ISLAMABAD, April 25: The Supreme Court let the cat out of the bag when it divulged on Thursday that the much-awaited list ‘B’ involving Rs86.8 million from the secret fund of the information ministry contained no names.
“The list ‘B’ contains no names,” observed Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, one of the judges on a three-member bench hearing a set of petitions of some television anchors on media accountability.
The court had ordered on April 22 to make public the list ‘A’ containing 282 items on which Rs177.9m was spent among journalists from the special publicity fund of the information ministry.
The court had withheld the list ‘B’ containing 174 items after the ministry claimed privilege on it.
Publication of the list ‘A’ on websites of the Supreme Court and Pemra infuriated a number of journalists who accused the ministry of wrongly mentioning their names in the list and requested the court to save them from the humiliation they were facing.
“The Supreme Court’s website is not a gossip column,” argued Advocate Asma Jahangir representing Fareeha Idrees and Ramiza Nizami who were shown on the list as members of former prime minister’s entourage in one of his foreign trips, but they never went abroad.
President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Parvez Shaukat, Shakil Turabi of Sana news agency, Moniza Jehangir and Rauf Klasra had also approached the court.
“My grouse is that without verification the court ordered to place the list ‘A’ on its official website to defame people as if they are proclaimed offenders,” lamented Ms Asma.
“What constitutional violation a journalist had committed even if he had gone abroad with the prime minister to perform his professional duty,” she asked, adding that the court had given legitimacy to a flawed list by putting it on its website, but it never placed names of 7,500 condemned prisoners on the website.
During the proceedings Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, heading the bench, and Justice Hussain clarified that the list was placed on the website only after responsible officers of the information ministry had certified it to be a true copy after the TV anchors had insisted to get the list verified. It was with great reluctance the court had decided to open the list, the bench observed.
Justice Khawaja declined to remove the list from the website, but he assured that if the list proved to be wrong, the court would apologise and take it back.
There is also a lot of mudslinging and malicious propaganda going on against the judiciary but we never bothered about it, Justice Khawaja recalled, adding that the court was emphatic and confident that people had the right to know where the hard earned public money was going.
The judges were not sacred cows, rather living in the ‘veritable glass fishbone’ in public domain and hearing criticism of all kinds, Justice Khawaja observed.
Justice Hussain also tried to solace the agitated journalists by saying the court had great respect for them as they were doing a great job.
Ms Asma argued that instead of approaching the apex court the petitioners should have filed defamation cases at a proper forum to clear their names.
“You cannot put apple and oranges in the same basket and place it before the public,” she regretted. “We should not suffocate this court with self-righteousness.”
The counsel argued that the court should clarify its order as no-one should be subjected to a smear campaign. The apex court never sent its registrar before the Public Accounts Committee or placed its accounts on the website, she said.
Justice Hussain, however, emphasised that even a single penny spent by the Supreme Court was audited.
Then the court directed the respondent information ministry and the petitioners to submit reply on fresh applications and ordered the Director General, Federal Audit, Dr Asifur Rehman, to complete audit of the list ‘A’ in three weeks.
Attorney General Irfan Qadir informed the court that he would be representing the federal government in the case and would raise serious objections to oppose the audit of the list ‘B’ because it was not auditable.
The hearing was adjourned till May 2.
The list includes the name of Intikhab Hanif, but without identifying his organisation.
Dawn’s senior reporter in Lahore Intikhab Hanif clarifies that in his 26-year career he has never sought nor received a personal favour from any government department.He demands a clarification from the information ministry and says he reserves the right to file a defamation case because the appearance in media of a name identical to his has “grossly damaged” his reputation.