ISLAMABAD, Sept 12: The information ministry disputed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday claims made by TV anchors in a petition that the government was using Rs4 billion secret funds to influence the media for its ulterior motive.

A two-judge bench comprising Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain had taken up a joint petition filed by the TV anchors in which the government has been accused of doling out billions of rupees from the ministry’s secret fund to win over media houses and journalists.

The petitioners requested the court to form a commission to investigate the source of income of TV channel owners, advertising agencies and anchorpersons. But the information ministry opposed the idea in its reply submitted to the court. At the last hearing in Quetta on Sept 6, the Supreme Court had ordered the government to freeze the secret account of the information ministry.

On Wednesday, Advocate Abid Saqi, representing the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the information ministry, rejected the allegations and said there was no nomenclature of any secret fund in the budget books maintained by the ministry. “They (petitioners) have levelled allegations that the government is throwing billions of rupees when the total budget of the information ministry is Rs5.57 billion,” the counsel argued.

Justice Khilji as well as Hamid Mir, one of the petitioners, cited a news item published in Dawn about the secret funds mentioned in budgetary documents which was never denied by the ministry.

The news item appeared after the presentation of the federal budget suggested that the ministry’s secret budget, which was Rs2.97 billion in 2011-12, had been increased to Rs4.18 billion for 2012-13.

Hamid Mir said his petition had not mentioned the size of the secret fund.

Advocate Saqi said the information ministry maintained a secret fund of Rs12 million which was used only for the welfare of needy journalists and their families and its details could not be shared with the court. It was approved by the parliament.

Meanwhile, Punjab’s Information Secretary Mohyuddin Wani drew the attention of the Supreme Court to the financial wrongdoing of Rs623 million by advertising agency Midas (Pvt) Ltd which had been blacklisted by the Punjab government. Its chief executive Inam Akbar was absconding, he added.

The secretary regretted that references relating to the alleged tax evasion of Rs60 million had also been sent to the Federal Board of Revenue and other government departments some months ago, but no action had been taken by them.

The court ordered the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to submit a report on the matter because serious allegations of financial irregularity had been levelled against Midas by the petitioner and the provincial information secretary.

The documents submitted by the secretary suggested that according to a special audit report prepared by the Auditor General Pakistan in 2008-09 on the accounts of Director General Public Relations (Punjab), over Rs632 million was recoverable from Midas on account of fraudulent payment for advertisements.

According to the documents, Rs340 million was outstanding against the office of DGPR Punjab for different advertisements done during 2006-08, but Midas claimed Rs444 million and eventually Rs340 million was paid to the advertising agency.

During the course of the payment, Midas also made an attempt to draw fraudulent payment of Rs124 million through bogus claims and tampered with records of advertisement. But the attempt was foiled and a reference was sent to the Anti-Corruption Establishment Punjab for taking necessary legal action against the culprits.

The court asked the provincial information secretary to hand over the documents to Advocate Rana Shamim, representing the FBR, and directed the petitioners and the respondent to submit their replies by Thursday.

The hearing was adjourned for Sept 17.



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