Pakistani journalists on US payroll; shocked anyone?

The sudden barrage of accusations against Pakistan’s premier security agency and the armed forces by Pakistani media post-OBL operation did not make any sense in the beginning. Their smear campaign was surprisingly instant, swift and very much in line with international media campaign. Then there was an unfortunate murder of a journalist working for little-known online newspaper published from Hong Kong. Blame for this murder was immediately and unanimously laid at the doorsteps of ISI not only by local and international media but the persons as high as chairman of JCSC, Adm Mullen. And this was done shamelessly without awaiting the outcome of the proceedings of the judicial panel probing the murder. The motive of the campaign was crystal clear; what was not clear was the fact why were Pakistani anchors and journalists so enthusiastic about discrediting the armed forces. Although the public perception of security establishment as savior of the last resort remains unchanged which is evident from the desperate appeals of people of Karachi, the journalists, of course not all of them, are faithfully performing their act written in a well-authored script.

The answer has now been provided by one of the leading newspapers of international media itself. The US is making investment in Pakistani journalists to keep them on their side in this fourth generation warfare (4GW). In this kind of war, journalists are very important soldiers and their reports are effective weapons. This is called media manipulation. These Pakistani journalists are fighting American war even if it is against their own country. Will this be taken notice of by those responsible for national security. It is not just a matter of who is paying the journalist; it is much graver than that. It has direct implications on the security of this country.

The Christian Science Monitor has reported that Two Pakistani journalists filing reports home from Washington are quietly drawing their salaries from US State Department funding through a nonprofit intermediary, highlighting the sophisticated nature of America’s efforts to shape its image abroad. Neither of the two media organizations, Express News and Dunya News, discloses that their reporters are paid by the nonprofit America Abroad Media (AAM) on their websites or in the reports filed by their correspondents. Though the journalists have worked under the auspices of AAM since February, AAM only made their links to the news organizations known on their website Wednesday, after being contacted by the Monitor. The lack of transparency by the Pakistani organizations involved could heighten Pakistani mistrust of the US government, which is seen as having an undue level of influence in their country’s affairs.

The amount currently allocated for the project is some $2 million over two years from the public diplomacy funds allocated by the State Department, according to State Department officials in Washington familiar with the project. That includes salaries for the two correspondents – Huma Imtiaz of Express News and Awais Saleem of Dunya News and a bureau for both TV channels. Aaron Lobel, president of AAM, says his organization receives donations from a number of private funders, too, which it mainly spends on its programs on international affairs that run on Public Radio International in the United States.

In her work for the English-language newspaper the Express Tribune, a respected national Pakistani daily that is a part of the Express Media Group, Huma Imtiaz regularly quotes unnamed US officials, at times from the State Department and at times from the Department of Defense. In a story published Aug. 16, “Strings attached: Talk of US scorecard rubbished,” Imtiaz interviews a Department of Defense official contradicts an earlier Wall Street Journal report that the US government was making decisions on aid based on Pakistani performance and cooperation.

She has also written for The New York Times, though not since drawing a salary from AAM, and published one essay for the Indian Express on being a Pakistani journalist in America when Osama bin Laden was captured. She also writes for Foreign Policy’s website, where she is credited only as the correspondent for Express News in Washington.

According to the story, lack of transparency, particularly by the Pakistani news organizations, raises ethical issues for all parties involved, says Richard Wald, a journalism ethics professor at Columbia University inNew York City.

“The essential question here is not who pays, but who knows who pays,” says Professor Wald. “In a correct world, if there were such a situation, people should make the connection clear – not simply to the editors and management of the Pakistani papers – but to the receivers of the information so they can judge it on their own.”

He adds there can be a place for government-funded access to reporting for things like equipment and travel so long as it is clear where the funding is coming from.

The State Department official counters that both the US government and AAM “encourage” the channels to make their ties clear. “We’re very proud of this program,” the official says. But eight months into the program, officials from AAM had not reached out to the channels regarding disclosure.

The official notes that this is part of a broader effort to reach out, including bringing Pakistani journalists to the US for short visits under the International Visitor Leadership Program.

Defending his newspaper’s decision not to disclose the source of Imtiaz’s funding, Express Tribune editor Mohammad Ziauddin told the Monitor: “The lady reports in conjunction with the [nongovernmental organization AAM]. The lady has been recruited by us in consultation with the NGO in a way we do not need to mention this. By putting that line we would be putting this into perspective but since we already edit [her stories] according to our thinking we do not need to. Editorially we sensitize it to a great extent.”

Is this the tip of an iceberg and there are others yet to be disclosed by the free media? It seems that there are many who are not working for the media houses but for those whose image they try to correct and build. If the paper had access to militant and extremist organizations, there would be shocking stories too. The way al Qaeda and other militants have successfully maintained their public perception despite slaughtering thousands and attacking the state symbols, clearly shows that they have their own journalists planted in the mainstream Pakistani media.

Related story:

Was the slain journalist another Raymond Davis for the US?

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