May 3, 2016
By Saeed Qureshi
Let us start from the premise that journalists are not angels. They need money because they are less privileged. We all know that 19 prominent Pakistani journalists from print and electronic media took bribe from the notorious property tycoon and founder of the so called “Bahria Town” Malik Riaz.
The total amount given by Malik Riaz runs into crores of rupees. These leading journalists are still working on positions without any qualms of conscience. Neither these bribed journalists expressed any remorse or resigned their posts, nor did the owners of the concerned newspapers, periodicals and channels think of sacking them.
These journalists are still debating and discussing the national issues and dishing out their moral sermons, wise discourses and astute opinions via their newspapers, journals and channels. They are vibrantly exhorting their countrymen how the business of the state should be conducted and how the people of Pakistan should lead their life morally and socially; whom they should vote for and who was the rascal and who was upright in the political field.
They have conveniently put aside the disgrace and the stigma of compromising and selling their professional integrity and inviolable ethics to the fleecing crooks in business and industry. These crafty business magnates are not to blame because they need a congenial media to ignore their atrocious money making bonanzas. Malik Riaz is a good, amiable and intelligent businessman who is building residential colonies equipped with modern civic amenities, and where the safety and protection is ensured.
That is a good job to do and we need such modern colonies and neighborhoods where people can live with peace of mind. But the irksome, detestable and hard to digest is the sleazy manner these media stalwarts offered them for sale of their services and thus defacing their sacred profession.
Yet another list of 282 journalists, channels and newspapers has come to light that demonstrates how the media has been up for grabs of money for a dishonorable swap of their services in favor of the government and special interest groups.
The money disbursed to these journalists by the Information Ministry is reported to be Rs. 177 million. Besides one of the private TV channels received a hefty amount of 300 million rupees for putting their portal at the disposal of the Information Ministry and the government in power. It clearly surmises that the entire media empire is for auction. Reportedly, another list of 155 journalists who benefited from the largess of the Information Ministry is on the way of being revealed in the near future.
I am aware of a mega graft case that happened way back in the 80s. This case was seldom reported in the press and went rather unnoticed. A mammoth amount of 25 crores (then roughly five million US dollars) was given by the Saudi ambassador to the editor of a local newspaper to drum up support for the Royal Saudi Government’s position against Saddam regime. It was the time when the United States had mounted the first Gulf war (2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991) in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
The Saudi government was on the side of the invading forces and had even provided bases to the coalition forces from 34 nations led by the United States. But still it was becoming difficult for the Saudis to win broader support in the Islamic countries especially in Pakistan where a sizable population liked Saddam Hussain.
The said Islamabad-based editors used his newspaper generously and unabashedly for a sustained smear campaign against Saddam Hussain and in favor of Saudi action. He was also instrumental in arranging meetings and venues for the Saudi and Kuwaiti ambassadors in Pakistan to explain the Saudi stance to the media and political figures.
Within a matter of couple of months, the said editor who was driving an old ramshackle car bought three brand new corolla cars and purchased a palatial mansion in a posh sector of Islamabad for about 8 crores rupees. The rest of the money was deposited in a Dubai bank. This is how in once in a life bonanza a journalist cum editor cashed his clout. He is perhaps now the richest among the journalists both from the past and the present.
Until 2001 when I migrated to the United States, Islamabad was rife with rumors about several journalists who were working for certain embassies as informers. One such journalist otherwise a seasoned, experienced and well mannered person was apprehended by one of the premier intelligence agencies for his association with the embassy of a hostile country. He was
extensively tortured and later the poor chap died in a hospital.
The apex court of Pakistan has done marvelous job by taking sou-moto cognizance of the bribes doled out by the federal Ministry of Information in exchange for lenient and favorable media coverage about the government. But is there any chance for the bribed money to be returned to the national exchequer? Let us watch how the legal wind blows upon the beneficiary 282 journalists, the media lords and the TV channels.
One would expect that the Supreme Court might admonish the Ministry of Information for buying the services of the media corps with official funds. But it should also warn the journalist community to desist from the trappings of the buckets full of easy money that only tarnishes their image. It is also an outright dishonesty and shameless betrayal of their profession that is like walking on the edge of a sword.
But all said and done, journalists too are human beings and can be dazed by the glitter of money. We know that some of the leading TV anchors draw monthly emoluments as much as a million rupees or more. I believe that they would shun such ugly enticements if individuals like Malik Riaz and his elk throw at them like crumbs.
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