Pakistani Journalists in the Hot Seat
Q: Who, in your view, has planted this list of 19 journalists, who are rumoured to have taken monetary or other favours from Malik Riaz, on the internet?
A: I have no idea at all, but it’s obviously someone who doesn’t like me or my style of journalism, who hates my ideas and ideology or wants to defame me. I can’t blame just anyone, but I do hope that the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) will respond to my request of constituting a high-powered commission headed by three retired judges, who had not taken oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). However, can one actually respond to an unnamed source or an unnamed letter?
Q: How has it damaged your reputation and credibility?
A: It hurt – and it hurt badly. After 32 years of clean journalism, you have to answer these questions. Ironically, those actually involved in corruption were never asked [any questions]. How many people, including journalists, named in the Mehran Bank case have filed a defamation case against Asad Durrani or the ISI? I personally believe that they must become a party in the Asghar Khan case [against the Mehrangate scandal].
But I am glad that those who know me rejected the list before it reached me. These include journalists, leading politicians, lawyers, member of civil society, friends and, above all, my wife and daughters.
Q: What do you plan to do about it?
A: I was the first person who wrote a letter to my organisation, PFUJ, with whom I have been associated for the last 32 years, to probe this matter, punish me and others if found guilty and if not, expose those who tried to malign me and other colleagues. I also wanted to file a case with the Cyber Crime Unit of FIA which was established under the Cyber Crime Ordinance a few years ago but I was told that the Ordinance had lapsed. The PFUJ had also written to the State Bank of Pakistan, regarding the names of the banks that were published, to ask them to clarify their position. So I will wait for the PFUJ report.
Q: Why have journalists on this list gone on the back foot instead of making a noise about it?
A: I can’t say about the others, but I certainly have not. However, so far all concerned parties have denied the accusation. I was told that the PTI boy who had put it on Facebook had regretted it later on. So even if I decide to file a defamation suit there is nobody to file it against. People who have done this should have the moral courage to stand up and bring the evidence forward.
Q: People believe that some of the journalists on this list are on the take. What do you have to say about this?
A: If in doubt, leave it out. First, we as journalists must establish the authenticity of the list before going further.
We all need to raise the issue of “corruption in the media.” We need to define it. We must work on a formula that if anyone – an individual or a group – is found guilty of malpractice, their license must be cancelled (as in the case of the Bar Council, Engineering Council, Pakistan Medical Association).
There are some clear norms. For instance, accepting a bribe in any form is the gravest crime a journalist can commit, which includes accepting plots. Two, journalists must avoid accepting tickets and allowances from the government or private parties. Three, journalists accompanying the president, prime minister or ministers on trips abroad, must be nominated by the editor or head of the channel and his or her company must bear the expenses. Four, journalists must avoid accepting gifts or dinners from their sources. It’s time to get “ethical.”
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