PML-N STALWART Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has accused the federal government of using secret funds to buy the loyalty of journalists but has stopped short of naming the beneficiaries of this benevolent scheme or spelling out how an aspirant could enrol for the dole-out. Others before him have called for the outright abolishing of the fund — this, in fact, is superseded by the logical question: who needs an information ministry and why?
The politicians who have criticised the funds — that are audited by the prime minister — have always alleged misuse of such money when out of power, while when they have held the reins of government, they have themselves been accused of generously spending the same on meeting their political needs. This has been true of all dispensations, whether led by the PPP, the PML-N or Gen Musharraf. Indeed, the intelligence agencies have themselves not been averse to spending liberally out of secret funds meant for their use abroad, often spending huge amounts on politicking inside the country and destabilising the democratic process. But in this case, the delay in questioning a huge amount of money has been particularly telling. Until not too long ago, Chaudhry Nisar was heading the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. He and others before him have allowed the old government habit of winning over journalists with money to go virtually unchallenged.
Where journalists are concerned it is true that there are some black sheep among them. Nevertheless, over the past two decades, there have been calls by journalists’ associations to have the secret fund, initially meant for focusing on the media highlighting Pakistan’s foreign policy issues, abolished. The fund, which appears to have increased phenomenally over time, needs to be done away with for the sake of greater transparency and ethical journalism. Moreover, with the proliferation of channels, social media and easy access to other avenues of news, there really cannot be any place for what is effectively official propaganda — that too propped up by taxpayers’ money. So the next step must be to end the suspense by raising the curtain on the culprits. Forthrightness is crucial as the entire media cannot be discredited with one generalised statement, otherwise we might be in for another unsubstantiated list doing the rounds on social media, like an earlier one linking journalists to real estate don Malik Riaz.