KARACHI: A couple of weeks ago Pakistani social media users went into a frenzy when reports claimed that the Punjab government had issued a liquor licence for the Lahore airport. AFP Pakistan in its Fact Check report, however, has cried foul, calling the reports “misleading”. The fake news, which was circulated across Facebook and Twitter, had been viewed tens of thousands of times, it said.
“The claim is misleading, a new luxury hotel that is being built close to — but not at — the airport has been granted a liquor license,” the AFP report added.
The ‘breaking’ news first aired at the Lahore-based news channel City 42. The channel’s video report was also posted on its official Facebook page, and has been viewed more than 70,000 times since it was published January 17. The report claimed that the Allama Iqbal International Airport would start serving alcohol soon.
“Change has come. Now liquor and beer will be available at Lahore airport,” the report said.
Another similar report was published in Daily Pakistan with the headline: “CM (Chief Minister) Punjab approves liquor bar at Lahore airport.”
The report stated: “A local company is to set up a duty-free shop to sell alcoholic beverages at the Allama Iqbal International Airport after approval from the PTI-led government”.
The story was reported by multiple other news outlets, for example Pakistan Today, where the report claimed that a liquor license had been granted to Unicorn Prestige Limited, a local franchise holder for hotel operator Swiss International Hotels.
Upon further digging, a press release dated November 25, 2018 from the Swiss International Hotels was found, which stated that the company had signed an agreement to franchise a hotel at Lahore’s International airport.
The press release is headlined: “Swiss International and Unicorn Prestige sign a franchise agreement for a new 350 luxury hotel at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, Pakistan.”
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In the press release, Swiss International Hotels clarified that the hotel, which is scheduled to open in March 2019, is separate from the Lahore airport.
“Royal Swiss Lahore is strategically located at just 500 metres from the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, Pakistan,” it says.
“Along with its 350 rooms and suites, the hotel will be complemented with the Swiss International’s signature concepts; the Swiss Restaurant & Lounge, the Noodles & Rice, the TED & Co – Bar & Lounge, the Moods – Cigar Lounge, the Swiss Select Lounge, the Swiss Café Leafs & Beans, 7 Eventives Meeting venues, the Inspirations Pool & Gym and a World-Class Spa,” the release stated.
On its fact-check mission, an AFP reporter visited the site and confirmed that a hotel is being constructed on a different property next to the main airport separated by the Airport Avenue road.
An official government account dedicated to ‘busting’ misinformation took notice of the misleading City 42 news report and reminded media outlets that “spreading fake news is a punishable crime”.
Chief Spokesperson of the chief minister of Punjab Shahbaz Gill issued a video statement on January 18, rubbishing the inaccurate report.
“Today news was broadcast on some private television channels that liquor and beer will be available at the Lahore airport and it was said that the Punjab government has given permission for it,” Gill said.
“This news is incorrect and facts are being misreported. What are facts … I am going to tell you that near the Lahore airport a four-star or a five-star hotel is under construction and it is going to be completed in March,” Gill said.
“All four stars and five stars hotels have permission (to sell liquor and beer) and this one also has same permission,” he said.
Alcohol consumption was officially banned in 1977 in Pakistan. Non-Muslims and foreigners are allowed to drink alcohol, and some four- and five-star hotels in the country have licenses to serve it.