Journalists given gifts worth millions by ministry, SC told
* Information Ministry tells court govt allocated Rs 84.57 million for Special Publicity Fund in the year 2011-2012
By Hasnaat Malik
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was told on Wednesday that gifts worth of millions of rupees had been distributed among journalists by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting from its secret fund in 2011-2012.
The disclosure was made during the hearing of a petition of two senior anchors regarding accountability of media. The court questioned whether gifts of millions of rupees had been distributed among journalists on the basis of national security. Submitting classified details regarding its secret fund, the Information Ministry told the court that the government had allocated Rs 84.57 million for the Special Publicity Fund in the year 2011-2012. The federal government has also claimed privilege on its secret fund.
A two-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, however, directed the ministry to furnish a concise statement on Thursday (today) on its stance along with relevant legal provisions on the basis of which it had claimed privilege. The court also questioned why the government was claiming confidentiality over public money. Justice Jawwad also expressed concern over the claiming of privilege by the Information Ministry on its secret fund and said that Rs 84.57 million were collected from poor masses, but the government was reluctant to give the details about its distribution.
He said that one of the objective of these proceedings is to know where was the public money being spent. Meanwhile, Raja Amir Abbas, counsel for the Information Ministry, appearing before the bench contended that the ministry used its secret fund for protection of national interests, therefore, they had hired columnists and writers outside the country. He said that that Special Publicity Fund had been approved by parliament.
Regarding the question about the reason to claim confidentiality on secret fund, the counsel requested that some time be given to justify why the government had claimed privilege in this regard. On the other hand, Hamid Mir, a senior anchor, has requested the bench to make public the details of the secret fund under Article 19-A of the constitution. The court, however, told him that they would hear the stance of the Information Ministry and then decide about making public the details of fund.
Likewise, journalist Absar Alam claimed that total sum in the secret fund of the Information Ministry was Rs 870 million in 2011-2012. He also submitted the manifesto of the PPP, in which it was promised that the Information Ministry would be abolished after the party came into power. He also submitted the details of the countries that had no information ministry. The court adjourned the hearing today (Thursday)
Justice Khawaja said that there might be many reasons to maintain the secret accounts and the court will give verdict after reviewing the entire record. The ministry told the court that Rs 84.75 million were allocated for the purpose of Special Publicity Fund, but the court asked for documentary proofs. On which the lawyer of the ministry said that it is the policy of the government. Different think tanks are working, similarly the ministry hires different column writers. Audit of this fund is being carried out. Absar Alam told the court the ministry should correct its record as the secret funds are not Rs 84.75 million.
Source: Daily Times