World punishes, Pakistan spares erring journalists -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

World punishes, Pakistan spares erring journalists

Pakistan Press Foundation

Sabir Shah

LAHORE: Even if the Supreme Court of Pakistan somehow unmasks beneficiaries of the Ministry of Information’s secret fund on Wednesday (tomorrow), these guilty journalists and the concerned media barons are likely to go scot-free, contrary to countries like India, China and United Kingdom where such ugly faces are not treated as sacred cows and the long arm clutches them in case of any felony.

It is hard to believe that any action would be taken against the guilty Pakistani newsmen or the employers who may have benefitted from the Ministry of Information’s secret fund, because despite announcement of the November 2012 verdict in the Asghar Khan Case, neither has a single penny been recovered from any beneficiary hailing from the spheres of politics or journalism, nor have we heard of any legal proceedings being initiated against the guilty elements.

In fact, it is a dead issue. It goes without saying that on innumerable occasions, names and lists of dozens of Pakistani journalists alleged of seeking precious land plots and other material favours like loan write-offs etc from various regimes have been published—-but whenever a case such as this has surfaced in recent years, the matter has somehow been hushed up.

This research piece might pinch many of this correspondent’s friends and foes in the profession due to its timing, but fact has it that not so long ago in November 2012, two senior journalists at an esteemed Indian television channel “Zee News” were arrested on charges of extortion.

The BBC online edition of November 27, 2012 had stated: “Sudhir Chaudhary, head of news, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of business at the channel, are accused of trying to extort millions of dollars from the Indian business firm Jindal Group. They are alleged to have sought cash in exchange for not running reports on a coal scam linked to the firm. Both the journalists and the channel have vehemently denied the charges. Zee News called the arrests “a crude and direct attack on the freedom of the press”.

The BBC had further written: “They have threatened to launch a defamation case against Naveen Jindal – managing director of the Jindal Group and a politician with the governing Congress Party – who, along with his officials, made the complaint. The two journalists are accused of asking Jindal officials for about $18m (£11m) in exchange for suppressing news reports about the firm’s alleged links to a high-profile corruption scandal involving the allocation of coal mining concessions. The officials say they secretly filmed the meetings, and released the footage last month.”

Now, let us see what happens in China.

In 2007, the jail term of a Chinese journalist Meng Huaihu was extended by a local court to 12 years from the previous seven-year sentence.He was accused of bribery and of extorting money from private companies using the threat of negative news reports.

Meng Huaihu was the former Bureau Chief for the “China Commercial Times,” a Beijing-based business paper published by the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.

The court had ruled that since the journalists were actually performing a public duty, therefore, Bureau Chief Meng was guilty of the common executive offense of bribery, a far more serious crime than extortion.

Journalist Meng was quietly removed from his position in 2005 after allegedly trying to force an advertising contract from China Petroleum and Chemical Company by threatening to write a negative news report.

In May 2009, another Beijing reporter was facing upto seven years jail after he had allegedly accepted money from two whistleblowers with a tip off on airport construction quality.

Fu Hua, a former “China Business News” reporter, had been charged with accepting 30,000 yuan ($4,400) from two employees of Changchun Longjiapu Airport in 2005.

The alleged bribers—- Zhang Guangtao, then deputy director of airport construction and Li Shen, Zhang’s subordinate,—had offered money to reporter Fu to expose “problems“ on their projects.

Speaking to the prestigious “China Daily,” journalist Fu said he had only accepted 15,000 yuan and insisted the money was not a bribe. Fu said he did not know why he had been charged with accepting a 30,000 yuan bribe.

He alleged police had tortured him until he said he accepted 40,000 yuan — a confession he later withdrew.

And now look at the other side of the coin.

Most Pakistanis might never have heard that journalists could be sent behind the bars for offering bribes.

Well, here goes a very recent story about some top-ranking employees of the “News of the World,” once the biggest selling English language newspaper in the world.

“The News of the World” was the same newspaper that had alleged three Pakistani cricketers (Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir) in August 2010 of spot-fixing during Pakistan’s 2010 tour of England.

Before its closure on July 7, 2011 this 1843 newspaper had gained a lot of notoriety for its cheque-book journalism.

It was often discovered attempting to buy stories about private affairs of key politicians, celebrities and high-profile criminals.

In 2006, this newspaper was accused of illegally gaining access to hundreds of mobile phone voicemail accounts across England. It had hired private investigators for this purpose.

In April 2011, attorneys for the victims alleged that as many as 7,000 people had their phones hacked by the News of the World.

One hacked voicemail account had belonged to Milly Dowler, then missing, but later found to have been murdered.

The paper’s editor, Andy Coulson, had resigned two weeks earlier but was arrested on July 8, 2011.

The publication’s former executive editor Neil Wallis was handcuffed on July 15, 2011 and another former editor, Rebekah Brooks, held in custody on July 17, 2011.

The paper’s royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, was also jailed for four months and so were other reporters like Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck and James Weatherup.

Even the paper’s owner and an eminent global media tycoon Rupert Murdoch was accused of pressurizing the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to hush up the probe in his “Phone-hacking scandal.”

Source: The News


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