SC objects to use of govt ads for promoting leaders
ISLAMABAD: Apparently irked by the practice of using portraits of top functionaries in government advertisements, the Supreme Court sought on Tuesday explanation from the ministries of information and information technology the wisdom behind using public money for self-aggrandisement.
“Under what law advertisements for personal promotion or publicity of political individuals are issued?” Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asked.
A three-judge bench comprising the chief justice, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed had taken up a controversy involving a payment of Rs127 million to Midas (Pvt) Ltd, an advertisement agency, on account of an advertisement in different newspapers at the request of the Universal Service Fund (USF).
Displaying portraits of the president, the prime minister and the minister of a particular department on top corner of the advertisements is a common practice used for highlighting government’s achievements in a particular sector.
“Why don’t they sponsor such advertisements from their own pocket instead of using public money if they are fond of promoting themselves? Instead of self-projection the public money should be spent on social welfare activities,” the court observed.
The USF was set up in 2005 under the Pakistan Telecommunication Regulation Act 1996 to expand IT and telecommunication services to remote areas of the country. The controversy had surfaced after the removal of Riaz Ashar Siddiqui as chief executive officer of the USF.
Appealing against the removal, Mr Siddiqui’s counsel Raja Amir accused the IT ministry of relieving his client because he was resisting the release of payment to the advertisement agency. The advertisement relates to the laying of optic-fibre cables in Gwadar and Mastung districts of Balochistan.
IT Secretary Amir Tariq Zaman Khan contended that unsatisfactory performance of the CEO was the reason behind replacing him with IT Adviser Basit Riaz Sheikh, son of FIA’s former director general Ahmed Riaz Sheikh who is said to be close to President Asif Ali Zardari.
The secretary claimed that selection of the advertisement agency had been approved by the former CEO while presiding over a meeting of the board of directors.
The court decided to issue notices to the concerned secretaries of the federal and provincial governments as well as the commissioner of Islamabad. They are required to submit reports on spending of public money on such advertisements.
The secretaries of information and IT ministries have been asked to submit lists of advertisement companies and their rates, allocation of funds, annual expenditures by the ministries concerned and against which departments such advertisements are accounted for.
The IT secretary submitted copies of the advertisement in question and said the first-ever media campaign had been launched to create awareness about the USF programmes among the public after four years of constant work.
When the court observed that the secretary had failed to inform it under which rules and provisions printing of photographs of government functionaries were permissible, he sought time to find out the rules.
Advocate Zulfikar Maluka, representing the information ministry, informed the court that the ministry only distributed the material for publication to the electronic and print media through the Press Information Department (PID).
The materials were issued by different departments of the federal and provincial governments and after the publication of advertisements bills were sent to these departments, he added.
The information ministry will also assist the court in finding out whether such publicity is permissible under the law.
The hearing was adjourned till Dec 7.