ISLAMABAD - Federal Cabinet has expressed concern over the use of national electronic and print media to promote the narrative of convicted persons.

“The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) will be asked to justify the airing of interviews of the convicted and under-trial prisoners,” Minister for Federal Education Shafqat Mahmood said while briefing the media on the decisions taken by the cabinet, which met here on Tuesday with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair.

He said that the cabinet took notice that in any democracy the use of media for promotion of personal interests or to put national institutions under pressure by convicted criminals or under-trial persons is never allowed.

The cabinet emphasized that the Pemra should fulfil its responsibilities to discourage such trend, the minister said and added that in no democracy, anywhere in the world, media gives coverage to under-trial prisoners.

“A person accused of undermining the future of the country, which is facing Rs30,000 billion of debt, by taking advantage of his office, of having illegally earned billions and accumulated billions abroad, appears in court and has flower petals showered on him,” Shafqat said in a veiled reference to former president Asif Ali Zardari.

“You are under arrest and have been accused of looting the nation’s wealth. You are allowed to briefly attend parliamentary sessions and you are giving interviews to the media and having flowers showered on you,” he remarked.

The minister emphasised this does not take place in any democracy anywhere, adding that it’s understandable if a person is out on bail: he gives interviews and does whatever he thinks.

“But you come and give speeches and interviews to the media,” he said, directly addressing Zardari, who is facing a corruption probe launched against him by National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

He said that the cabinet will ask Pemra how it is allowing something which does not take place in any democracy.

The education minister then sought to assert that the ruling party is not, in any way, against the freedom of the media. “Tehreek-i-Insaf believes wholeheartedly in the freedom of the press. We have stood with the media and struggled with them in our 22-year history,” he said.

“But these sorts of traditions have no mention in the history of democracy anywhere,” he reiterated.

The minister noted that the production order’s purpose is to call in a member of the assembly to cast his vote so that on the passing of a bill, the government is not taking advantage of their absence.

He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed Advisor on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Chairman FBR to ensure that prices of essential commodities including flour, ghee and pulses are kept to a reasonable level so that there is no additional burden on the people of lower income.

He expressed deep concern over the trend of granting extension in employment to some persons of certain organizations and criteria published in the media to select them.

The Prime minister said a strict action will be taken against the responsible persons of government organizations who show bias or favour while recruiting candidates for public sector jobs.

The cabinet showed concern over the fact that former Federal Minister Khawaja Asif was a salaried employee of a foreign organization during the time of his minister-ship which is not only against his position but also contravened his oath.

The cabinet directed the Interior Ministry to furnish a report after completing investigations of this violation.

He further said that the cabinet was given a detailed briefing on number of foreign visits of former President Asif Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the expenditures incurred to the national exchequer.

Shafqat Mehmood while giving details of the visits said that Asif Zardari during his presidency made 134 foreign visits and spent 257 days abroad.

He also took 3,500 people along with him on these trips.

The visits cost 1.42 billion rupees to the national exchequer at a time when the country was under heavy burden of debt.

Shafqat Mehmood said Zardari visited Dubai 51 times and spent 100 million rupees on these visits. Of these, 48 visits were private.

He spent 320 million rupees on 17 visits to the UK.

The minister said Nawaz Sharif during his time of premiership remained out of country for 262 days.

He spent 1.84 billion rupees on his foreign visits.

Nawaz Sharif visited London 24 times and spent 223.9 million rupees on these trips.

He visited Saudi Arabia 17 times costing 120 million rupees to the treasury.

Shafqat Mahmood said Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting the USA this month on invitation of President Trump. 

He said it has been decided that Prime Minister will stay at the residence of Pakistani ambassador to the US to save costs. He said every effort will be made to minimize expenditures during this visit.