By HASSAN BELAL ZAIDI
ISLAMABAD: The inquiry committee looking into the complaint filed against Pakistan Television’s (PTV) head of current affairs is not biased in any way, State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb told the National Assembly on Wednesday.
Responding to a calling attention notice, moved by PPP’s Shazia Marri, the minster responded to concerns regarding the fairness of the inquiry committee, raised by women lawmakers a day earlier.
“The officer [who was accused of harassment] has not entered that office since that day, while the two anchors continue to host programmes and their contracts are in the renewal process,” Ms Aurangzeb said.
Anchorpersons Tanzeela Mazhar and Yashfeen Jamal filed a complaint against PTV Director Current Affairs Agha Masood Shorish around nine months ago, which was brought up by women lawmakers a day earlier, who demanded to know why no action had been taken against the culprit in so long.
But insisting that the PML-N government had “zero tolerance for cases of sexual harassment at the workplace”, the minister tried to placate the opposition by quoting the example of another case she had dealt with in the past.
“There was another similar case from PTV when I took office. The culprit in question was censured and fined by the ombudsperson, but when his appeal went to the president, the officer was terminated from his position,” she said, to prove her credentials as an advocate of women’s lib.
When Shazia Marri disputed the minister’s stance, taking issue with a notification from Jan 23 that banned both anchorpersons from appearing on PTV, the minister contended that ban was not related to the harassment complaint lodged by them.
The inquiry committee submitted its report on Jan 26, she said. But two days before the submission of the inquiry report, both anchorpersons went on a private TV channel and spoke “about and against the state channel”, which was why the ban was imposed on Jan 23.
“This is a disciplinary ban… they were talking about a state channel where an inquiry is under process,” she said.
“I am also a woman who is at a workplace, so I will not tolerate any kind of bias against women and the government has no policy that undermines women’s right to work.”
Disputing the minister’s version of events, PPP’s Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho contended that under the law, the committee should have finalised its report within 30 days and pointed out that committee members had asked extremely demeaning questions from the two complainants.
In response, Ms Aurangzeb maintained that she had personally removed three members of the harassment committee who had asked such questions and replaced them with officials – one woman and two men – from the information ministry. This, she claimed, was the reason for the delay in the finalisation of the committee’s report.
The minister also highlighted training programmes she had initiated at PTV in order to sensitise staff on preventing harassment. Ms Aurangzeb said that an enabling environment was essential to ensure that women felt at home in the workplace, and claimed that she had ordered PTV to ensure that its work environment is on a par with the private sector, where lots of women work.
“Let the committee decides; I am also there as a minister to take a decision… let’s wait for the decision, do not pre-empt the decision. There will be no bias against any party when the decision will be made,” the minister concluded.