ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court is likely to issue an order on Monday for making public a list of media houses and journalists who had received government money in the name of national security after it is testified by the information ministry to be a true document.
A two-judge bench comprising Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, which had taken up a set of petitions regarding media accountability initiated at the behest of some television anchors, was also informed that former prime minister Raja Parvez Ashraf had approved on March 16, the last date of his government, a summary sanctioning payment of over Rs1.32 billion for media campaigns.
On Wednesday, the information ministry submitted two sets of lists. It claimed privilege on the one containing itemised particulars of 155 expenditures under different heads like special secret services funds, special publicity funds, etc. The ministry, however, said it had no problem with the release of the other containing 217 items of expenditures.
The court was surprised by the ministry’s request for secrecy on financial heads like payment of Rs187,000 to a TV journalist for his boarding and lodging in a Bhurban hotel.
The ministry also pleaded that the list on which it had claimed confidentiality should also not be subject to audit mainly because the Auditor General of Pakistan would then raise objections for not adhering to the PPRA (Public Procurement Regulatory Authority).
But the court termed the argument illogical and said the concept had been derived from the laws introduced by the colonial masters in 1782 in the name of Civil List and Secret Fund where a certification by an officer was enough for not getting any expenditure audited.
“The Auditor General is watchdog of the people and every penny of the nation should be audited, except where the state justifies that revelation could compromise security,” Justice Khawaja observed.
Absar Alam, a TV anchor, requested the court to order the ministry to submit the register it had kept in its office because there was an apprehension that the names of innocent journalists might be included in it whereas those who had been bribed were omitted.
The court ordered the information secretary, who is also principal accounting officer of the department, and his associate director Mohammad Tahir Hassan to certify the two lists to be authentic within this week.
Advocate Raja Amir Abbas, representing the information ministry, sought more time when he was specifically asked by the court to provide all statutes, notifications or instructions to support the claims of privilege/secrecy.
The court said article 19A of the constitution which guaranteed the right to information was also relevant for the purpose in determining whether or not the privilege being claimed was unavoidable.
The court also decided to continue hearing an application on Thursday jointly moved by the All Pakistan Newspapers Society and the Pakistan Broadcasting Association requesting to be impleaded as a party.
The application was filed against the freezing of advertisement funds by the information ministry on the court’s orders.