ISLAMABAD - The first interview of Prime Minister Imran Khan to journalists of foreign press since he assumed the office has been hit by controversy. Contradictory claims have emerged from a high ranking government official and a journalist, who reported about the meeting in several international news outlets, about whether the meeting was a formal interview at all and whether off-the-record comments of the prime minister were published as on-the-record comments.

On Monday, Prime Minister Khan’s interview was published in The National, a UAE-based English daily, and Middle East Eye, London-based online news out. The reporters had met with Prime Minister Khan earlier on Saturday at his Bani Gala residence.

The meeting was unusual as none of them were part of the Islamabad-based press corps working for international publications. Foreign journalists living in Islamabad and local nationals, who report for the international press, were not invited to the meeting.

Naeemul Haque, the Special Assistant for political affairs, claimed Tuesday that Mr Khan did not give any interview to foreign journalists. Instead, a group of “foreigners touring” Pakistan met with the prime minister, Mr Haq asserted in a tweet and said that John Osborne, a former cricketer, and friend of Prime Minister Khan, brought three other people as he presented his book to the prime minister.

However, Amanda Coakley, whose story was published in The National, contradicted Mr Haque’s claim and said that the meeting lasted one hour and 12 minutes and was an on-the-record interview.

“All journalists present recorded the interview on different devices, and everyone in the room would have seen this. Two devices were on a little table next to the PM. There was no mention of anything being off the record,” Ms Coakley said in a tweet. She also posted a picture of herself shaking hands with the Prime Minister while Mr Haque stood nearby.

Mr Haque responded on Twitter with another denial and questioned her as to who offered the interview. “Neither the Information Minister nor the Special Assistant for media nor myself knew anything about the interview,” Mr Haque said.

Ms Coakley profile on Twitter identifies her as a freelance journalist and producer for Channel 4 News Papers Producer BBC. Jonathan Steele, who shared a byline with Peter Osborne, in the Middle East Eye is a veteran foreign correspondent and author of several studies of international relations. Peter Osborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye, according to his profile. Mr Osborne also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015.

It was not immediately clear whether the Pakistani government hosted the journalists who met with Prime Minister Khan or whether their respective news outlets financed their visit to Islamabad.

There was no immediate comment from Fawad Chaudhry, the Pakistani information minister, who is currently on the foreign tour with the prime minister.

Officials of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, the ruling party, have been critical of the journalists of international press who are based in Islamabad. PTI officials have accused most of the Islamabad-based foreign press corps of being overly critical and biased. There was speculation that the meeting Saturday was meant to bypass the Islamabad-based press corps to get favourable news coverage.

However, the news reports of the meeting published Monday were far from gushing and adulatory. Middle East Eye quoted the prime minister as saying “we are desperate at the moment” for foreign aid and was met with condemnation from the opposition.

Several local journalists have also complained recently about not getting time for interviews with the Prime Minister. Only a selected group of journalists and television talk show hosts has managed to meet with Mr Khan and critics, or independent-minded journalists have been denied access.

The Islamabad-based correspondents for foreign press have expressed concerns over not getting access to Mr Khan for interviews and plan to raise the matter with Fawad Chaudhry, the information minister.