position that Tahir Khan had acquired in the corridors of powers with Imran Khan as the PM.
My version is that Barrister Ehtesham was over-excited but Tahir Khan was the one who had to take the decision. I have strong doubts that TK, as his friends know him, was so naive or innocent that he allowed his new anchor to decide on merits, without realizing the consequences.
He would never do that but that is the story that is now in circulation. Tayyaba was also called to the studios of NewsOne as the channel announced to break it the next day. A huge build-up was created and her 9-minute interview was also recorded which would have followed the story.
Top anchors and politicians were lined up for instant analysis and opinion and for two hours the channel would have received a huge rating.
But that was not to be.
Tahir Khan’s mistake was that he did not take PM Imran Khan into confidence or any of his key advisers, as they would have told him not to do it. He crossed the red line or simply detonated the suicide bomb.
Within minutes the earth started shaking and Tahir Khan rushed to the live studio to stop the show. Lady Tayyab who was still in the building, sitting in the room of Dr Shahid Masood, as per Dr Shahid himself, was to appear live but was quickly ushered out.
As TK realized that he had blundered, the show went dead. An apology was aired and within the next few minutes Imran Khan fired TK as he went ballistic.
This latest episode of his media team, after dismissal of Fawad Choudhry and induction of Yusuf Beg Mirza, Khan would have definitely realized what kind of destructive media advisers he had collected around himself.
Barrister Ehtesham was immediately called by you-know-who in Lahore to come and explain what he had done and why. Being a lawyer he tried to argue but for several hours he was grilled but not in any physical way.
The tapes, as all know had been circulating for many weeks and months and no one was buying the story because such tapes are frequent on the social media and not just one celebrity, almost every known figure has faced them.
At best this was a personal matter, and at worst an unethical, nonprofessional act but not a crime in any way. Another view was that the lady had trapped the chairman and this she almost confessed in her video statement later, when she said she had almost “seduced” the chairman to record and then expose him as he was carrying out an investigation against her and her husband, who is still in NAB jail.
TK’s calculation that the moment his channel would air the tapes, other channels would jump on the bandwagon and with non-stop analysis and comments, the story will fly high and create a huge impact, forcing the NAB chairman to resign.
To TK’s bad luck no channel picked it, or the post-scoop management was so quick and efficient that no follow-ups were allowed or attempted. Some discussion did take place but mostly it was in favour of the NAB Chairman.
Immediately the possibility of the accountability process coming to a halt was facing the government, the deep State and the political spectrum.
Those under the NAB radar would have instantly benefited and we would have seen a beaming and smiling Asif Zardari speaking to reporters in his meaningful style claiming victory that he had neutralised the NAB Chairman. After all it was Zardari who had publicly stated some time back that NAB Chairman would not have the courage to call or try him. “How dare he do it to me,” he had boasted.
Then as bad luck would descend on Zardari and other NAB victims, the story was immediately drowned in other developing media events like the PTM attack on the army post and many good news on the economic front.
The NAB Chairman was supported by a whole range of analysts and commentators on the social media and privately was advised by influential quarters not to yield to this blackmail.
“If this time the blackmailers succeed, there are dozens of tapes involving many others who will get courage to come out and it will create a bigger mess,” the advice went on.
Shaken but in control, the retired justice hung on and NAB continued its process. It was decided the chairman would stay, no matter how noisy the parliament and opposition become.
They did not get too noisy. Bilawal Zardari knew there were videos and pictures involving him by the dozen already on the Internet and social media, as did many others including friends of Ayaan Ali. It is an undeniable fact that all cell phones have audio and video capability. Almost every meeting or event is recorded by one or the other, even inside drawing rooms and bedrooms.
The PEMRA did not come hard on NewsOne but just issued a soft notice of a week to explain. In sharp contrast other channels were ordered recently to shut down instantly if they erred.
But TK has taken a big blow. His channel would survive as would Barrister Ehtesham but in my view the episode has brought down a media icon, just because he thought he was more intelligent than half.
Every rise has a fall, as they say.