Media for sale?
That elements of the Pakistani media were open to political influence in exchange for hard cash has long been suspected but never conclusively proved. It may be now. A Pandora’s box of troubles may open with the imminent release of a hitherto hidden list of journalists and media organisations that have been bribed by the government, allegedly in the name of ‘national security’. Once again it is the Supreme Court that is lifting the lid on the box. This apparently looks like an onerous task but it is prayed and wished that the SC finally takes this big and long overdue step. Article 19 of the constitution guarantees free speech and freedom of information; and it is that which two journalists have used to require the government to reveal who benefited from covert disbursement of considerable sums of money and others perks and favours. The SC saw no reason not to grant access to the list – barring 18 items that are said to be within the security domain and must remain confidential. Some journalists had sought to bring this affair to the limelight and put an end to the payments, and the court has been scathing in its comments. The government lawyers tried to claim blanket privilege for the entire list but eventually had to back down and all may finally be revealed on April 17.
The fact that the government paid off media organisations and individuals is no surprise, but the scale and regularity of the operation is. All of the 200 instances relate to the time the PPP government was in power. Four files were presented to the court, one of which reveals expenditure of Rs187 million. Details of the contents of the other three are not yet available, but will be. A private TV channel apparently received Rs300 million for yet-to-be-defined services. Not only has the government habitually bought off journalists and organisations, those journalists and organisations have themselves been willing to take government bribes rather than stand on principle and refuse them. And the public must know by what right the government they voted to power was content to corrupt the media that is a part of the daily lives of the entire population. ‘National security’ was accepted as a justification in 18 out of 200 instances, the rest were at best an improper use of public money and at worst blatant bribery and corruption. And Pakistan has the media to thank for opening the box – more to follow on April 17 which could turn out to be a date when real self-cleansing could begin.
Source: The News