The secret fund maintained by the Ministry of Information has long been a subject of much controversy. It has been assumed for years that the funds maintained under this head are used for purposes for bribes or to manipulate the media in other devious ways. Hearing a petition filed by journalists Hamid Mir and Absar Alam, a two-member bench of the Supreme Court has now ordered the sealing of the fund till September 12, when hearing of the case at the Quetta registry resumes.
We must hope the findings that emerge during the petition help shed some light on how these funds are used, and also about the role of the Information Ministry as a whole. The need for bodies intended to control information within a democracy has been questioned before. Most developed democracies have no such ministries.
The petition seeks the setting up of a media accountability commission. This is needed badly. We need to find some mechanisms to impose checks and balances on the media, while guaranteeing for it the freedom required providing access to information to people. Attempts to prevent this have been made too often in the past. As Alam told the court, the main role of the Information Ministry appears to be to exert pressure on the media and control the flow of information.
The SC bench was also told that in 2002 the PPP, then in the opposition, had complained about the misuse of the secret fund. Certainly the existence of this pool of money needs to be explained. Transparency, after all, is essential to good governance at all levels. We must hope then that, as the case progresses, light can be thrown on the manner in which information is managed in the country. There is still a great deal that remains shrouded in secrecy.
We need to lift this shroud away to avoid yet further exploitation of the media or the use of money to determine how certain events are portrayed, given that in today’s age the media has an increasingly important role to play in the state.