Islamabad - The list made public by the Supreme Court on Monday was being anticipated to contain details of journalists supposed to have been lending their pen in favour of monetary benefit from the government. Instead, it was a laundry list of mostly routine expenses by the ministry of information, conveniently encompassing many recognisable names in media today, with some inaccuracies and a few quirky details. The “secret funds” of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting largely relate, according to this list, to payments made by the ministry for government publicity purposes, research activities, expenditures incurred on foreign visits and financial assistance to widows of journalists and at times to journalists and staff in small newspapers.
The list made public contains as many as 282 entries with 38 missing entries between serial number 72 to 111 that casts doubt about transparency of information provided by the ministry withholding vital information.
Among the details are financial assistance to widows, which for reasons of privacy and discretion may have been categorized secret. Less comprehensible is a long list of professional journalists, including well-known foreign correspondents, bureau chiefs and reporters who had proceeded on state visits at the invitation of the government, to cover foreign events, such as the SAARC Summit in the Maldives, the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Korea, and the Prime Minister’s official tour of the UK. The list of journalists who were invited by the interior ministry to be part of the junkets covering state visits include professional journalists, analysts, reporters and well-known name in the profession, commonly recognized for being routinely on assignment, including, Saaleh Zaafir, Rana Qaisar, Aamir Ilyas, Imtinan Shahid, Baqir Sajjad, Saadia Afzal, Khushnood Ali Khan, Sohail Akhtar, Khawar Ghumman, Kamran Yousaf, Raja Hussain Khan, Tanveer Qaiser, Jalil Afridi, Faizan Bangash, Asma Chaudhry, Rameeza Nizami, Sherbano Taseer, Arif Nizami, Rauf Klasra, PJ Mir, Jabbar Khattak, Jibran Pasheman, Mujahid Barelvi, Waseem Badami, Farooq Faisal, Khalid Qayyum, Qurban Baloch, Khalid Kayani, Shakeel Anjum, Jamshed Rizwani, Sarmad Bashir, Mumtaz Niazi, Farhan Mulghani, Siddique Baloch, Dodo Chandio, Gauhar Zahid Malik, Hassan Khan, Hasan Akhtar Rizwi and Khalid Farooqui.
Journalist Munizae Jahangir’s name was included in the list of journalists visiting Korea, but she was never part of that particular tour. “The Supreme Court should have verified list of journalists who went on foreign state tours before releasing it. I have never visited Korea, on state sponsored tour or otherwise, and my passport is available for scrutiny. I was invited, but declined. It’s accepted norm that journalists across the world accompany leaders on state visit for the purpose of reportage, why scandalize this?”
Similarly anchors Fereeha Idrees and Nusrat Javeed were listed to have participated in a state tour of the Prime Minister to the UK, both of whom were never present on the trip, having turned down the issued invitation. Rameeza Nizami, whose name was included in the list of journalists invited and attending state visits to various countries expressed surprise at the categorisation of foreign trips covered by Pakistani media on government invite as “secret”, “It is incomprehensible why expenses related to the ministry of information’s expenditure on journalists they themselves have invited on high profile state visits have been found under the heading of a “secret fund”. Bylined reports from newspapers and television of reporting on such state visits are easily available for reference, and have by no means been kept hidden from the public. The fact that a record of this activity from 2011-2012 has been selectively released, to single out persons active in media today. To label the participation of journalists in junkets as some of undesirable, clandestine activity, with the insinuation that this was some sort of forcible attempt to make incorrect of public monies, via a Ministry of Information “secret” fund, is designed to mislead the public and can only be interpreted as slanderous. The government must explain why details of such expenses are being found in the “secret” fund, and why journalists covering routine assignments of state visits, now inexplicably find their reputations at stake. Not to mention, will it please clarify who, if any, of the media persons on such trips were invited with the understanding that only favourable reporting would be expected of them?” Several journalists covering foreign tours at the invite of the government, who now find themselves subject to censure for the state’s expenses having been charged to a “secret” account have vowed to take legal action to redress the issue.
One of the items on the released list pertains to payment of Rs 37 million to an advertising agency for the recording of a political slogan song. Ms Nizami added, “Had I known that the secret fund was available to reward such exertions, I might have skipped the SAARC summit and stayed home to compose a political jingle instead.” Also part of the apparently earth-shattering revelations are one-time payments to purchase cakes, to dispatch as part of Eid greetings. Five hundred copies of a daily diary purchased are also marked “secret”. A book titled “Mufahmat” was printed at a cost of Rs 700,000 and A programme recorded at the request of then Prime Minister, Mr Yousaf Raza Gillani, titled, “Pakistan This Week”, is listed as having cost Rs 3.5 million.
Unremarkable expenditure, such as rent-a-car costs and catering costs for dinner events hosting professional journalists and management bodies such as the All Pakistan Newspapers Association and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, have also been marked as having been paid for by the “secret” fund, and bulk out the body of the list.