Nawaz orders no more free junkets for the media
By: Ansar Abbasi
ISLAMABAD: Free foreign junkets at the cost of taxpayers’ money for journalists are over as the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced on Thursday that those media persons aspiring to cover the premier’s foreign tours are welcome to do so but at their own expenses, like it is done in all other countries where the media is free.
To the disappointment of many in the media, the PMO on Thursday conveyed to the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Information that only official media would accompany the prime minister in foreign tours on state expenses.
If the private media is interested to cover the premier’s foreign visits, the government would facilitate them but without spending a penny on them from taxpayers money. Although this extra-ordinary policy decision has been issued to the concerned ministries, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would be under tremendous pressure from influential media persons to get this policy reversed and relaxed.
There is no dearth of journalists, who in the past have been maneuvering to get their names included in every foreign visit. It is unfortunate that besides the journalists, quite a few media owners despite being filthy rich have also been enjoying free foreign junket.
Successive governments have been spending billions of rupees on huge official entourages of the prime ministers and the presidents. Only recently the declassification of the use of information ministry’s secret fund revealed that the government had been even using the secret funds to sponsor the foreign visits of journalists belonging to private media.
Issued by the press wing of the PM Office, the policy directive says: “It has been past practice to take private media persons on foreign visits along with the prime minister on state expenses. This has not only generated heated debate in media circles but also cast aspersions on the government’s endeavour to promote free and independent media. The same has also been a burden on the national exchequer.” Keeping in view the above and to promote transparency and fair play besides giving effect to the austerity drive of the present government, the policy directive said, “it has been desired that private media persons will only be facilitated during the foreign visits on their own expenses.
Only official media shall be used for the publicity of the engagements during the foreign visits.” The ministry of information has been asked that all the media organisations across the country should be informed well in advance about the foreign visits of the PM so that the media houses may depute their representatives for such visits.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also been told to facilitate the ministry of information and facilitating the media persons on their own expenses in affixation of visas, arranging boarding and lodging and entry passes to various venues during a particular visit.
Meanwhile, PM Nawaz Sharif is under pressure from some “influential journalists” to get key government jobs both within the country and outside in Pakistani missions abroad. Nawaz Sharif, who was initially determined to uphold merit and shun favouritism has already started negating his own commitment. Now time will tell if he would stick to his policy in relating to foreign visits.