The media games they play
By Khawar Ghumman
As time passes, our politicians are increasingly getting used to live media coverage by private television news channels. Now their efforts are directed at being present at the right places to speak on the right issues – in other words, they pick their spots and newsbytes with care so that they will attract the maximum media attention.
Chaudhry Abid Sher Ali, the young and energetic PML-N crusader from Faisalabad, has been in the media limelight since he took over the chairmanship of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education a couple of years ago.
First he picked, as his personal mission, the case of the daughter of the former chief justice of Supreme Court, Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar.
Farah Dogar had reportedly been given undue favour by the federal board in the rechecking process of her intermediate papers. The upward revision of her marks had enabled her to get admission in a medical college.
As Mr Sher Ali adopted the issue, he was every where; on the front pages of all leading newspapers and the prime time TV talk shows. Several meetings of the house committee on education, which was headed by Mr Ali, were held with a one point agenda – to grill the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (FBISE) officials on how and why the daughter of the then chief justice had been given preferential treatment. The issue was kept alive thus till March 2009 when the government decided to restore the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry once Justice Dogar retired. But interestingly enough, the moral outrage over the ‘wrongdoing’ of the daughter died down the moment her father’s fate was decided. At present, Farah Hamid Dogar is continuing with her medical education and everyone, including Mr Ali, has forgotten about her ill-gotten marks that allowed her to embark upon a career as a medical student.
Yet while she was in the limelight she did serve a purpose – she allowed Mr Ali to become a celebrity politician. And if anyone doubts this, consider the fact that there are over 50 standing committees of the National Assembly and there is no other chairperson who is as well known as Mr Ali.
But is it Mr Ali’s fault that the rest of his counterparts are not as adept at handling the media as he is?
Just consider his concern over the saga of the fake degree-holder lawmakers. Another shrewd move as politicians, their shenanigans and their lies form a story that never fails to capture the imagination of the media and our people. And Mr Sher Ali seems to understand this well. Even last month as he vacationed in London, he regularly made audio appearances on TV talk shows and gave extensive interviews to the print media.
However, it seems as if some people are now waking up to the media games that the young legislator is playing. It is now being said that in his role as a chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education, he needs to show more bipartisanship and pay attention to issues which are important even if they do not allow him to take pot shots at the government and the PPP.
Take the fake degree issue. Since Mr Sher Ali has discovered it, the education committee has no time for anything else. It seems as if the education sector has no other issue of critical importance that needs attention.
For example, the officials of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) for the last over one year are running from pillar to post for financial assistance as the state faces an economic crunch.
All 73 public sector universities have gone bankrupt; nearly, 300 development schemes of the higher education sector have been shelved; and from this year onward, the HEC will offer no scholarship scheme. However, none of these issues seem to be important enough to have moved Mr Sher Ali.
This is the allegation that other members of the committee headed by him raise. Pointing this out during the last meeting of the committee, Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho of the PPP, as well as others, blasted Mr Abid Sher Ali for using the forum for his self-promotion.
Their argument was that there were other more important issues which the committee should also pay attention to. It is a bipartisan committee, and therefore, the chairperson should take every body on board, said Dr Pechuho.
She is not the only. Recently, Federal Education Minister Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali has also complained to National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza that Mr Sher Ali ignores the education ministry while holding meetings of the parliamentary meeting.
Though both Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali and Dr Pechuho make a valid point, one cannot help but wonder if they are motivated by the sheer injustice of Mr Sher Ali’s agenda or whether they too have realised that this is the best way of jumping on to the publicity bandwagon.
The fake degree issue is a hot one and Mr Ali is an important player in this. So anyone criticising him is bound to become a celebrity politician too. The strategy is an unbeatable one.