We write with reference to an article that was recently published in the Christian Science Monitor regarding US government funding for Pakistani journalists based in Washington. It questioned the transparency and integrity of the process, pointing out that two organisations which are a part of the arrangement had not publicly disclosed it. The media group to which this newspaper belongs is one of the organisations mentioned. The paper published the article prominently the day after the piece first appeared, in an endeavour to give its readers that side of the story. This is the principle that we stand for: a free media that reveals all the facts and accounts for all sides of a story. That said, it must be added that the decision not to disclose the arrangement was not mala fide in any way. In fact, this is not the first time the American government has funded journalism activities in Pakistan.
There are several programmes under which Pakistani journalists are taken to the US or given training in one form or the other. The US government does it directly through the International Visitor Programme or indirectly like a recent initiative in cooperation with the International Centre for Journalists where about 130 Pakistani journalists will be trained in the US. Journalists are also selected under the Fulbright scholarship , and with the increase in US funding for non-military aid to Pakistan, resources for these programmes have increased significantly since 2009. But in the Pakistani media, even the weakest of perceptions are quick to cement, and disclosing this arrangement immediately, we felt, could open the group to all sorts of censure — particularly from quarters that are quick to pass judgement without allowing for explanation. That is what made the timing of the disclosure tricky, particularly since the matter involved a party — the US government — that is, almost as a rule, looked at with suspicion. In retrospect, bowing to this apprehension was erroneous, as admitted, especially since there was nothing to hide. That said, editorial discretion lies solely and unconditionally with the editors concerned for all stories filed under this arrangement. We appreciate the article for the questions it has raised in the pursuit of transparency — given that we, too, are a part of the same effort — and for compelling us to disclose the facts, which is something that we should have done a long time ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2011.