The list of the 282 journalists who received payments and gifts from the secret fund of the information ministry was made public following a Supreme Court order.
Another list of 155 journalists who took gifts and payments from the information ministry will also be made public later.
The full list is available in PDF format, or scroll down to the bottom of this report.
The list of disbursements totals just over Rs 1.7 billion. Top of the list is M. ASHRAF AZIM President, Institute of Regional Studies (IRS), Islamabad with 61.45 Million! (www.irs.org.pk). 37 Million Paid to MIDAS for Benazir Bhutto Song!Jasmeen Manzoor, Arif Nizami, Saleh Zafar, Munizhe Jehangir, Rameeza Nizami, Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, Asma Chaudhry, Sherbano Taseer, Raza Rumi, Amir Mir, Sohail Warraich, Assadullah Ghalib, Nazir Naji and Baqir Sajjad Syed feature on the list, among others.
According to the rules and regulations, the purpose of the secret fund is only to obtain or uncover sensitive information necessary to protect ‘national interest/national security’.
It cannot be used for any other purpose, such as emergencies or incidental expenses. All withdrawals are supposed to come under specific heads and justifications.
A spokesman of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting clarified that secret funds have no link with Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
The Ministry spent Rs 37 million for a media campaign to promote a song dedicated to former PPP chairwoman Benazir Bhutto. Another Rs 35,000,000 was paid to a private TV channel for conducting a week-long programme, especially approved by PM Gilani.
Hefty amounts were paid for running a monitoring cell and EMR wings of the ministry, reflecting the staff and activities were not entitled payment from exchequer and were therefore accommodated from the secret fund.
Owner of a private TV channel and Saleh Zaafir, a journalist with a leading newspaper group, were specially accommodated a number of times from the secret fund and both received over Rs 0.5 million each. Saleh Zaafir was paid for “special assignments” while no reference was made for the payment made to the owner of the TV channel.
Earlier in the day, a three-member SC bench headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja ordered posting the details online. The court also sought a reply from the auditor general (AG) in connection with audit of these items.
Justice Khawaja remarked during the hearing that details of spending of public money could not be concealed.
“The Information Ministry will have to render account of every penny. Court is accountable to the constitution and not the US. Decision on the confidentiality of 155 items will be taken after the AG’s report comes”.
“When incidents like May 2, 2011 in Abbottabad compound occur, the ministry lacks the ability to counter the negative fallout and has to engage the best writers available in the market,” Tahir Hassan, a director with the Information Ministry explained before the three-judge Supreme Court bench.
The court remarked, “Inform the court about the details of the law under which you have asked to keep the documents confidential. Explain it in terms of Article 19-A”.
Amir Abbas, the lawyer, said every citizen had access to information under Article 19.
He read out Section 7 to which Justice Javed remarked, “You want to say you hold privilege under Article 19-A. This matter was reviewed in the memo case.”
Presenting the details in respect of secret funds, Amir Abbas assured the SC that the reports which were presented in court would be subjected to audit by the auditor general.
The court was told that there were three heads running under secret funds of which money was being spent. Opening his arguments, Abbas said forces, ISI and other institutions used this fund.
He said freedom of expression had been provided under the ordinance, adding that it was a matter of internal security.
“We are not providing details due to security risk. Who will provide protection to these people if their names are flashed in the media? We want to extend them protection,” he added.
Justice Jawwad remarked, “What you are trying to say is that if the media does not publish columns, you do so after buying columnist”.
“Stop joking with the people. We are posting 282 items on the website. The remaining will be decided by us later.”
“Is it essential for freedom of press that the Ministry of Information buys journalists to make any message public? These things will have to be sorted out.”
Petitioner Absar Alam said secret funds amounted to Rs 650 million, but officials were putting the amount at around 260 million. The hearing of the case was adjourned until April 25.
Meanwhile, the Information Ministry issued the list of journalists, advertising agencies, press clubs and other relating organisations benefiting from the secret funds.
Per details, approximately Rs 170 million have been ‘invested’ in journalists, advertising agencies, press clubs and other relating organisations.
The Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) tops the list with Rs 6 crores, 14 lacs and 55 thousand rupees during the period between July 1, 2011 to September 6, 2012.
At least Rs 100 million was invested on journalists’ visits in and outside the country, while millions of rupees were spent on invitation of journalists from Karachi, Lahore, Multan and other cities to the federal capital.
Chief executive of SANA news agency Shakeel Turabi received Rs 600,000 and the media commission of the Supreme Court was given Rs 40 lacs, the list stated.
A programme ‘Pakistan This Week’ on the CNBC TV channel was given Rs 3 crore and 50 lacs. After rains and floods in Sindh province, various media groups were given Rs 1,320,000 for public relations activities.
Widows of journalists of various newspapers were also given thousands of rupees in aid on different occasions.
Saleh Zaafir received Rs 500,000, Mehmood Hamdani Rs 200,000, Zahid Hamid Rana Rs 500,000, Saleem Khawaja Rs 100,000, chief executive of a private TV channel Syed Sajjad Shah Rs 100,000, publisher of a book ‘Mufahimat’ (reconciliation) received Rs 70,000, while Haris Marhoob 150,000, UD Sabiri Rs 50,000 and M Ashraf Rs 400,000.
Publisher of a book ‘Mera Sahafat Ma Agaz’ received Rs 250,000, Azhar Bhatti Rs 50,000, Intikhab Hanif Rs 100,000, Farooq Amin Rs 50,000, Maqbool Hussain Tabassum Rs 50,000, Fareed Khan Rs 100,000, Shaukat Hussain Shaukat Rs 100,000, Nokhaiz Abbas Rs 50,000 and Gulraiz Shehzad had got Rs 100,000, the list stated.
Mian Mohammad Nadeem Rs 200,000, Ghulam Nabi Mughal Rs 100,000, Nazeer Abbas Rs 300,000, Assad Ullah Ghalib Rs 200,000, Jamil Soomro Rs 600,000, Umer Sharif Rs 50,000, Farooq Sehar Siddiqui Rs 100,000, Mazhar Iqbal Rs 100,000, Bashir Ahmed Khan Rs 700,000, Mohammad Amin Rs 500,000 and Abid Saqi Rs 500,000.
Rs 700,000 were given for media coverage on occasion of Quaid-e-Azam Day.