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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.

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“I understand the fears that define the joint ventures that comprise the US-Pakistan relationship. [But] we are very proud we have a good relationship with Dunya and Express. It allows Pakistani journalists to cover the US with a Pakistani perspective. I haven't encountered any Pakistani channel that doesn't want to work with us,” he says, adding that AAM is hopeful of partnering with more Pakistani channels in the future.

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Both reporters cover a wide variety of stories, some related to the US government and others not.

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 who 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.

Awais Saleem’s reports include stories on cricket in Chicago and Pakistani fashion in the United States.

Neither reporter was willing to comment on the story.

Making a clear connection

AAM’s ombudsman, Jeffery Dvorkin, insists there is no US government involvement with content production.

“My role as ombudsman is to help AAM ensure there is no effort by its funders, including the government, to interfere with any of the content produced. Thus far, there have been no efforts of this kind. Secondly, AAM continues to make it clear to the government and to all funders that in order for AAM to proceed with this initiative, the government could have no involvement in content production or selection,” he says.

Mr. Dvorkin says his only misgiving was about Lobel’s ability to be the AAM’s chief fundraiser and remain involved editorially at the same time – an issue that has since been resolved with the imminent hire of new managing editor.

But the 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 in New 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.”

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