Thank you NYT and Pakistan for a lesson on the importance of a free press

At first the July 16 New York Time story about Pakistani legislators claiming university degrees they never earned seemed like a fun story. One that would provide a small insight into Pakistan’s politics and earn a chuckle or two. (Pakistani Legislators Face Accusations of Faking Their Degrees)

In one case, a member was disqualified by the Supreme Court for holding a fraudulent master’s degree in Islamic studies. In a hearing, the man could not name the first two chapters of the Koran, the newspaper Dawn reported.

But then it became clear that the only reason this issue is being discussed at all is because of the tenacity of the Pakistan press.

[T]he news media have seized on the issue, pressing the case that politicians who did get fake degrees or otherwise misrepresented their educational achievements while the requirement was in force could be tried for fraud or forgery.

The nation’s largest newspaper, Jang, ran front-page articles five days in a row, while “Capital Talk,” its most popular television talk show, featured the topic twice this week.

The agency in charge of the investigation of the validity of the legislators has completed only 183 out of 1,170 cases. It found 37 unnamed violators

According to the NYT, analysts say the delays are an effort to stall the legal process.

The issue is so hot that the the commission took the unusual step of warning its members not to leak information to the media.

And to underscore how sensitive this issue is, in an apparent effort to put pressure on the commission, the brother of the head of the commission was arrested this week on corruption charges.

The penalties of being found guilty of falsely representing their educational credentials could lead to three years in jail for the politicians. They could also be disqualified from running for office for 10 years.

So, the issue is getting the slow-track treatment by the government and politicians are doing all they can to intimidate the investigators event further.

And yet the media continues to keep the issue alive.

And now, here is the kicker…

On July 9, the Punjab Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the news media for “irresponsible propaganda” and demanding that they abstain from “insulting” reports.

But the resolution set off waves of protests by journalists across the country and intensified coverage.(My emphasis.) The Assembly rescinded the resolution four days later, passing another that honored the news media for their role in promoting democracy.

They learned that old rule: “Never get in an argument with someone who buys his ink by the barrel.”

Hopefully the Pakistani people will also appreciate the valuable resource they have in a free and independent news media.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom

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