List of bribed journalists must be released, Pakistani judge orders
If working as a spokesperson for the Pakistan government isn't the most grueling job in the South Asian country, it must come close.
Each day seems to brings another political scandal. Many lawmakers and high-income Pakistanis don't pay income tax, which has led the U.K. and other donors to question foreign aid to the country. Some Pakistani politicians quietly support the Taliban, while others are embroiled in a string of corruption allegations.
In some instances, the government has found it's simply easier to covertly pay off journalists not to write controversial stories instead of dealing with a public backlash.
Paying off reporters is an effective tactic that's become popular in Pakistan, pervasive enough that has led to the creation of a new term for journalists who accept the payoffs: a presstitute.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan is expected next week to reveal a list of182 payments made to journalists in 2011 and 2012, according to a story in The News, an English daily newspaper. At the same time, the court has decided not to reveal 18 other payments, the paper said.
“It is apparent from the record that you are in the habit of buying off journalists and columnists,” Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said to a government lawyer.
It's not immediately clear what the payments were used for.
A government lawyer told a court that one payment of 5 million rupees ($51,500) was made to thwart India's alleged efforts to interfere in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. He also observed that another $3 million was given to a private TV channel, money that was partially used to pay to air nationalistic songs on private channels.
Of course, there are plenty of honest, incorruptible journalists in Pakistan, and the dangers of reporting there are significant. Pakistan last year was ranked the second most dangerous country for journalists in a report released by the United Nations.
Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist well known for being critical of the government and military, spoke publicly last year about a bomb that was planted under his car, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
"It is a message to me...and the journalist community," Mir said on Geo News, a local broadcaster.
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead