US funding for Pakistani journalists raises questions of transparency
US State Department funding, supplied through a nonprofit intermediary, supports the presence of two Pakistani journalists in Washington. Some observers say the relationship should be more transparent.
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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
“If an American journalist working as a foreign correspondent in Pakistan was paid in a similar manner, would it be morally or professionally acceptable for his news organization or audience?” asks Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s prestigious English-language Herald magazine.
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.
The timing of AAM’s website disclosure – after contact from the Monitor – was a coincidence and the update had been planned for “several months,” he says. “We are a small organization with two web guys. They are really working hard on the new site – not just about the Pakistan project but on everything we do. Yes, it would have been better to have a lot of information [before]. We have been preparing this site for a long time to provide that information.”
“The content production is done first and foremost [by] Pakistanis who are here and work with their channels back home to produce content,” says Lobel.
Sometimes the Pakistani journalists and editors at home come up with stories. But AAM also holds production meetings where the group’s managing director, Aliya Salahuddin, suggests stories, says Lobel.