PAKISTAN: List of Truth or Defamation?

JESSICA GADOMSKI WRITES – While some Pakistani journalists may be comfortable accepting money from the government, they are not accustomed to having their names made public- on the Supreme Court’s website no less! The Supreme Court’s recent decision to publish the names of journalists who allegedly received money from the Information Ministry’s secret fund has caused backlash. In years past, the secret fund has remained well, secret, and this is the first time a list like this has been published.

Two private television anchors spurred this unprecedented action last year when they requested the court investigate media accountability. An investigation began, with particular attention paid to the Pakistan People’s Party who allegedly rewarded journalists while the party was in power from 2011-2012. It was discovered that the federal agency had distributed millions of dollars to a handful of journalists from a secret fund between 2011 and 2012. Despite these findings, the Information Ministry denies the allegations.

Fereeha Idrees and Rameeza Nizami, who both appear on the list, deny receiving any compensation from the government. The women claim defamation and have hired human rights activist Asma Jahangir to represent them. Jahangir emphatically told the court, headed by Justice Jawwad Khawaja, “The Supreme Court’s website is not a gossip column. There is a limit to such things”. Justice Khawaja responded by saying that the list was agreed upon by members of the ministry. He upheld the decision and said it the court’s duty to expose the truth.

Analyst Absar Alam pointed out that the list was not of a secret fund, but rather a public audit fund. Clarifying its position, the court stated, “We never said this was a list of culprits, if media portrayed it as such, it wasn’t due to the court”. Interestingly, the media is both the victim and possible culprit behind this scandal. It is known that the government has bribed journalists in the past, but the media may have sensationalized the recently published list. An exaggerated story in the media is unsurprising; the targets are just usually further away.

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